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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

City Staff to Look into Whether Curbs Put in Trancas Center Permits Would Prohibit Eviction of Current Tenants

• Nursery Advocates Say Business Was Guaranteed a Location

BY BILL KOENEKER

The Malibu City Council chambers were filled this week with supporters of the Trancas Canyon Nursery, who are rallying against the 30-day eviction notice to vacate its location at the Trancas Country Market.
Supporters, who have circulated petitions, created a Facebook page and planned other activities, came to City Hall to ask the council to show its support and see if it could do anything to intervene.
“It is not the business of government to oversee rental agreements,” said Trancas activist Cindy Vandor, who added the support received by the developers who sought to remodel the shopping center, was based on existing businesses being allowed to stay.
That is also the way Mayor John Sibert said he remembered it. “When we approved it, we said the nursery had to stay. We insisted on that. Can they change it?” he asked.
With the agreement of other council members, the mayor called on the staff to investigate the matter. “Is the city enforcing the coastal development permit?” he asked. City Manager Jim Thorsen said the staff would research the CDP issue.
City Attorney Christi Hogin promised the matter would be investigated speedily since time is running out because of the eviction notice.
“[Planning Manager] Joyce [Parker Bozylinski] and I will look at it this week,” Hogin added.
Councilmember Lou La Monte said, “I completely support the idea of whatever we can do. I remember everybody said all of the businesses are going to stay. Is there any condition? Is there something we can do legally?” he asked.
Councilmember Pamela Conley Ulich explained to the large number of supporters—many had urged the council to write a letter. “We can’t take action tonight. We can write individual letters to the owners,” she said, referring to the fact the item was not on the agenda, thus no action can be taken by the council without a public notice and formal public hearing.
Councilmember Laura Rosenthal said she had been moving behind the scenes to find out what has been going on. “I’m just a conduit. The goal is to keep the nursery, not go and come back. It is truly a magical place,” she said.
Conley Ulich said she saw the loss of mom and pop stores happening years ago and that is why she had introduced her retail formula ordinance. A majority of previous councils had declined to support the proposed ordinance.
“It is the same now. We have lost our uniqueness. I will reintroduce the retail formula ordinance. You are the people who will be credited with saving Malibu,” she said.
During the meeting, Linda Bernhardt, the managing director of land use and regulatory affairs for Loeb and Loeb, the law firm which says it represents the Zuma Beach Properties, LLC, the owners of the shopping center, emailed a response to the city council offering comments.
“The Malibu Garden Center, Inc, and Steven Stefano [sic] (Original Tenant) were issued a 30-day notice to terminate tenancy pursuant to the provisions of the lease entered into on December 15, 1997 and amended by letter agreement dated January 13, 1999.
At this time the original tenant owed approximately $20,000 in back rent. The 30-day notice was issued to the nursery to set in motion the legal process necessary to provide tenants with sufficient notice to prepare to leave as needed to begin grading and construction on the site,” the letter states.
However, nursery supporters have prepared their own set of responses which were also sent to the city council. “Trancas Canyon Nursery has offered to pay any back rent owed by the previous owner, Steve Stefanco (sic). That offer was not acknowledged or responded by the new owners. It is not a part of the agreement they were asked to sign to extend the dates of their eviction to 6/30/11 (per Debbie Stone),” the supporters email contends
The supporters go on to say the employees who worked at the nursery paid the rent as employees. Then Carlos Cabrera bought the Garden Center and renamed it Trancas Canyon Nursery and all the rent has been paid on time.
Loeb and Loeb have more to say. “In response to the request of the existing tenant of the nursery, a confidential agreement was drafted by all parties to extend the period the existing nursery tenant could operate on the premises. This agreement was finalized last week and circulated to all parties for signature. On Friday April 22, Mr. Carlos Cabrera executed the agreemnt on behalf of the existing nursery tenant. In addition, after discussions with Councilmember Laura Rosenthal, we have agreed to meet with the existing nursery tenant this week to begin discussions regarding tenancy in the new project,” the Loeb and Loeb letter further states.
Supporters insist Cabrera did no such thing. “Loeb and Loeb have no signed agreement from Carlos Cabrera,” the supporters answer.
The Loeb and Loeb letter concludes that they want more meetings to “begin a dialogue to establish the owner’s vision of the nursery space and to learn of the business plan for the existing nursery tenant and how the two may work together in the future,” signed Linda Bernhardt.
The supporters counter there is no new project but rather existing permits and plans. “There is no new vision approved by the city unless the new owners start over and go through an entire new planning/permit approval process by the city of Malibu. The approved plans (available for public viewing) at the City Hall have the words ‘existing nursery’ positioned over the direct location of the nursery. The existing nursery is the Trancas Canyon Nursery. This is what has been approved by the City of Malibu,” the supporters’ letter concludes.
In 2009, the planning commission approved the proposed expansion plans of Trancas Country Market, including a 25,728 square-foot addition to the existing commercial shopping center, permits for two restaurants and a new parking lot across the street for employees.
The planning panel appeared to have been won over when Dan Bercu, who described himself as an owner partnering with an outside investment firm, eliminated plans for an 11,000-square-foot stand-alone building on the old riders and ropers site next to Trancas Lagoon.
The matter was appealed to the city council by the Malibu West Homeowners Association in 2010 insisting the plans should have gone through an Environmental Impact Report process. The council turned down the HOA appeal and approved the proposal.
Later neighbor and critic Hans Laetz started the appeal process to the California Coastal Commission, but withdrew that appeal after he and the shopping center owners entered into a proposed settlement agreement, which is now being worked out with the representatives of the new ownership.

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