Thursday, July 10, 2008

Chabad to leave Temescal Canyon

Robert Garcia, executive director and counsel for The City Project, sent in a posting early this morning to our blog about the ongoing Chabad saga we mentioned last week and what happened at last night's emergency meeting.

The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy Board voted 8-1, and the Advisory Board voted unanimously, to keep Tesmescal [sic] Gateway Park open for all. The Conservancy upheld the decision by the Executive Director and Staff not to renew a non-renewable lease for a private day-care center at the Park, denying the appeal by a private Palisades group. Several hundred people attended the hearing at the Park July 7, which went from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m.

Sandy Cooney, the state resources agency's representative on the board, was the sole dissenting vote in favor of renewing the lease, according to those at the meeting. We haven't been able to reach him today to ask about his vote, but we'll update this post when we do. *(Update: We were able to reach him Wednesday. His comments are at the end of the post.) His boss, Secretary for Resources Mike Chrisman, wrote that letter to Chabad at the behest of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. It includes guidelines on how to deal with the conservancy and suggestions (that Chabad took into account) on how to formulate an appeal for an extended lease.

Addressing the board last night, Chabad attorney Benjamin Reznik asked its members to be flexible with Chabad and allow the group five months to get its paperwork in order, noting that the conservancy for years has used Chabad's money to help pay for park upkeep. Today, Reznik was pretty matter-of-fact on the phone about the final vote.

"This is a lot of to do about nothing quite frankly," Reznik said. "I guess they’ll be looking for an alternative site in the interim."

He also said that whatever happened with the new Los Liones site for the preschool (which has riled the Getty Villa and a local Mormon church) will likely be "more exciting" and a "more interesting case." Reznik and Chabad plan to file paperwork (a conditional use permit) next week to allow them to use the site for the preschool. Meanwhile, they also are drawing up road plans to submit to the city.

"The city is not accepting dedicated roads these days because of a shortage of funds in some areas," Reznik said. "We’re going to offer to pay for it. So we're going through that process, designing plans -- Chabad is in the process of doing all that."

Conservancy Executive Director Joe Edmiston, who denied the lease extension last month, was "gratified" that the board decided to keep to its word and not renew the lease.

"The board last year said no extensions under any circumstances, and they should adhere to what they said before," Edmiston said today. "We're not in the private rental business. We're in the public park area. How about five more months? Nobody believes they can do what they need to get done in five months. They're not going to leave in January ...

"And frankly in January, I'm just going to say it, there's not a highway patrolman born who will come in and evict the Chabad kids, holding a Torah in one hand and holding onto Rabbi Cunin's frock coat with the other. It's never going to happen."

Rabbi Zushe Cunin, who heads Chabad of the Pacific Palisades, said the organization would not appeal again and sounded resigned to the decision.

"The board did what it did," Cunin said. "It’s unfortunate. Our requests were very minimal. We will live with their decision, and we will immediately be identifying any other locations as necessary because we anticipate there may be delays in our CUP process" beyond Sept. 4, when the school's fall term begins.

"It would have been heartwarming to feel a sensitive partnership," he continued. "But it was not in the cards."

*New comments below:

Cooney, who was the lone dissenting vote on the Board at Monday night's meeting, said he'd voted in favor of Chabad's appeal, but had not made up his mind on whether the lease should be renewed.

"The item on the agenda put into motion in the discussion, and ultimately voted on, which was to grant Chabad an appeal, in effect overturned Joe’s denial of the lease extension, but it did not convey a new lease," Cooney said. "What it did was set into motion a new process through which a new lease could be potentially be granted."

He said the overarching conversation on public access versus private interest was not the "issue on the table to be voted"; especially since the Conservancy had previously allowed a non-renewable lease to be extended.

"Obviously I was completely outnumbered by the entire board …" Cooney said. "In the end, out of fairness and listening to all sides and trying to be as absolutely objective as possible, I felt that we should have moved to the next step, which is grant the appeal, then we should consider the remainder of the agenda and whether or not we should take those steps that would move toward a new lease."

