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Malibu Farmers Market supporters speak up: Lease uncertainty raises concerns for market vendors and attendees alike

A shopper visits the Malibu Farmer's Market. Photo Submitted
Barbara Burke, Freelance Reporter
2:59 pm PDT March 13, 2017

Plans to build a Santa Monica Community College satellite campus on LA County property in the Malibu Civic Center area were approved in 2004 by voters from Malibu and Santa Monica when they passed Measure S.  

Construction is expected to begin later this year, and some Malibu residents are concerned about how construction may impact the Malibu Farmers Market, which is facing the expiration of its lease this week. As of the time Malibu Surfside News went to press, the Cornucopia Foundation, which operates the market, said it had not yet heard anything formal regarding the renewal of its lease. 

Several Malibu citizens gathered on March 5 to voice their concerns and to prepare to make statements to the Malibu City Council asking that the City formally request that the County give the farmers market assurances that its activities can continue uninterrupted.

Based upon the information available regarding the construction project, Christopher Harris, of Staples Construction, a consultant retained by the Cornucopia Foundation, thinks that the project could proceed with minimal impact on the farmers market.

“Based on my review of the preliminary information available on this project, I believe that the majority of the staging and logistical needs of the proposed project can be performed at the parking lot on the north side of the property (behind the existing building),” Harris said. “There may be times during construction, i.e. parking lot work, utilities, etc., where construction will impact the front parking that is shared with the farmers market. However, with proper planning and communication, many of these activities could be performed and finished in time for the farmers market to operate with minimal impact on Sundays.”

The fact that the County has not taken a formal action concerning the Malibu Farmers Market’s lease renewal has led to frustration and confusion in the community. 

Many Malibuites consider the farmers market to be a place to gather every Sunday to share conviviality, purchase fresh produce and innovative products, dine, and commune with neighbors. The farmers market has been an institution in Malibu for almost 18 years. 

“One of the things I’m involved in is public safety. I think that the farmers market is an essential survival source in addition to being a very unique Malibu resource,” event attendee Marshall Thompson said. “When the big earthquake finally hits, big trucks won’t be able to make it to Malibu. The farmers market is going to be an essential food lifeline for this community.”

Other March 5 event attendees noted that no other farmers market gives back so significantly to local nonprofit efforts such as the Monarch Project and Poison Free Malibu.

Sherman Baylin, owner of Sherman’s Place and a local animal activist, noted the Malibu Farmers Market donates to her animal rescue efforts. 

“They’re a real lifeline connection in Malibu,” she said.

Several concerned supporters have started an online effort at www.change.org, urging the City Council to take action. 

Malibu City Council Member Jefferson Wagner was among attendees at this month’s event. Wagner voiced support for the Malibu Farmers Market, noting that the City could approach the County and demand assurances that the farmers market will not be unduly impacted by the construction. 

“We did the whole City Hall renovation by using the back parking lot for staging,” Wagner said. “It’s just a matter of telling the vendors to use the back parking lot for staging and that would allow the farmers market to carry on.” 

Part of what is generating residents’ frustration is that although only days remain on the farmers market’s lease, the County has not offered a new lease. 

Further, it is unclear the extent of the projects for utilities and parking lot improvements, the two components of the construction project that would most likely impact where the Malibu Farmers Market operates. 

This lack of clarity has led to a high degree of stress among both members of the community and market vendors.

Kaliko Orian, a Malibu resident for 26 years and owner of Omma’s Garden (which participates in the Malibu Farmers Market), noted that her small business and other vendors could be impacted by any interruption to, or reduction of the scope of, the farmers market’s operations.

Resident Mari Stanley noted that one of the primary purposes of the California Coastal Act is to ensure municipalities have events and activities that provide services to visitors and residents alike.

Wagner agreed, and noted that the farmers market is the primary Malibu concern serving those goals.  

“It’s a weekly event that is open to everyone and is free,” Wagner said. 

Jackie Robbins, of Malibu, summed up the sentiments of the market’s many supporters.

“Debra Bianco, owner of the farmers market, has worked so hard for this community,” Robbins said. “We need her farmers market here.”