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Bids on Pierce College Farmland May Give Grower 3 More Years : Agriculture: The Los Angeles Community College District got just 2 offers for the lease of the 25 acres Joe Cicero tends. Both involve Cicero.

February 18, 1992|MAYERENE BARKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Farmer Joe Cicero, who in October was in danger of going out of business, will probably be selling freshly harvested fruits and vegetables from his familiar produce stand on Pierce College farmland for at least another three years.

Only two bids were received by the Los Angeles Community College District for the lease of the 25 acres that Cicero has farmed for several years--and both involve Cicero, said Don Love, vice president of administration for Pierce, which is in Woodland Hills.

In one of the bids, Cicero, one of the last farmers in the San Fernando Valley, offered the minimum--$20,000 annually for three years--to continue his operations.

The other bid was submitted by Cicero in partnership with independent contractor Oliver Milton of Woodland Hills, who proposed a joint farming-commercial venture that also would involve a horticulture business.

They offered to lease the land at Victory Boulevard and De Soto Avenue for $40,000 the first year, $50,000 the second year and $60,000 in the final year of the contract.

Calabasas businessman Jeff Goodman presented a third alternative, a proposal to build a miniature golf course or driving range--or both--on the land.

But Love said Goodman's offer was not a bid, but a proposal. "He just wanted to get on the record. It didn't meet the bid specifications."

A district spokesman said Pierce College and district officials will review the bids and make a decision within two weeks. Love said one of the bids involving Cicero will probably be accepted if it meets legal requirements.

Although nearby residents had feared that the college wanted to sell the land to a developer, Love said the parcel is zoned for agricultural use and will remain so for the time being.

"At this point, the land is agricultural, and we're happy with that," he said.

Margo Murman, chairwoman of the Committee to Save the Pierce College Farm, is happy that Cicero will probably stay in business.

"We've all wanted agricultural there and Cicero has done such an excellent job," she said.

Early in October, when district officials informed Cicero that his soon-to-expire contract would not be renewed, they also said they had no immediate plans for the property but were conducting a land-use study.

Cicero was ordered to vacate the property by midnight Oct. 31, but won a reprieve after public outcry. Residents, who wrote letters and made phone calls to college officials, said they had come to value Cicero Farms not only for its fresh produce, hayrides and pumpkin patches, but as a reminder of the area's rural past.

In a hastily called meeting Oct. 31, Pierce's then-new president, Lowell Erickson, and district Vice Chancellor Neal Yoneji told Cicero that he could stay on the land at least until his crops were harvested. Cicero attributed the reprieve to the farm's popularity with the public. "I don't think we would have gotten the vice chancellor out here if there wasn't so much public concern," he said.

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