-- Tami Abdollah

Photo: Rabbi Zushe Cunin, at the preschool's current site, is at odds with Getty Villa, state parks, the Coastal Commission and a Pacific Palisades neighborhood association. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times
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As an American and as a Jew whose parents survived the horrors of the Holocaust, I was in complete shock when I read Conservancy Executive Director Joe Edmiston's quote to the Los Angeles Times: "I'm just going to say it, there's not a highway patrolman born who will come in and evict the Chabad kids, holding a Torah in one hand and holding onto Rabbi Cunin's frock coat with the other. It's never going to happen."

It's 2008. As a public official, if Edmiston were to make such comments about a priest or a mullah, he would and should be called to task and severely reprimanded. Does the fact that Edmiston is Jewish give him a green light to make sinister and racist comments about a rabbi? I don't think so.

There is no place in our community for intolerance and racism, even against your own people. Period.

Posted by: Norman Sweetzer | July 08, 2008 at 08:30 PM

We appreciate the Times continuing coverage of Temescal Gateway Park.

Jane Ulman covers the July 7 hearing in the Jewish Journal:

"The vote upheld the unequivocal denial by Conservancy executive director Joe Edmiston on June 12 to extend Chabad's lease. It also confirmed the decision of the Conservancy in April 2007 to stop leasing the public parkland to private entities -- including Chabad's Palisades Jewish Early Education Center and Little Dolphins Preschool -- and to increase public access to the park, especially for underprivileged youth from congested urban areas. . . .

"And while Chabad supporters stressed that the school is using less than half an acre in a 140-acre park, the Conservancy's Edmiston said that the park is predominately covered by chaparral, while Chabad's site, which includes three trailers and a fenced-in field, occupies one of only two flat, grassy spots in the park that can accommodate large groups of children. 'It's a zero-sum situation. If you have trailers there, you're not going to be able to have kids playing there,' he said.

Amy Lethbridge, in charge of education for the Conservancy, told the group that more experiential programs have been planned for the coming year, including additional contracts with Los Angeles Unified School District to bring out more kids.

'I need space to serve the very programs the park was purchased to serve,' she said."

Posted by: Robert Garcia | July 08, 2008 at 08:31 PM

The most interesting part of this whole affair is the fact that Joe Edmiston must have gone through a major charachter change. Is this the same person that put up two fake stop sign violation cameras on the road of the "all access" park that he so proudly refers to in the article? Is this the same Joe Edmiston that is denying a tiny area of the park to a small school for a few months while continuing his crooked fund raising efforts via collecting $100 at least 5,000 times (by last count)from unsuspecting motorists whom are traveling legally close to a stop sign on the only road of his "open" park?

Posted by: Gary Solomon | July 08, 2008 at 08:46 PM

Joe Edmiston should be removed for his anti-semitic outburst.

Posted by: Commentator | July 08, 2008 at 10:14 PM

There is no justification for personal attacks here.

A board member emphasized at the July 7 heating that everyone was respectful and avoided personal attacks throughout the three hour hearing. This was true regardless of how one felt on the merits -- whether the lease should be renewed for a non-park use, or whether the parks should be kept open for all.

The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy board voted 8-1 against renewing the non-renewable lease. The Advisory Council voted unanimously against renewing the non-renewable lease. As discussed at length at the three hour hearing on July 7, the Palisades group promised not to seek renewal of the lease. What does that have to do with any individual?

Some children and adults did indeed speak about their experiences in the pre-school, including the religious, spiritual, and cultural aspects. Some children and adults spoke about their experience in hiking and playing in the park, including cultural aspects of being in the Palisades and coming from the inner city. The history of discriminatory access to parks and recreation in Los Angeles was explicitly. There have been no sinister, racist, or intolerant comments.

I suggest that people remain respectful and civil here.

