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Legal bill in Sebastopol CVS fight hits $300,000


Costs of defending Sebastopol’s federal lawsuit with CVS Pharmacy have risen to at least $300,000, about what the city annually spends on parks and landscaping, according to city budget documents.

CVS and Armstrong Development have sued Sebastopol claiming that a temporary ban on drive-thru businesses violates their civil rights.

 The Pellini Chevrolet building on Highway 12 in Sebastopol. (PD FILE)

The Pellini Chevrolet building on Highway 12 in Sebastopol. (PD FILE)

In August 2012, after three years and two dozen often-emotional public hearings, the city approved a $10 million CVS and Chase Bank development at Petaluma and Sebastopol avenues.

Four months later, a City Council that included two new members elected amid a backlash over the development put a moratorium on drive-thrus, which CVS claimed was an integral part of its business. The chain sued the city on Christmas Eve.

The city hired Meyers Nave law firm to fight the lawsuit and budgeted $150,000 per year for two years. But as the case has accelerated, city staff is asking for another $150,000 and hopes to wrap the defense work this fiscal year.

The council will decide on the budget adjustment at its meeting Tuesday night.

“I can’t say if it’s the most expensive lawsuit the city has ever fought, but it’s in the ballpark of being one of the more expensive,” said Larry McLaughlin, city manager. “Hopefully next year we will be back to normal and not have that extreme expense.”

McLaughlin, who also serves as city attorney, said a lawsuit of this size requires outside counsel. McLaughlin is representing the city in a different case over the CVS development. In that suit, a citizens’ group sued the city alleging it overlooked the project’s environmental impact.

Mayor Robert Jacob, who was elected last November, said the CVS lawsuit is worth fighting to protect the quality of life of Sebastopol’s residents. The council temporarily banned drive-thrus, he said, so they could have more time to study the impact the businesses have on traffic, pedestrian safety and the environment.

Jacob called the lawsuit “frivolous” and said it was “robbing the city of essential city services.”

“This is CVS flexing its muscles against a small town and a small budget,” he said. “A corporation may have civil rights, but a drive-thru isn’t one of them.”

CVS is the 13th largest corporation in the U.S., according to Fortune 500. A message left for CVS corporate communications was not returned Monday. CVS has previously declined to comment on the pending litigation.

A hearing on a summary judgment is scheduled for February, and the case could go to trial in August.

John Necker, co-founder of SebastopolCitizens.org, a city government watchdog, said he is not for or against drive-thrus, but regretted that the costs to defend the lawsuit have ballooned.

“I think it’s unfortunate that it has reached this state,” he said. “They should have anticipated the litigation.”

Councilwoman Sarah Glade Gurney said that the city has the right to enact ordinances prohibiting drive-thru businesses. She pointed out that the ordinance does not stop CVS from building the project without a drive-thru.

“It is our prerogative to issue a temporary freeze on drive-thrus,” she said. “I think a judge will decide that on our side.”

You can reach Staff Writer Matt Brown at 521-5206 or matt.brown@pressdemocrat.com.

13 Responses to “Legal bill in Sebastopol CVS fight hits $300,000”

  1. Papa ESoCo says:

    You are absolutely right.

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  2. Steveguy says:

    Like Marty said, many of the most vocal Sebastapol voices live outside the City limits.

    OK, they hate cars, why hate drive-thrus ? How about a bike-thru ?

    This ‘rule by feel good’ is disgusting. And seemingly ever present.

    Drive-thru pharmacies are a needed and welcome thing to me and many others. They are discriminating against the disabled !

    Thumb up 11 Thumb down 4

  3. James Bennett says:

    It’s not about preserving Sebastopol’s charm, or what the people want or don’t want.
    It’s about appeasing us, thei master is ICLEI.
    ICLEI doesn’t want drive-thrus, ultimately this globalist NGO doesn’t even want us driving.
    Our various little city cabals want to make their boss happy.
    Qualify for grant debt to screw us.

    Nice, eh?

    The other components of the Climate Action Plans would make our blood boil.

    But I have to get back to work so I can afford all my taxes.

    Thumb up 11 Thumb down 3

  4. bear says:


    When you’re right. You’re right.

    My point was that if you’ve already screwed yourself with the basic approval, the operation of a drive-through window is not worth a lawsuit.

    Though I was unclear, this was my underlying thought.

    Certainly not worth a $300K lawsuit.

    Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  5. Originalst says:

    Cities don’t have rights! People have rights, unfortunately govt. has for centuries infringed upon or taken the rights of people from them.
    Let the arrogant city officials involved in this pay the bill, the people had nothing to do with their decisions! Citizens should not be responsible for the incompetence of those in office!

    Thumb up 13 Thumb down 2

  6. Sebastopol Marty says:

    City Council under the spell of their friends Small Town Sebastopol or should that be small minded Sebastopol led by Boss Shane.Council is afraid of this group many who live outside of the city and will not have to pay for this lawsuit!!!

    Thumb up 16 Thumb down 3

  7. Papa ESoCo says:

    Well, bear, it does not take a Degree in Rocket Science to see the traffic impacts at that location. And we do not have to “…respect the legal decisions of officials ELECTED by the citizens…”when we think they screwed up or overreached, etc. That said, personally do not agree with the whole concept of what they want to build there, but, it had been approved. You cannot come back later and say “just a minute, need to re-examine this decision”; that just will lead to expensive lawsuits. As it did.

    Thumb up 16 Thumb down 2

  8. bear says:

    Nobody has explained to me the traffic impacts of a major retail store in this location.

    But the ELECTED City Council said “you can do everything but the drive-through.

    So throw out the City Council. You’re still liable for the $300K.

    Don’t you have to respect the legal decisions of officials ELECTED by the citizens of Sebastopol?

    Why not?

    Thumb up 5 Thumb down 16

  9. farmer west says:

    It is our prerogative to issue a temporary freeze on drive-thrus.

    Wow, the arrogance of government!!

    The remark should have been:

    We have the authority to spend the city into bankruptcy, and will give and take away approvals as we see fit. No matter what the cost.

    Disastopol will loose on this one.

    Thumb up 24 Thumb down 4

  10. Follower says:

    Oppression isn’t cheap. Just ask Kathleen Sebelius!

    Thumb up 22 Thumb down 2

  11. Originalst says:

    Let the members of the city council be personally liable for any award a court gives to CVS!

    Thumb up 27 Thumb down 4

  12. Bill me says:

    Good thinking Sebastopol electeds! Keep those lawyers happy! When someone purchases a property under one set of rules, and you change the rules after they have invested their money into a project, you should pay the damages. Hope CVS wins big!

    Thumb up 25 Thumb down 4

  13. Steveguy says:

    Someone should sue over the ADA issue. Sebastapol deems the wheelchair bound to be 2nd class citizens that must be forced to park, get in their chair, and wait in line with sick people waiting for meds.

    The convenience of a drive-thru helps the mobility impaired. The people of Sebastapol want them to suffer more than they already do dealing with errands.

    Shame on Sebastapol, they should be sued.

    Thumb up 24 Thumb down 4

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