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Sonoma rejects chain store ban


After days of making national news, Sonoma city leaders on Wednesday backed away from enacting a temporary ban on chain stores, a move some saw as a way of protecting the town’s character and others likened to shutting out economic development.

The city for months has been embroiled in controversy over efforts to regulate “formula businesses.” But the debate reached a new level last week when it was reported that retail giant Williams-Sonoma wanted to open a store on Broadway where Charles Williams got his start in 1956, but might be prevented as a result of those rules.

At Wednesday’s contentious meeting, Councilman Steve Barbose said he supported the moratorium because he said it would have allowed city leaders to “take a deep breath and not have something like a Starbucks on the Plaza while we are grappling with this issue.”

But Councilman Tom Rouse said a temporary ban would send the wrong message.

“The headlines aren’t going to say we’re imposing a 45-day respite from corporate America,” Rouse said. They’re “going to say Sonoma bans corporate America from coming to the gates.”

The original proposal for a moratorium called for a city-wide ban on formula businesses, defined as “a restaurant, retail or personal service in a chain of ten or more like businesses offering a standard array of services.” The council could have extended the moratorium for up to a year.

Barbose made a motion to limit the moratorium so that restaurants with more than 250 outlets would be prevented from opening in the city’s historic Plaza. But he dropped that bid when it became clear that Rouse and Mayor Joanne Sanders would not support a ban of any kind.

The urgency ordinance required a four-fifths vote for passage.

The discussion about “formula businesses” was sparked by the opening of a Staples store last year in what had been the site of a Ford dealership. That led to the formation of an ad hoc committee, led by Barbose, that has formulated recommendations that will be the basis of a draft ordinance that city leaders are expected to consider later this year.

The proposal to enact a temporary ban in the meantime was met with significant public scrutiny after word about Williams-Sonoma’s plans leaked out last Friday. With 253 stores nationwide, the $3 billion company could fall under new rules being considered in Sonoma.

The proposed Williams-Sonoma store is within the city’s historical district but outside the plaza area, where the proposed regulations call for banning businesses that include more than 250 outlets.

Sanders said she heard from a number of people who said they were “appalled” that Williams-Sonoma might be prevented from coming back to Sonoma.

But Councilman Ken Brown accused the media of over-hyping the issue to try to sell papers, and he questioned the need for a lengthy discussion given the opposition to a ban from two council members that made it clear the measure would not pass.

“I appreciate the public comment, but my wife’s going to Hawaii in the morning. I’d just as soon get home as early as possible tonight,” he said.

The council heard from about 10 people, most of whom were against the moratorium.

“You have a strapped budget, you’ve reduced your rainy day fund, as I understand it, and here you are trying to impose your will on property owners also,” said one Sonoma resident who did not support the moratorium.

6 Responses to “Sonoma rejects chain store ban”

  1. Jer says:

    What was really voted on by the Sonoma City Council was wheither or not Sonoma City government would decide what businesses the residents could buy from. They voted to let each resident make their own purchasing decisions, or actually vote with their dollars. Chains or any other business that comes to Sonoma will still have to meet land-use, zoning and other regulations, those are unchanged. If eoungh people don’t go to the new businesses, they won’t succeed and will go away.
    I, for one, am tired of other people deciding who I can’t and can buy from and often that also means how much I have to pay for something I want or need.
    I want, and now Sonoma offers me some economic freedom. Thank you.

  2. Follower says:

    I have bad news for you… our county has been growing since the Russians came.
    Sonoma County is an awesome place to live & the word is out. Believe me, I don’t like it any more than you but it’s just reality.

    I still remember when you could drive from Windsor to Petaluma at the speed limit, 24/7!

    It’s worth noting that Redevelopment money has done more to increase the population of Sonoma County than any “big business” so you should be quite happy to see that go.
    “Build it and they will come” Or should I say… Construirlo y ellos vendrán.
    ..and BOY did they!

    The Sonoma County that you & I loved is gone and it ain’t coming back weather you buy your eggs from the corner store or a Super Wal-Mart.

  3. CJ-

    You clearly have no idea what motivates citizen-based political movements like ours. It’s intellectually lazy to assume that somehow our effort to build some sort of accountability and to insist on effectiveness from the SMART organization is in any major way based on “expansion”- or what you really meant to say, which is growth.

    Do you really believe that unfettered growth is the best policy for our communities? I’m far from anti-growth, but I don’t support throwing to doors wide open either.

    Please- do your homework before proclaiming your faulty conclusions.

  4. Ray Paquette says:

    Are people not looking down the road, or do they just not care about Sonoma County.
    If we continue the population and building growth we have been doing over the last few decades, what will this county look like in another 50 years. I like the smaller towns in the county; that is what gives Sonoma County it’s charm. I like going to areas where they don’t have the chain stores. How many small towns have been destroyed by shopping malls.

  5. CJ Seamans says:

    Good, now maybe if the other people (aka SMART Repeal group and anti-expansion of the airport group) would allow for expansion to happen, then the worry of property taxes and higher taxes will stop. We can’t grow economically if we continue to destroy the ability to grow.

    Do people realize companies have been leaving the area? Good job Sonoma for making the right decision!

  6. Missy says:

    Good. Let’s bring back William-Sonoma, please.