Posted by: Robert Garcia | July 08, 2008 at 10:27 PM

I'm sorry but Joe Edmiston and his remarks are no different than Rev. Wright, only Edmiston is paid for by California taxpayers. How sad and shameful. I am sick to my stomach. Edmiston should publicly apologize and then he should resign.

Posted by: Jennifer Malsat | July 08, 2008 at 11:22 PM

In my view Mr. Garcia is being disingenuous. In my view it was clear at the Board meeting that many participants from the inner-city "anti" coalition were misled into believing that the issue was a permanent privatization, rather than a short temporary lease extension. Further, if they had taken the trouble to read Chabad's appeal, one of the conditions Chabad stipulated was that the meadow surrounding the temporary site was to be released from any restrictions that interfered with public use. It was falsely represented that access to this meadow, a key flat area, would be unavailable to the public.

In this writers opinion what we saw was a naked political power play by a largely Latino non-mainstream coalition that was economical with the truth to achieve their objectives, and cynically used little children in pursuit of those objectives. The experience provided a valuable lesson on the political tactics of the left.

The Board, despite that, decided on the merits to deny Chabad's appeal on grounds that it did not comply with the SMMC Act, rather than on any political grounds. To their credit they were dispassionate, listened to all points of view with attention, and then voted based on the law.

Posted by: Commentator | July 08, 2008 at 11:31 PM

i agree. edmiston and his outrageous remarks must be rejected and cannot be tolerated. it's a dangerous and slippery-slope when public officials engage in divisive rhetoric and religious intolerance. the entire community must stand united when it comes to combating hatred and divisiveness.

Posted by: marco binecca | July 08, 2008 at 11:46 PM

Joe Edmiston has secured his bully pulpit over the last 25 years without ever having to face a public election. His actions are directly responsible for the recent fires that burnt in the canyons of Malibu which left so many good citizens in disarray. Talk about "zero sum", his bully tactics, and secured position make Joe more of a mafia man then a honest public servant.

Joe Edmiston has a badge and gun, his own police force, direct control of hundreds of millions of dollars in state funds and lands. He serves at the pleasure of a Board of Directors, also unelected. He is not accountable to the public who pays his salary.

People with such power should be required to be elected. They should be required to answer to the public for the actions that they take.

Preserving open space is important but education to children should take priority. And if they need a bit more time to move into their new location, is there not enough public outdoor space to fill the need in the interim? Shame on you Joe.

Steve P. Weiner
Malibu, CA

Posted by: Steve Weiner | July 08, 2008 at 11:55 PM

This is the same Robert Garcia who appeared at the Malibu City Council meeting to support Edmiston in his quest to force overnight camping into our box canyons and parks where fire to cook would be allowed. The residents, in fear for their lives and homes with three fires last year to cope with, were incensed. I guess Garcia and Edmiston are BFFs and so where Edmiston goes, Garcia goes to do his Hispandering. Sounds incestuous to me. It should be investigated.

Posted by: Susan Tellem | July 09, 2008 at 08:34 AM

Joe Edmiston and Robert Garcia teaming up, that is eco-terrorism in my opinion. Garcia uses a lot of jumbled jargon to inflame his "peers" and garner public attention, Edmiston uses public funds to boost his own ego. Both need to go, neither of them are worth the paper they push to gain power.
This statement by Commentator in response to Garcia's mumbling puts it all in perspective, Garcia USES poor kids to push his agenda and tries to say he does it for poor people.
"In this writers opinion what we saw was a naked political power play by a largely Latino non-mainstream coalition that was economical with the truth to achieve their objectives, and cynically used little children in pursuit of those objectives. The experience provided a valuable lesson on the political tactics of the left."

Posted by: marko peer | July 09, 2008 at 09:11 AM

Where does Chabad get the money for all this real estate, just from the telethons? Seems like they have a site in every community in the united states with a population of 5,000 or more.

Fires in the canyons. Good jobs Garcia and Edmiston. You two are rocket scientists.

