With the fate of the Malibu Farmers Market facing an uncertain future, supporters showed up at the Malibu City Council meeting last week to let city leaders know their passion for the weekly Sunday market that’s become an institution in town. The market is trying to hold onto its lease at the Los Angeles County-owned property that’s been its home for nearly two decades.

The farmers market site at the Malibu Library parking lot is in jeopardy because a new Santa Monica College satellite campus is to be constructed there beginning in the next few months. Cornucopia Foundation, which runs the market, had been getting yearly leases from the county to operate at the civic center site, but with construction imminent a lease was only granted for another three months ending June 30.  

Representatives from the school and the county also attended the meeting to speak about the project, presenting a rosy outlook on the future of the market.

“I mean, this is a construction site, and we’ve been working really hard to see how much we can accommodate to get them to 100 percent [of current size], but we are not there,” Maria Chong-Castillo, speaking on behalf of Supervisor Sheila Kuehl’s office, described. “We think we can get to 100 percent; we just need to continue to work with the college.” Chong-Castillo and reps from the college said they had a plan in place to preserve 75 percent of the current market, but were working to bring it up to 100.

Either way, a temporary reconfiguration of the market will most likely happen as building equipment moves onto the site — and Debra Bianco, who runs Cornucopia, is not sure changing the market’s layout will be viable. She expressed concerns that possibly losing the parking lot will inconvenience attendees and, even worse, if the market were to downsize during the 18-month estimated construction period that she could lose vendors as well. 

Bianco spoke with The Malibu Times, expressing concern for some of the vendors that have been providing prepared food and fresh produce to the city for more than 15 years.

“That’s a lot of mom and pop stores,” she said. “Who do I let go?”

It is uncertain yet whether anyone will be pushed out of the market. Representatives from Cornucopia, SMC, LA County and the City of Malibu are scheduled to meet next month to iron out the details on how to stage the popular market during a major construction project.

 “I can’t tell you how many people have come up to me and said, ‘Don’t give up. Don’t give up an inch of that space,’” Bianco reported at a recent council meeting. “Especially when they heard that right here in this very room, many months ago, that the county was here and promised the market and not just the market but the City of Malibu that this could be done.” Bianco said she didn’t think it would cost that much to stage the space properly and safely without taking an inch away from the popular market and gathering place for many in the city. 

Consultant Chris Harris, a senior project manager for general contractor Staples Construction Company, also spoke at the city council meeting, saying he’s been able to successfully stage other farmers markets where construction is taking place.

“I know it can be done,” he claimed. At what cost and who will pay to resolve the market’s operating issues will most likely be hammered out during the upcoming meeting in April.

The county has acknowledged that at least a verbal agreement was promised at a city planning commission meeting last month to keep the market operating, but also has expressed that during construction there is bound to be some disruption.

Sherman Baylin, a longtime Malibu business owner, also spoke at the council meeting to say disruption to the market could have long lasting consequences. 

“A long illness is a sure death,” Baylin said. “We need to hold the county accountable. We’re tired of the promises of the county not being upheld.”

Voters approved the SMC satellite campus to be built on the property back in 2004 with the passage of Measure S, allocating $25 million to build new facilities. It will take up three acres of the nine-acre site across from Legacy Park. The plans call for the old sheriff’s station on site to be demolished and replaced with five new classrooms, a lab, a police substation and a community room that will double as an emergency operations center and interpretive center. The former LA County Superior Court building and recently remodeled Malibu Public Library will remain unaffected.

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