By BOB NORBERG
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A Sebastopol council member’s misdirected email and a refusal by the mayor to allow a critic’s slide show during public comment have become issues in the contentious debate over a CVS Pharmacy proposal.
In the first instance, opponents sought to have Councilwoman Kathleen Shaffer disqualified from making a decision on the fate of the CVS project, contending that the email showed that Shaffer was biased in favor of the project.
In the second, opponents said being barred from using visuals to argue their side was a violation of their free speech rights.
Neither presents a legal problem that will hinder the City Council as it weighs whether to give the developer the go-ahead, said City Attorney Larry McLaughlin.
However, it does reveal the depth of the opposition to a project proposed for one of Sebastopol’s most prominent locations, and the emotion it has stirred.
“We are never going to throw in the towel, we will continue to work to get something really good there,” said Helen Shane of the Committee for Small Town Sebastopol. “We are not subverting the democratic process; we are working with it. This is not a totalitarian government.”
Armstrong Development Properties of Sacramento wants to build a 14,576-square-foot CVS Pharmacy and a 4,327-square-foot Chase Bank branch at the site of the vacant Pellini Chevrolet dealership at an estimated cost of $10 million.
Both CVS and Chase would move to the Pellini location, 2.4 acres at the busy intersection of Sebastopol and Petaluma avenues, from elsewhere in Sebastopol.
Fifty-five people spoke at a 4½-hour public hearing on Monday, about evenly split in opposition and support, although the crowd of 250 was heavily weighted with supporters of the project.
The City Council is considering an appeal by Armstrong Development of a denial by the city’s Design Review Board, which found the design clashed with Sebastopol’s small-town character.
A decision is expected Feb. 7.
Critics have focused on the design, which they consider a gussied-up strip mall more appropriate for Modesto, and the traffic it would generate.
Opponents demanded Monday that Shaffer recuse herself from the issue because of an email they contend shows her bias.
In a Jan. 8 email, Shaffer gave advice to a friend on how the friend could write a letter to the council in support for the CVS project, which Shaffer has admitted that she does support. In the email, she wrote that “I am working ‘under the radar’ ” to help a different friend draft a similar letter.
“My friend asked what she could do. I said she could write a letter to the council, and she accidentally forwarded it to the full council,” Shaffer said. “I would in no way try to sway the council. This was an accident, and I take full responsibility.”
McLaughlin said that Shaffer is permitted to have a position and still take part in the deliberations as long as she keeps an open mind. He also said Shaffer was not trying to sway the council through an intermediary, which would be a violation of the Brown Act, California’s open-meeting law.
Mayor Guy Wilson said he rejected a request to present a slide show because there were many people at the meeting waiting to speak and he was afraid it would consume too much time.
Wilson held fast to his decision, even though Councilwoman Sarah Gurney and Vice Mayor Mike Kyes wanted to see the slide show.
“For the issues we were hearing, pictures convey a wealth of ideas; pictures are worth 1,000 words,” said Gurney.