Shame on you, Edmiston -- torah and coattails. Shame on you, previous commenter, for wrapping yourself in the holocaust. Shame on you, Chabad, for not sticking to the strip malls.

Posted by: Uncle Billy Went to Washington | July 09, 2008 at 09:29 AM

Joe Edmiston has always treated his post like a throne and the park like his personal property. He is callous, and in the view of many who know him in the environmental community, he is a bourgeois elitist. And aren't we suffering from a lack of schools and school sites to begin with?? How exactly is this helping that situation or moreover, how is it benefiting the site? He most certainly should be removed for his anti-semitic outburst, or at least flogged in the parking lot of the school he is evicting.

Posted by: R. Mills | July 09, 2008 at 09:39 AM

Where does Chabad get the money? From many thousands of contributors, large and small, in every community where they are located, over the entire year, not just at Telethon time, In addition, the Chabad non-sectarian programs receive Federal, State and local funding, and are scrutinized closely and regularly by those agencies to insure compliance with both the U.S. and California Constitutions, and associated licensing, certification, and other regulations. Chabad of California is audited by an independent CPA firm; in fact many of its grants require such an audit.

But the question is a red herring with, it seems to me, unworthy implications.. This discussion isn't about sources of 501(c)(3) charitable funds overseen by the IRS and other regulatory agencies. The IRS code is both explicit and strict. Instead the discussion is about the hearing on the Temescal Gateway Park.

In fact, the question of Chabad funding was raised as a red-herring argument by those leftists at the meeting attempting to create a straw man of "rich" Chabad vs. the poor children of the inner city. In fact the "anti" coalition is perfectly free to appeal for charitable funds to the mainstream Latino and broader mainstream community if they are a legal tax-exempt organisation. If they have not been more sucessful that is certainly not the fault of Chabad's contributors, but rather evidence of lack of support by the mainstream communities.

Posted by: Commentator | July 09, 2008 at 09:53 AM

What most people don't know is that Joe's wife runs a little camp of her own called Happy Trails (yep, stole it from Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, it is not affiliated with that organization or foundation in the least). It is the ONLY link on the website for Joe's little fiefdom and purports to provide camping opportunities for underprivileged children. I find it highly suspicious that taxpayer funds are used to provide promotions for a spouse's boutique efforts and thereby garnering even more of the tax base for the Edmiston household to feed off of. Remove special favors and non-bid contract awards to spouses, but also clean house by removing Edmiston himself so that we don't find favors being gifted to any other "groups" such as the City Project. The hungry foxes have definitely gotten into the chicken coop, time for us Farmers to hike up the suspenders and load the shotguns to clean our land of the marauding varmits feasting on our efforts.

Posted by: Smokey Joe Needs to Be Put Out | July 09, 2008 at 11:40 AM

Forget everything I wrote above, I just realized that I am an idiot.

Posted by: Jennifer Malsat | July 09, 2008 at 10:52 PM

I apologize for my ridiculous remarks which were posted earlier. I have a very low income and haven't accomplished anywhere near the amount of things Joe has in his lifetime, so once again I am sorry and I am way out of line.

Posted by: marco binecca | July 09, 2008 at 10:59 PM

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The last two posts of July 9th seem too suspicious to not comment on. Both have withdrawn their previous opinions using some very self-deprecating language that has led me to believe either that Robert Garcia contacted them and strongly suggested that they immediately retract their comments;
or, that these two posts are not from the original posters which I believe is the more correct surmize considering that the posts were made within a mere seven minutes of each other.
Something just isn't right and I can't be the only one realizing how suspicious this is, but it is definitely going along the entire cloak of suspicious activity that surrounds both Edmiston and his favorite bbuddy Garcia.
Ecoterrorists is a perfect definition for them and their little domains they create to bolster their egos. Must be lacking in some other masculinity arenas?
And WTF is up with wearing a gun, Joe? Who are you impressing or intimidating, which is more important to you?