The problems with the Lubavitch

Lubavitch ain’t leaving without a very litigious fight
July 13, 2008, 10:51 pm
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Chabad Appeals Temescal Eviction

July 02, 2008

Danielle Gillespie , Staff Writer

The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy board will vote on Monday night whether to allow the Palisades Jewish Early Childhood Center to continue operating its program in Temescal Gateway Park until the end of January.

A year ago, the Palisades Chabad’s preschool was given notice that its lease agreement with the Santa Monica Conservancy would not be renewed. According to the lease, which expired this June 23, ‘the landlord and tenant agree that this lease will not be extended or renewed under any circumstances beyond the termination date.’

Despite the language, Chabad Rabbi Zushe Cunin asked for a lease extension at the beginning of June. Conservancy Executive Director Joe Edmiston denied the request, but Cunin has subsequently appealed Edmiston’s decision to the Conservancy board.

The board has the power to make the final determination at its 7:30 p.m. emergency meeting on Monday in Stewart Hall at Temescal Gateway Park, 15601 Sunset Blvd. The public is invited.

Cunin told the Palisadian-Post that he has asked for an extension because it is taking longer to secure the proper permits to relocate the school to a storage building off Los Liones Drive at the base of Castellammare resident Gene Gladden’s property.

‘We do believe that we will be in our new location long before January,’ Cunin said. ‘We are pursuing this for the security of our parents and ourselves.’

Cunin signed a three-year lease agreement with Gladden, but the 28-year-old storage building is not easy to access. The building sits on a hillside behind the Mormon Church’s gated parking lot and along the Getty Villa’s service road. Gladden’s driveway is shared with other neighbors and located off a narrow road.

The Mormon Church and the Getty have denied the Chabad access, and the Castellammare neighbors have argued that Gladden’s driveway is not appropriate. Cunin has agreed he would not use the driveway.

Cunin and his attorney Benjamin Reznik, a partner at Jeffer, Mangels, Butler and Marmaro, examined city-planning files and discovered a reference to a dedicated public easement off Los Liones. According to Reznik, the road is located on part of the Getty’s service road and a portion of the Mormon Church’s property.

Reznik said he is currently pursuing plans to use the public easement to access the building and will soon apply for a conditional-use permit (CUP) to operate a school in a residential zone.

‘The current CUP process is taking longer than we expected,’ Cunin said.

The Chabad has found other facilities that could temporarily house the preschool, but would prefer to stay in Temescal Gateway Park, Cunin said. As customary over the last few years, the preschool has packed its belongings into storage for the summer and is operating a summer program at Palisades Elementary.

Cunin has sought help regarding the Temescal lease agreement from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s office. On June 26, California Secretary for Resources Mike Chrisman sent a letter to Cunin on behalf of a request from Schwarzenegger.

According to the letter, obtained through the Public Records Act, Chrisman provided Cunin ‘with what I hope are helpful guidelines for proceeding with the SMMC board.’ Chrisman attached guidelines that explain the application process.

Chrisman also drew up a document for Cunin to sign. The document indicates that if the Conservancy board extends the lease, the Chabad will abide by certain stipulations, such as paying rent for the entire term of the extension and complying with the terms of the previous lease agreement.

‘The purpose of this is to reinforce their commitment,’ said Sandy Cooney, spokesman for the California Resources Agency. ‘It is not a guarantee of any kind of lease extension.’

Cooney said the letter was sent because Cunin asked for assistance, and the agency tries to help groups whenever possible.

The Conservancy is under the California Resources Agency’s umbrella, but is an independent organization with complete autonomy to authorize or deny the lease extension, Cooney said. While the Resources Agency does not have the ability to approve an extension, one member of the seven-member Conservancy board is a representative from the agency.

‘How much weight [the letter] will carry with the board is not important here,’ Cooney said. ‘The board will make the decision independently.’

Cunin said he is grateful to Schwarzenegger’s staff. ‘The governor is a children’s advocate, and we do appreciate that they are trying to be helpful, so the children can have an easy transition into their next school,’ Cunin said.

If the Conservancy board decides to allow the Chabad to stay until January, this would not be the first extension on a non-renewable lease agreement. The 2006 lease agreement, which expired in June 2007, also contained a clause that said, ‘The landlord and tenant agree that there will be no extensions to this agreement.’

At that time, the Conservancy board decided to give the Chabad an extension because another preschool (Little Dolphins) was given until this summer to find a new location, Edmiston said. Little Dolphins’ lease expired last summer, but the agreement did not have a ‘no extension’ clause. The preschool asked to stay in the park another year in order to find a new location, and the board decided it would be unfair to ask the Chabad to leave earlier, Edmiston said.

Little Dolphins moved at the end of June to a new facility in Santa Monica. The Conservancy plans to use the space once occupied by Little Dolphins and the Chabad for at-risk youth programs.

Now, ‘it will be unfair to have told Little Dolphins to leave and allow the Chabad to stay,’ Edmiston said.


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