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Calabasas Stays Strong in Wildfire Aftermath

If one only read the tabloids and the TMZs of the internet, the city of Calabasas might best be associated with Kanye and Kim Kardashian West, who dominate celebrity news as hip-hop and reality television royalty. Yet as the longtime residents of Calabasas recently proved, this town of 24,000 people, which was incorporated as a city in 1991, has proved so much more; a resilient, close-knit and down-to-earth community, particularly in the aftermath of the Woolsey Fire, which last November devastated parts of the region in its march to the sea through neighboring Malibu. On May 16, the city of Calabasas celebrated incoming Mayor David Shapiro, and in what was a de facto state of the city event, the Mayoral Luncheon at Founders Hall highlighted a slew of upcoming commercial retail developments. “Strong and united with the business community” went the slogan in the slideshow, as Calabasas prides itself on no business tax and no business license or registration required. The formula has worked: as the presentation underscored, a roster of entities, including Coty International, MobileCause, Cheesecake Factory, Harbor Freight Tools, Alcatel-Lucent, AmaWaterWays and Yamaha Music’s International Artist Relation Headquarters have taken up residence in the city. Currently, there is some major redevelopment going on, with Tim Smith Volvo and the former Mini Cooper dealership now merged with the Bob Smith BMW dealership, going through renovations, as is Calabasas Country Club. There is the under-construction, three-story Rondell Oasis Hotel, which will bring 127 keys, amenities, a smart park and anticipated annual revenues of more than $600,00 to the city; plus a 51-room, 28,787-square-foot expansion of the Hotel Garden Inn, joining such existing hospitality jewels such as boutique destination The Anza – A Calabasas Hotel on Calabasas Road. Dennis Washburn, Calabasas Planning Commission chairman and founding mayor of incorporated Calabasas, said hotels in town are at 80- to 90-percent occupancy. “That’s another good sign that the economy is doing well,” Washburn told the Business Journal. Some delay occurred a few years back with the expansion of the Mian Companies-owned Hilton Garden Inn because of an influx of guests stayed there during the Porter Ranch gas leak situation. “We’re happy that he’s adding on to the hotel,” said Washburn, who added that the new rooms are due fall 2019. “It’s moving fast.” During the Woolsey fire, Good Nite Inn on Aurora Road suffered damage to a couple dozen rooms. “A giant 12-foot fireball jumped the freeway and set the back of the motel on fire,” Washburn said. However, Good Nite has been able to stay open as it repairs its hind quarter. “The rest of the hotel is in operation and packed on (May 18),” Washburn said. Originally, the Rondell, a project of Malibu resident and builder Richard Weintraub, was designed as four stories and 128 rooms, or “a little more upscale,” as Washburn put it. However, some nimby pushback and “a whole bunch of issues left undone before we were even incorporated,” as Washburn put it, regarding a lack of set up for run-off water management, water supply and environmental amenities around the property delayed the approved project. Washburn suspects that they are mere weeks away from resolving issues regarding partnership between the developer, the city and MTA on a hotel-adjacent transit area, then construction will begin. In general, Calabasas is ripe for more hotel business, according to Washburn. “The city could use another 500 rooms,” he said. At the luncheon, Shapiro praised corporate citizen Caruso, the Los Angeles-based developer, and its retail progeny, the Commons at Calabasas, where an unnamed restaurant will imminently take the place of the former Greenleaf storefront. Shapiro called the retail complex, which just celebrated its 20th anniversary last November, “a cornerstone of our city” and praised Chief Executive Rick Caruso’s town center for stimulating the local economy. On the restaurant front, Old Town Calabasas saw Lovi’s Delicatessen, Rosti, The Stand, King’s Fish House, Peachhouse and Le Pain Quotidien step up to help in the aftermath of the Woolsey Fire; and in a small video presentation embedded in the luncheon’s programming, Shapiro visited Alex Lovi’s deli at 24005 Calabasas Road with paper straws to kick off a citywide ban on single-use plastic straws, cutlery and stirrers instituted April 30.

Michael Aushenker
Michael Aushenker
A graduate of Cornell University, Michael covers commercial real estate for the San Fernando Valley Business Journal. Prior to the Business Journal, Michael covered the community and entertainment beats as a staff writer for various newspapers, including the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, The Palisadian-Post, The Argonaut and Acorn Newspapers. He has also freelanced for the Santa Barbara Independent, VC Reporter, Malibu Times and Los Feliz Ledger.
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