By BOB NORBERG
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The political landscape in Sebastopol has more fractures than the San Andreas Fault.
SmartMeters, cellphone towers, leaf blowers, a proposed sales tax increase and water and sewer rate hikes all have their detractors and have ebbed and flowed as issues
over the past few years.
But in the election to fill two City Council seats, the defining issue is the CVS Pharmacy-Chase bank branch project at Highway 12 and Petaluma Avenue, one of the city’s most prominent and busiest intersections.
Even though the project was approved by the City Council after two years and long and often contentious debate, opposition groups are clinging to the hope that a new council with a different bent might yet force the developers to walk away.
“It is a little troubling the CVS project has dominated the campaign so far,” said Mayor Guy Wilson, who is not seeking re-election. “There is so much more that will go on over the next four years than rehashing CVS.”
The other open seat is held by Councilwoman Kathleen Shaffer, who is seeking re-election.
Wilson and Shaffer were two of the three council members who approved the project 3-2 on Aug. 22.
There are four other candidates in the race for the two seats: Architect Kathy Austin, a former mayor; John Eder, a designer of emergency response vehicles; Colleen Fernald, an artist and sustainability consultant; and Robert Jacob, founder and director of a medical marijuana dispensary.
Shaffer, 65, and her husband were owners of a Florida company that made field equipment for Major League Baseball.
Shaffer is finishing her first term on the council in which her focus has been on the city’s economy, particularly working to establish a business entrepreneur program to nurture new and existing small businesses.
Shaffer voted to approve the $10 million proposal by Armstrong Development to build the 14,576-square-foot CVS Pharmacy and 4,327-square-foot Chase bank branch at the 2.45-acre site of the former Pellini Chevrolet dealership.
It was a project that was subjected to dozens of meetings and countless hours of debate before the Planning Commission, Design Review Board and City Council, and the environmental impact report is being challenged in court.
The City Council ultimately upheld an appeal by Armstrong to approve the project, with additional conditions that included a door facing the intersection and converting a driveway to emergency access only.
“I felt the applicant followed the rules,” Shaffer said. “They went through the city process, the council gave them 17 additional things to do; they did those.”
Shaffer also supports the city’s proposed half-cent increase in its sales tax on the November ballot as necessary to keep the city afloat but was opposed to raising the city’s water rate.
She also wants to work on traffic issues, improve crosswalks and promote housing in the downtown area.
Austin, 60, stresses her four years of experience on the Planning Commission, four years on the City Council, five years on the board of the Sonoma County Open Space and Agriculture Preservation District and five years on the board of the American Institute of Architects.
“I definitely have more experience than anyone running for the council,” Austin said.
She said she supported the CVS project because the developer met the rules that are in place.
“They applied under current zoning and did everything that we asked them to do,” Austin said. “I am not supporting the corporation. I draw that as a distinction.”
She supports the sales tax increase as necessary, along with economic development within the city, and lists traffic and improving crosswalks as concerns.
Shaffer and Austin both have been labeled pro-development by groups opposing the CVS project.
“CVS is the definitive issue; it is CVS as indicator as to where we are going in the future with downtown Sebastopol,” said council candidate John Eder. “Are we going to embrace that kind of development or push for more sustainable, more local businesses, smaller format stores that mimic our downtown and Main Street appearance?”
Eder, 59, is a representative of and designer of emergency vehicles for Boise Mobile Equipment in Boise, Idaho.
He said the CVS developer still has to agree with the council conditions regarding the door and driveway and with Caltrans on traffic impacts.
“There are a number of unresolved issues that could have an impact negatively on the project. I don’t consider it approved,” Eder said.
Eder supports the sales tax increase and wants to expand shuttle service and to promote cycling and walking to cut traffic.
Jacob, 35, is founder and executive director of Peace in Medicine, which has medical marijuana dispensaries in Sebastopol and Santa Rosa, and is chairman of the Planning Commission.
He opposes the CVS project, which he said has a flawed design and a flawed traffic study, and said the City Council should not have overturned the project’s denial by the Design Review Board.
“Ninety percent of residents do not want CVS-Chase,” Jacob said. “It was through persistence and threatened litigation that CVS was able to bully their way in. We need to work strongly to encourage local business that is locally owned, locally produced, that have a truly positive impact on our town.”
Jacob supports the sales tax increase and said traffic might be improved by installing a smart signal system.
Fernald, 50, is making her third run for the City Council. She also has twice run for the Senate.
She opposes CVS being built on a site she says is more suitable for a development that would be for small businesses, patterned after Sonoma Mountain Village in Rohnert Park.
A frequent attendee and speaker at council meetings, Fernald’s overriding message has been opposition to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, which she considers unconstitutional and a drain on financial resources that should go to cities and counties instead.
She wants the City Council to take a position opposing the wars and to add a third council meeting a month that would be an open assembly in the style of the Occupy movement.
Fernald also believes Sebastopol should add Tehran, Iran, as a sister city in an attempt to let local politics influence foreign policy.
You can reach Staff WriterBob Norberg at 521-5206 or email@example.com.