Negotiations for Westlake private school in gridlock

Carden Conejo remains unwilling to sign the current 15th version of the lease proposal with the Conejo Valley Unified School District because of a clause that terminates it if the property is sold. An email between Dr. Mark McLaughlin, superintendent, and Carden Conejo’s president, Nasi Peretz, dated Nov. 15, 2023, CVUSD maintained they would not remove the clause that Carden Conejo considers a no-deal in the draft lease of CVUSD’s property located in Westlake. If Carden Conejo does not agree to the terms, the school’s lease will end in June 2025, and the school will have to find a new campus.

CVUSD said the new lease that would begin in 2025 must be between Carden Conejo’s new name and the district. This would mean that a new lease will be drawn between the new business and non-profit, Carden Conejo School and CVUSD. The conflict Carden Conejo has with the new proposed lease is that CVUSD includes a Successor in Interest clause stating the lease would be terminated if CVUSD should choose to sell the property in the foreseeable future, thus terminating the lease once the property is sold and under new ownership. The overall negotiating process for a new lease between Carden and CVUSD has already cost the district over $100,000 in legal fees.

CVUSD has leased the property to Carden Westlake Village Inc. since 1983. The private elementary school for ages Pre-K to fifth grade has about 160 students enrolled. The current owners of the private school, Robert and Hollis Flemming, leased the property starting in 2005 and resigned a lease in 2017, but when they announced their retirement in 2021, CVUSD stipulated that the new business name and owner would need to be titled in the 2025 lease when the Flemming lease agreement ends.

Carden Conejo wants the lease to be changed so that it specifies and ensures that the lease would be legally bound and respected to the new owner rather than causing an interruption in the lease and subsequently the functioning of the private school. Carden Conejo also wants the lease to say that the new owners would be required to give them nine months notice to find a new location, called the Third Party Termination Notice.

Dr. Victor Hayek, CVUSD Deputy Superintendent of Business Services, said that the addition of the clause was due to the fact that the 2017 lease did not include this stipulation. Hayak added that the reasoning for the addition is, “We [would not] own [the property] anymore, and you can’t bind anybody who potentially wants to buy a piece of property with a tenant.”
However, Hayek said that there is not any talk of selling the property at this time. “We just can’t turn around and sell a property tomorrow. We are a public entity. So we have to go through this long process if we decide that we want to sell that property. [Carden Conejo] would actually be able to bid on it if they were interested in purchasing it as well,” Hayek said. He also said that Carden has never expressed interest in purchasing the property from the district.

Hayek claims the district has no plans on what to do with the property if Carden Conejo does not sign the $268,496.00 per-year lease. “So they’re there until July of 2025. It’s still early for us to determine what we’re going to do with it. We’re assuming that at some point in time, [Carden Conejo] is just going to either stay there or pull out,” Hayek said.