Farmers Market vendors, director continue to advocate for Legacy Park as permanent location 

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City Council to address site and whether city should assume the license to operate the market 

By Barbara Burke

Special to The Malibu Times

The Malibu Farmers Market location is up in the air and its future direction is slated for consideration by the Malibu City Council at its meeting on Jan. 8. Currently, the market has been operating without a formal temporary use permit from the City at Legacy Park since Oct. 8, 2023, although Debra Bianco, president and co-founder of the Cornucopia Foundation, which operates the market, states it has been doing so with permission from the city.

“When the city was concerned about our farmers market, they gave us an extension to help us expedite returning to the county land until sometime in January 2024, and I have that in writing,” Bianco said.

She elaborated, stating, “We’ve been a nonprofit organization in California for more than 20 years and all of our board members will be at the City Council meeting on Jan. 8.” 

Bianco continued, “The Farmers Market has insurance to protect the city from any liability — one must have insurance to get a license or a temporary use permit. Even during the time we have operated at Legacy Park, we have kept our insurance for the county property as well.”  

For its part, the county is amenable to having the Farmers Market return to the SMC parking lot. 

“We are excited to welcome the Malibu Farmers Market back to the Malibu Civic Center now that the beautiful Santa Monica Community College satellite campus is complete,” Supervisor Lindsey P.  Horvath said on Sept. 26, after the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors passed her motion addressing the Cornucopia Foundation, operator of the Malibu Farmers Market, returning to the county-owned SMC parking lot.

The Farmers Market was temporarily allowed to relocate to Legacy Park while SMC was under construction, an action that made an exception to a restrictive lien prohibiting a farmers market, which was imposed on the Legacy Park parcel when the city acquired that land.

Although the county stood — and continues to stand — ready to welcome the Farmers Market back to the SMC parking lot, the Cornucopia Foundation has continued to operate its market at Legacy Park while the parties negotiate the contours of the area that the market can operate in upon its return to SMC. 

Bianco emailed The Malibu Times on Sept. 26, 2023, stating it was her understanding that one of the prior owners of Legacy Park, John Perenchio, whose father imposed the restrictive lien on the land prior to the sale of Legacy Park, generously offered the market the right to continue to use Legacy Park temporarily “as long as the Malibu Farmers Market was actively engaged with the County of Los Angeles,” in efforts to ensure that the market could return to the county-owned land with the same footprint it had before it had to relocate due to the SMC construction.  Bianco added at that time that the market had received a revised site map from the county that “considerably reduces the space we initially had.” 

On Jan. 5, Bianco spoke with the The Malibu Times and stated, “Although the residents, vendors, and everyone wants us at Legacy Park, since we found out that wasn’t a possibility, we have been actively working on getting back to county property to return to our original home.” 

The City of Malibu’s staff report for the council’s consideration

On Nov. 27, 2023, Bianco, some Farmers Market vendors, and residents who regularly go to the Farmers Market urged the council to allow the market to remain at Legacy Park, citing the popularity of the location and, as Bianco stated, because the market cannot go back to the county lot “because we don’t have enough space.”

That evening, the council directed staff to “thoroughly investigate alternative site plans for the Malibu Farmers Market, recognizing its significance in fostering community engagement, preserving local businesses, and providing access to healthy fruits and vegetables,” according to a staff report prepared by Alexis Brown, deputy city manager, on Dec. 14, 2023. 

The report sets forth a brief history of the city’s legislative actions concerning the Farmers Market, noting that the council authorized the market to temporarily relocate to Legacy Park, with the city issuing temporary use permits for the market to operate at Legacy Park while Santa Monica College’s Malibu campus was constructed. The last TUP expired on Oct. 7, 2023, the report informs. 

The SMC campus is fully constructed and the city is not issuing any further TUPs for the Legacy Park location, according to Councilmember Paul Grisanti.

“The city is considering that it may be time for the city or county to become involved in the Malibu Farmers Market by putting the right to operate the market out to bid because currently, the Cornucopia Foundation, operator of the Farmers Market, is holding that event every week on city-owned property at Legacy Park without any legal right to do so. Their right to do so expired on Oct. 7, 2023,” Grisanti said. “The fact that we have a farmers market manager who has no permit to operate and is in non-compliance with the laws is unprecedented.” He noted that Legacy Park is only entitled to six temporary use permits per year, as are other commercial locations in Malibu and, to date, the Farmers Market has not applied for a temporary use permit in 2024.”

The Farmers Market is in violation of the deed restrictions that run with the land for the Legacy Park location, Grisanti noted.

“I have no idea whether the Farmers Market has the appropriate insurance to protect the city from liability,” he said. “But what I do know is that I’ve been approached by several past vendors who are most unhappy with the behavior of Debra Bianco, who operates the Farmers Market.”

Bianco, in turn, defended her position and her efforts in running the Farmers Market.

“I, the residents and the supporters of the market do not understand the City staff’s recommendation that the City would want to take on the expense to license and to subcontract the operation of the Farmers Market to another operator,” she said. “While the Cornucopia Farmers Market has been operating for 23 years, our Farmers Market has never been in violation with the LA County Board of Health or its Department of Agriculture or ever had a problem with the county while on their property.”

