By SHEPHERD BLISS
Early Wednesday, the Sebastopol City Council, by a split 3-2 vote, allowed the controversial Chase/CVS development to go forward, with a couple of conditions.
However, the struggle against Chase/CVS is far from over, for at least two main reasons — a pending lawsuit and the upcoming City Council elections. Opponents continue organizing to prevent these two major corporations from anchoring the downtown commons.
The pending lawsuit by the Small Town Sebastopol Committee is now likely to go to court in an attempt to stop the project on the grounds that it violates the California Environmental Quality Act. “The lawsuit alleges that an adequate traffic study has never been done and violates CEQA,” commented activist Helen Shane after the council’s decision. Armstrong has twice requested extensions of the lawsuit.
Meanwhile, on Nov. 6, residents of Sebastopol will vote to fill two seats on the council. This development may dominate that election. Of the four viable candidates running, two have come out against the development, Robert Jacob and John Eder. If either is elected, they would replace outgoing Councilman Guy Wilson, who voted for the development, and could shift the vote to 3-2 against the project.
The Press Democrat’s Tuesday editorial alleges that there are no “good reasons” to reject the controversial Chase/CVS anchoring Sebastopol’s downtown commons. I’m mentioned in that editorial, and I would like to summarize a few of the numerous good reasons for rejecting this development.
First, traffic, traffic, traffic, as in location, location, location. A 2010 Press Democrat article reported that of some 80 cities within its population range, Sebastopol had the second highest number of fatal and injury accidents. The corner that Chase and CVS covet is one of the most congested in Sonoma County. Highways 116 and 12 bisect our small town and create huge traffic problems, not only for cars but for pedestrians, bikes and emergency vehicles. The two drive-thrus proposed would worsen pollution and chaotic climate change. That “twice as much parking” that the PD lauds is part of the problem. Many Sebastopudlians are trying to move beyond a car-centric culture.
Second, the majority of those who have spoken at the meetings over the past two years oppose this development. Many are likely to continue that opposition. At the most recent public hearing, 43 people testified against it and only 17 for it.
Third, the Design Review Board has rejected the proposal numerous times, recently by a 4-1 vote. The Armstrong Development changes were cosmetic, not substantial.
Fourth, the proposed strip mall is totally out of character with the sweet downtown commons of our small town, with stores such as Screaming Mimi Ice Cream, Slice of Life restaurant, Hairmaster Salon and Infusion Tea and Chocolate. On the other hand, Sebastopol has welcomed the large, nearby Barlow Project, which is under construction, since it will be occupied by local businesses, will create new jobs and will circulate money here.
Finally, the editorial agrees that porn shops should not be allowed there. So it is contradictory to say that something far more dangerous should be approved. Chase, the largest bank in the U.S., has been responsible for giving subprime loans and then foreclosing on many homes, which often bankrupt people, who also lose their jobs. Chase’s predatory banking practices do considerable damage to people’s lives. Chase preys on the poor and vulnerable. Our City Council needs to be lawmakers and consider how to deal with law-breakers, such as Chase and CVS. It is important to consider the consequences of our actions, such as allowing them to anchor our commons. Given that the resistance to Chase/CVS is expected to continue, as will the economic downturn, it remains to be seen if it will ever be built.
Many other “good reasons” for rejecting Chase/CVS have been voiced by literally hundreds of people at meetings, online and in local publications. The essence of our objections is that these big chains would rob small town Sebastopol’s people of money, taking it out of the county, as well as damage our heart and soul.
Shepherd Bliss farms in the Sebastopol countryside, teaches part-time at Sonoma State University and has authored more than two dozen books.