By DEREK MOORE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma’s latest foray into whether it should regulate chain stores had city leaders on the defensive Monday night as they discussed the formation of a committee to study the issue.
Mayor Laurie Gallian and Councilmember Steve Barbose proposed forming an ad-hoc committee to address the controversial topic.
But Monday night’s meeting revealed how difficult it will be to reach consensus.
Councilmembers debated the need for a committee at all, and then, who among them was most qualified to serve on it.
Gallian withdrew her name as a candidate after some councilmembers raised concerns that she and Barbose share the same view on chain stores. Generally, the pair are in favor of new regulations.
But the sharpest exchanges were between Councilwoman Joanne Sanders and Councilman Ken Brown.
Sanders lamented not being a candidate for the committee, saying that as a business owner she had the experience for it.
To which Brown replied, “I don’t believe being a small business owner makes you an expert.”
Sonoma’s debate over chain stores was sparked in March after Staples announced plans to open an office supply store at the site of a former Ford dealership.
Councilmembers turned down a proposal to block those plans but since then have debated whether the city should enact more oversight of chain or big-box stores.
Other than design review of buildings, Sonoma does not define or regulate chain businesses that meet zoning regulations, including in the city’s historic downtown area, which is ground zero of the current debate.
Sanders and Councilmember Tom Rouse, who are generally viewed as the council’s two most business-friendly members, objected to the formation of a new committee to tackle the issue.
“I want to back away from this. I want to let what’s already in place to continue to be in place,” said Rouse.
But Brown, who originally brought the Staples issue to the council, said there was an “impetus to move this along” because he said another business may come forward with another plan that could test the city’s resolve.
In the end, the council formed an eight-person committee that includes a diversity of opinion on the subject.
They include Barbose, Rouse, members of the city’s chamber of commerce and Ben Boyce, coordinator of the Accountable Development Coalition, who is an advocate of community impact reports. Some laud these reports for providing more detailed planning, while others view them as another layer of expensive bureaucracy.
Boyce said afterward that he was surprised by the appointment but he praised the council for seeking diverse opinions.