“During the pandemic we were the only farmers market in LA County that stayed open from the beginning — it was on TMZ and the Board of Health used our Malibu Farmers Market as an example to all the other markets in LA County regarding how to operate safely during the pandemic,” she continued. “During our 23 years, if the City of Malibu had any concerns about the operation of the Farmers Market, I wonder why they didn’t come to us to discuss it — this is what our residents and patrons of the market do not understand.”

Councilmember Steve Uhring stated, “The Farmers Market at Legacy Park has been a lightning rod. Currently, they have the permission of John Perinchio to operate there, but the deed restrictions mean they need to move. Going back to the county parking lot, while not desirable, will work.”

“The Malibu Farmers Market was established in the early 2000s and has become an integral part of the city’s identity,” the city’s staff report recounts, “In response to the council’s directive, staff explored three potential options for the market’s relocation.”

First, the market could return to its previous location on Civic Center Way in the SMC parking lot. 

“An existing Conditional Use Permit (CUP) remains in effect on said property, allowing for the continued use of the site as a Farmer’s Market.” The report said. “This proposal would allow the market to return to the original property with an alternative site configuration allowing access to remain open to the Los Angeles County Library.” 

The staff report clarified that, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the library was not operational on Sundays, and therefore, the original layout identified in a 2009 CUP, which blocked access to the facility, was allowed.

“Post-pandemic, the library has added additional operational hours that conflict with the hours of the market, including setup and teardown times.” The report stated, “This option provides an opportunity to integrate the market with valuable community resources in a centralized and accessible location for residents.”

Should the council choose that option, it would have to amend the existing CUP 09-003 to reflect the new site layout.

A second option discussed by staff concerns relocating the market to Civic Center Way with traffic control measures. Specifically, this possibility proposes hosting the Malibu Farmers Market on Civic Center Way with the implementation of road closures and additional safety measures. With that, the city would have to coordinate with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and Los Angeles County Fire Department to ensure the safety of both vendors and patrons.  Should the City Council select that option, staff noted that it would have to issue a new CUP and eliminate CUP 09-003. The potential fiscal impact for that option, according to the staff report, is $7,842.10 per weekly event, amounting to $407,789.20 per year.

Finally, the staff report states the Farmers Market could be relocated to the city-owned lot commonly referred to as the Chili Cook-Off Site, an option that “would require that the city to grade and put down an approved surface material, such as asphalt, for vendor booths to be in compliance with Los Angeles County Public Health Environmental Division Guidelines.” The report said. “The paving area would be 54,000 square feet of the area within that vacant parcel.”

Potential subsequent actions the city would have to take if that option is selected include rezoning the vacant Chili Cook-Off parcel and amending the City’s General Plan and Local Coastal Plan Zoning maps to allow for Farmers Market use. Another action would be amending the Malibu Municipal Code to allow a farmers market as a permissible use on the parcel without a full rezoning of the parcel, according to the staff report, which concluded by stating that the potential fiscal impact of implementing that option amounts to an estimated $150,000 in labor, materials and permits. 

“Staff requests the City Council’s consideration that the City of Malibu become the official license holder for the Farmers Market in collaboration with the County of Los Angeles, an approach that allows the City to subcontract with an organization to facilitate the market ensuring compliance with Malibu’s Municipal Code and County and State regulatory requirements.” The report says. “By taking on the role of license holder, the city can exercise greater control over the market’s operations, provide appropriate transfer of risk to the subcontractor, and actively contribute to the successful organization of the event.”  

The staff noted, “this recommendation is aligned with the city’s commitment to supporting local businesses and maintaining the vibrancy of the Malibu community. We believe that by assuming responsibility for the Farmers Market license, the city can play a pivotal role in promoting economic growth, fostering community connections, and upholding the values that make Malibu unique.”

The Malibu Times reached out to Supervisor Horvath, asking her position concerning the staff report’s recommendation concerning the county’s “collaboration” with the city concerning the Farmers Market.  

“The county owns the Malibu Civic Center property and has and will continue to make it available for the market if the City Council prioritizes that location,” Horvath said. “We defer to their leadership and community wishes on operator and location.”

The Malibu Times also reached out to the City of Malibu, asking for a status update concerning the market.

“The Malibu Council will be discussing the Malibu Farmers Market at the Jan. 8, 2024, council meeting. Following direction from the City Council on Nov. 27, 2023, city staff developed several proposals for the council to consider, recognizing the Farmers Market’s significance in fostering community engagement, preserving local businesses, and providing access to healthy fruits and vegetables.” Matt Meyerhoff, media information officer for the City of Malibu stated in an email. “It would be premature to comment on this issue before the City Council has been able to discuss it. The community is encouraged to attend the Council meeting at City Hall or watch the live stream.” 

Viewing, commenting instructions and the agenda are posted at https://www.malibucity.org/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Item/6453?fileID=57925. Details and background information, including maps depicting the contours of the Farmer Market for each option discussed in the staff report are available here:

https://www.malibucity.org/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Item/6452?fileID=57923.

“The county is ready for us to come back and we have approved the site map and the only thing the county is waiting for is the fire department to sign off on the site map,” said Bianco, responding to the city staff’s report.  “We may be relocating to the county site by Jan. 14 or the week after at the latest. Therefore, I really don’t understand why this issue is on the city’s agenda on Jan. 8.”

The Malibu Farmers Market was cancelled today due to extreme winds. The market will resume next week. The Vintage Market will resume on February 4th.