Council Rejects Staff Recommendations That Would Have Caused Closure, Approves Mulberry Lease

AGGRESSIVE QUESTIONING OF PRESCHOOL TEACHER ANGERS RESIDENTS


At its meeting last night, the Town Council approved a 5-year lease amendment (with a 5-year option) for the Mulberry Tree Preschool, which has stood for 50 years adjacent to the Moraga Commons.


In its approval, the council rejected numerous staff recommendations that were notably less generous and far more restrictive than those recommended for the Hacienda lease deal, ultimately deciding to allow assignment to a business successor and reversing an earlier provision requiring Mulberry to forfeit their building and all site improvements to the town.


INEXPLICABLY STRICT STAFF RECOMMENDATIONS APPEARED DESIGNED TO FORCE CLOSURE OF SCHOOL, CAPTURE BUILDING AND ASSETS FOR TOWN

The Mulberry lease recommendations from staff included an inexplicably short, 3-year term with no options or extensions (compared to earlier terms of 10 years or more); a blanket prohibition of assignment, sale or transfer (previously allowed); and a provision requiring Mulberry to forfeit to the Town their building and all improvements when the lease ended.


The building forfeiture was added just 6 months ago, reportedly to avoid placing additional financial burden on Mulberry’s owner should the business be unable to continue due to Covid. However, even with COVID abating and a path to recovery becoming clear for Mulberry, staff nonetheless wanted to retain the building surrender as part of any lease agreement.

SMARTMoraga highlighted those inequitable terms and called for their rejection in our earlier story here, as did numerous residents via public comment during the meeting and via letters beforehand.


It didn’t take much imagination to surmise that the combination of building forfeiture terms, minimal lease term and prohibition on assignment would be a death sentence for Mulberry while providing the town with a turn-key preschool at no cost. That issue also raised in our earlier article and in a Nextdoor thread here.


NO RATIONALE PROVIDED FOR STRICT, INFLEXIBLE TERMS

The staff’s written report and meeting presentation failed to provide a reasonable explanation for the proposed lease terms that so significantly departed from 50 years’ worth of previous terms and the relative generosity of the unrelated Hacienda lease that was negotiated at the same time. Mulberry’s director and preschool teacher spoke to the council to articulate the terms she felt would be reasonable and allow her business to continue rather than unceremoniously be forced to close.


WATCH: AND THEN, THE FIREWORKS

The fireworks began as Councilmember Stromberg kicked off the usual “question” portion of the agenda, launching into what can only be described as a 10-minute, nonstop, hostile interrogation of preschool teacher and Mulberry Tree Owner, Susie Allison.


What followed during the subsequent public comment was nearly 20 minutes of universal support for a reasonable lease agreement and condemnation of Stromberg’s treatment of the preschool teacher.


It appears Stromberg was trying to impugn the integrity of Mulberry Tree’s owner and trying to prove she bamboozled the school’s community supporters through lies and omissions (which she didn’t).


We’re not sure how that connects to justifying the clearly-imbalanced lease terms nor how it warrants the overbearing treatment residents were subjected to witnessing. His questions and her answers demonstrated that it was he who was operating on inaccurate information and flawed conclusions. It also showed a troubling lack of balanced, objective decision-making and propriety as an elected official.


A video of the questioning is below; resident comment and criticism begins at 3:28:30 in this video of the entire meeting.


Got thoughts? You can email the town council; contact info is here