Farmers’ market decision postponed

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Cornucopia Foundation president fumes over the postponement that would allow a second applicant finish their paperwork.

By Sherene Tagharobi / Special to The Malibu Times

The Planning Commission last week decided to postpone its June 16 scheduled hearing on the Cornucopia Foundation’s application for a farmers’ market permit until a later date, one by which Raw Inspiration, the competing entity, would also be ready for a hearing.

The commission was torn between the desire to give both organizations an equal chance and empathy for Cornucopia, which applied first and has been trying for a hearing for some time.

Commissioner Jeff Jennings made the motion. “Here we’ve got a situation where we’ve got competing entities that both want CUPs (conditional use permits) and if we issue one, either that’s going to foreclose the other entity from being heard, or what’s almost worse is it throws the decision of who’s going to run the farmers’ market into the hands of the county rather than into the hands of the city,” Jennings said.

John Mazza, commission vice chair, disagreed, saying the farmers’ market matter is time sensitive, being that the city has been without a market about four years, and that the permit should be handled on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Ha Ly, associate planner for the city, said Raw Inspiration’s application is still incomplete. She said the organization is missing references from Los Angeles County Sheriff and Fire, and City Public Works departments.

In a telephone interview, Melissa Farwell, market coordinator for Raw Inspiration, said the organization is working on completing everything by this week and is on target to do so.

Raw Inspiration representatives were satisfied with the commission’s decision to postpone the hearing. “We’re pleased that we’ll both get equal opportunity to present why we want to do a farmer’s market to the city,” Farwell said. “Of course that makes us happy.”

Minutes after the Planning Commission had voted last Tuesday to postpone the matter until Aug. 4, Cornucopia President Debra Bianco walked in, late and unaware of the commission’s decision.

The commission allowed Bianco three minutes for public comment.

“I postponed a business trip. I was on the phone with Ha [Ly] up until one o’clock today. And other people put their application in at the eleventh hour,” Bianco said.

Bianco said she was “in a state of shock” and that the decision was unfair.

“Oh, by the way, we have another application, so we should just hold you up, again,” she said to the commission. “That’s not nice, guys.

“Picture yourself in our place,” she continued. “I have an uncle in town. He’s in the hospital right now dying. I’m here.”

Jennings was at a loss for a workable solution.

“We either have to grant you the CUP,” he said to Bianco, “which essentially forecloses the other applicant from the CUP because then you’ll be down at the county getting your lease, or we can say okay, we’ll give you every other week [for the market].”

Commissioner Joan House said she thought it would be best to wait until both applications were complete so the commission could “compare apples to apples at one meeting with both applications.”

House also recalled the staff report, which states that 75 certified farmers have said they will not work with Cornucopia. The foundation had operated a farmers’ market for several years at the county-owned Malibu courthouse property off Civic Center Way.

This is not the first time there has been contention between Bianco and other applicants. In 2007, Malibu locals Cameron Losey and Jeannie Yamamoto had applied for a permit, at the same time that Raw Inspiration and Cornucopia started their applications. Bianco had protested that application as well, and asked Losey and Yamamoto, as well as Raw Inspiration, to withdraw their requests. Both applicants refused to do so; however, Losey and Yamamoto have since withdrawn their application and now support Raw Inspiration.

Meanwhile, there was still confusion over who can ultimately decide the matter, legally speaking.

Vice Chair Mazza summed up the lingering question: “We have two applications that qualify for a CUP; they meet the requirements. Is it up to a planning commission to deny a CUP to one of them because they prefer the other, or should they approve both of them?”