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Hollywood Farmers Market Dispute Mushrooms Into Land-Use War

Hollywood Farmers Market circa 2004

The Hollywood Farmers Market on Ivar Avenue is safe until mid-April under a moratorium hastily hammered out between the market and the Los Angeles Film School.

But with the Sunday market seeking new digs for roughly one-third of its farmers' produce stalls, which must move because the film school opposed the market's street-closure permit on Ivar, a land-use war is likely in Hollywood.

That's because whether the contested segment of the market chooses to move next April to Vine Street or Hollywood Boulevard or some other spot, there's no guarantee that landowners at the desired new location will agree.

Like the film school, landowners along Vine or Hollywood could refuse, citing their own loss of parking and easy access to their businesses on Sundays.

Under a city rule adopted a year ago, 51 percent of property owners along any given block must agree to a street-use permit for a farmers market. (The film school and Jack in the Box control more than 51 percent of the disputed block of Ivar.)

So despite the 90-day moratorium, the final location of the popular venue, and how it will look and be laid out, are in doubt.

The private school's majority owners, CEO Diana Derycz-Kessler and her husband, Paul, created a firestorm after refusing to endorse the market's annual permit renewal on the block of Ivar Avenue just north of Sunset Boulevard.

The block is used Sundays by about one-third of the market's farmers and merchants, which total 60 food vendors and 100 farmers and attract up to 10,000 shoppers.

The public backlash has been intense, with a new Facebook page, "Protect Hollywood Farmers Market — Stop the Los Angeles Film School," quickly mushrooming to almost 1,800 members, equal to the school's 1,800 students.

The battle has been described in media reports as a dispute over a school parking lot that the film students can't access on Sundays because the marketeers are in the way.

But L.A. Weekly learned that the parking lot dispute is not, in fact, the key reason the film school has objected to the stalls, which have long operated on Ivar along the school's western flank.

Film school spokesman Antoine Ibrahim told the Weekly last week that the film school is growing and needs daily use of Ivar as its access road. He says the school's parking complaint was a technical grievance — but not the whole story.

"Given the chance, we'd start holding events and open up our equipment room — which is closed on Sundays because of the market," Ibrahim told the Weekly. "It's about more than parking, but we never wanted to say that, because that's the legal argument."

The school, which faces Sunset, plans to hold numerous Sunday events, Ibrahim says, and will bring shuttle buses and groups to its Ivar Street side entrances.

Moreover, the school plans to develop the Ivar Theatre, just north of the disputed block — yet another stretch that's now blocked on Sundays by the market. Says Ibrahim, "On Sundays, we don't have access to the front of our theater."

So far, he says, "We haven't even begun to complain yet about our access to Ivar Theatre."

Top city officials were caught flat-footed by last week's uproar.

City Councilman Eric Garcetti, who represents Hollywood, vows that the market will remain in the heart of Hollywood, saying, "The market is not leaving."

He met separately on Dec. 16 with representatives from the film school and the market, and says he hopes the school can get the parking it needs while keeping the market as intact as possible. But Garcetti acknowledges that dozens of the market's produce stalls will have to move from Ivar.

Garcetti and Michael Woo, chairman of the nonprofit that operates the market, Sustainable Economic Enterprises of Los Angeles (SEE-LA), have several ideas for shifting the market's layout by April 12, the day on which the 90-day moratorium, plus their half-used 30-day permit, expire. The film school also has agreed to consider creating a passage from a parking structure that its students currently use on Sundays, linking that accessible structure to the parking lot that's now cut off by the market.

But none of this addresses the looming land-use war. The film school embraced City Hall's exhortations for "elegant density" by expanding its business in the midst of Hollywood's massive new developments of luxury condos and apartments. Now a struggle is unfolding between this major business and the residents over who controls Hollywood's increasingly crowded public space.

"We'll need to bring our shuttle buses with visitors and for events up to the side doors on Ivar," Ibrahim explains. "Ivar is the public road for our property. We can't get all those people into the film school if the market is there."

Kerry Morrison, executive director of the Hollywood Property Owners Alliance, which includes the school, says the school also envisions weekend festivals and a speaker series.

Morrison says the film school represents the culmination of 15 years of effort to attract serious investors to that part of Sunset. She says the area was "a very bleak corner" with "little commercial activity" in 1991, when the farmers market opened.

Garcetti says he's heard only rumors about the school owners' plans for their land — including talk of erecting high-rises. "It would help their case to be more public," Garcetti says. "I've heard a million conspiracy theories."

Adam Englander, of the PR firm Englander, Knabe & Allen, hired to speak for the school after the dispute made headlines, says that as the school looks for ways to expand, new construction can't be ruled out.

He says the school has committed to working with the farmers market and doesn't want it to leave Hollywood, but it can't schedule the classes and events it would like until the matter is resolved.

Garcetti says the final decision on changes to Hollywood Farmers Market will be up to SEE-LA.

But that's not really the case.

When SEE-LA chooses a new spot for its orphaned Ivar segment, the major landowners at the new site can refuse to agree to its street-use permit, just as Los Angeles Film School did. Landowners may be leery, particularly if the dozens of stalls pushed off Ivar are potentially going to be followed by the rest of the market, as the film school presses for use of its Ivar Theatre.

But for now, Garcetti and Woo seem focused on the much smaller parking lot dispute.

Garcetti suggests the kicked-out Ivar stalls could be set up on Hollywood Boulevard. Another possibility is on Ivar north of Hollywood Boulevard, far removed from the rest of the farmers market.

Woo suggests moving the orphaned segment a block east to Vine Street, where the stalls would be "almost contiguous" to the market, with room to expand. He also points to the Urban Outfitters parking lot off Ivar, and a private parking lot in Cosmo Alley.

SEE-LA has asked an architect to begin evaluating the space options to determine how many stalls might be squeezed in, Woo says.

Since 2007, SEE-LA Chief Executive Pompea Smith and other leaders of the 19-year-old market have been quietly ignoring the film school's warnings that the school intended to expand and wanted daily use of the full block on Ivar.

Garcetti's staff met with representatives of both the market and the school in 2007 and continued to talk with both sides. But nothing substantive came from that.

Two months ago, when the film school formally contested the market's street-closure permit renewal, Smith had no Plan B to fall back on. The school's action triggered a formal hearing process, which is now on hold during the moratorium.

"In 2007, the film school requested access to their parking, and we provided it at the southern end of Ivar," Smith says. "Everything seemed fine. Diana [Derycz-Kessler] seemed to understand the contribution we made to the community."

Now, Smith says, reconfiguring the market will be a huge challenge under any circumstances, due to its great need for space, access and even shade.


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