Surprised by the announcement that a 14,400 sq. ft. Staples store was coming to town, the Sonoma City Council has voted to form an eight-person committee to study how to deal with proposed ‘big box’ retailers.
From now on the council wants a role in the approval process, and will look to the new ad-hoc panel to research and develop policy for box, chain and formula stores.
Councilmembers admitted to being caught off guard when the Staples lease, which conformed to all city rules and regulations, was presented as a done deal in March.
“It was the one question that everyone asked me,” said Mayor Laurie Gallian. “How come you have no input on this?”
The idea for a dedicated committee was put on the council’s May 16 agenda by Councilmember Steve Barbose. He said a small group could explore options and bring focus to the issue. “It’s a vetting of possibilities.”
“There’s no downside to this,” Barbose said. “We’re not creating a huge bureaucracy.”
The motion passed 3-2, with Gallian, Barbose and Councilmember Ken Brown in the majority. Councilmembers Joanne Sanders and Tom Rouse opposed it.
Rouse said he is against regulations that could discourage new business. “I want to back away from this,” he said. “Let’s have what’s already in place continue to be in place. Let’s not oversight this to death.”
It was decided that two councilmembers would sit on the eight-person committee, along with two members each from the public, the Planning Commission and the Chamber of Commerce.
Barbose said the group will meet two or three times and report back to the council. “They may not even reach a consensus,” he said. “It’s still useful discussion.”
Part of the task will be defining the size and nature of such stores, to what areas of the city the rules would apply, and if business practices should be considered. One such tool is the Community Impact Report, which studies a new store’s effect on local businesses, city services and the affordable housing market.
Ben Boyce, a proponent of the CIR, was named to the panel as a public member. “My hope is that we can come up with a consensus that will address the concerns expressed by many community members over the future direction of development in the city,” Boyce told The Sun. “The people have spoken: doing nothing is not an option.”
Kelso Barnett was named the other public representative.
While Barbose was an uncontested choice as one of the council representatives, his nomination for the other seat, Mayor Gallian, was quickly contested.
“That’s a fine how-do-you-do,” interjected a displeased Sanders, who said her experience as a business owner, as a member of the city’s Economic Development Advisory Committee, made her the clear choice. “I thought you guys wanted different viewpoints.”
Brown disagreed. “I don’t believe being a small business owner makes you an expert.” He suggested Rouse. Gallian, after defending her own business background, deferred to Rouse “because I want this to move forward.”
By a 3-2 vote, including his own ‘No,’ Rouse found himself on the new panel. “There’s some irony in the fact that I don’t support it, but I’m on the committee.”