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Calabasas Tries to Extend Itself for a Cantina

The city orders a study on ways to annex the Sagebrush in Old Town. But L.A. officials aren't eager to part with the sales tax gold mine.

November 17, 2002|Wendy Thermos | Times Staff Writer

The Calabasas City Council recently bellied up to the bar at the Old West-style Sagebrush Cantina and placed its order: a $7,000 study on how to lasso the tax-rich watering hole into the city limits.

Not so fast, said the city of Los Angeles.

The eatery with cowboy murals and sawdust-covered floors -- whose patrons include such celebrities as Sophia Loren and Bruce Springsteen -- is a sales tax gold mine worth fighting for, officials say.

"We're not foolish when it comes to giving up revenue," said Los Angeles City Councilman Dennis Zine, whose district includes the 1,000-seat restaurant. "This isn't a toxic dump that nobody wants; this is a positive cash resource for our city."

The councilman said he would view any boundary change as a "business transaction" that would include a hefty price tag for Calabasas.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday November 19, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 8 inches; 307 words Type of Material: Correction
Annexation bid -- A locator map that accompanied a story in the California section Sunday about a border quarrel between Calabasas and the city of Los Angeles contained an error. The area north of Calabasas and the Ventura Freeway is the city of Hidden Hills and Los Angeles County, not Ventura County.

Asked what amount of money would make for a fair trade, Zine responded, only half joking, "maybe $50 million or $100 million."

Calabasas, an upscale suburb whose residents enjoy hillside views and oak-studded surroundings, knows it's in for a fight. By law, it can't annex the seven-acre parcel, which extends like a thumb across Mulholland Drive from Woodland Hills, without the permission of Los Angeles.

Calabasas officials contend that money is not the driving factor. They said the cantina and adjoining Leonis Adobe -- the birthplace of their city -- are in Los Angeles only because of an accident of history and should be restored to their proper home.

"It's almost like manifest destiny to annex the property," Calabasas City Manager Don Duckworth said. "It doesn't make a lot of sense that on one side of the street is Calabasas and the other side is not."

To be sure, the cantina and adobe anchor Calabasas' Old Town, a two-block stretch of quaint shops and offices connected by cobblestone paving and plank sidewalks that serves as the social hub of the 27,000-resident city.

"It's a very strange border; it's a very silly border," Mayor Lesley Devine said. "There is a table at the cantina where you and your lunch partner can actually be sitting in two different cities."

At least two other efforts to negotiate a deal with Los Angeles failed in the 1990s because of disagreement over how to split sales tax revenue from the cantina. Just how much tax money is at stake in the latest effort is a matter of opinion. Officials of both cities said there has been no recent analysis of the amount of annual revenue generated by the cantina.

A 1994 Los Angeles city report estimated that the restaurant produced $150,000 annually in revenue for the city. A later report on annexation, based on sales tax receipts, identified the cantina as the second-busiest bar in Los Angeles County, behind Gladstone's 4 Fish in Pacific Palisades.

Calabasas officials hope the new annexation study will show that the revenue Los Angeles collects from the Sagebrush Cantina is largely offset by the expense of providing police, fire, street maintenance and other services, Duckworth said. He believes the $150,000 figure is far off the mark.

"I'm suspicious of all numbers until we can figure this all out," Duckworth said. "I wouldn't deny at all that it is a significant sales tax producer for Los Angeles."

While the border feud continues, Sagebrush Cantina owner Bob McCord III is staying out of the line of fire and says he'll be happy with whoever wins.

"In general, we're much more involved with the city of Calabasas than we are with the city of L.A.," he said. "But I've been very happy with Los Angeles for a lot of years."

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