The company's funding of anti-gay rights groups and president Dan Cathy's recent remarks that the company is "guilty as charged" in opposing gay marriage has caused a major backlash against its efforts expand into Mountain View.
Thanks to a fundraising web page citing the company's anti-gay stance, it took less than 14 hours last week to raise the $1,000 fee needed to have the City Council hear an appeal on the proposed Chick-Fil-A location at 1962 West El Camino Real. Zoning Administrator Peter Gilli had approved the restaurant and drive-through on July 10. The City Council could reverse or uphold that decision as soon as September 11.
Appellant David Speakman and his husband Richard were the first gay couple to marry in Santa Clara County in 2008. He says the company's "bigoted" stance prompted him to take action.
"It's not just a bigoted, evil company," Speakman said. "It's a company that wants a bad restaurant in a bad spot."
Speakman and a group of employees of the Mountain View startup HighlightCam came up with the idea of using wepay.com to raise the appeal money, a site he calls a cross between Paypal and Kickstarter. Money continues to be donated by people who want their names on the list of 40-plus donors, which includes state Senate candidate Sally Lieber and HighlightCam's CEO. The wepay.com page notes the company's funding of anti-gay rights groups, which it calls "hate." "In particular, they fund hate of the gay members of our town and their families."
Meanwhile intense controversy around Chick-Fil-A was sparked nationally by comments from Chick-Fil-A president Dan Cathy who suggested that gay marriage is "inviting God's judgment on our nation" and that the company is "guilty as charged" in opposing gay marriage.
The comments spurred the creator of the Muppets, Jim Henson Co., to pull out of an agreement to produce toys for the chain, while the mayors of Boston and Chicago said Chick-Fil-A would not be welcome in those cities. In response to the backlash, Chick-Fil-A released a statement saying "going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena."
Mountain View Mayor Mike Kasperzak said he couldn't really jump on the bandwagon.
"As you know the mayors of Boston and Chicago are a little different than the mayor of Mountain View," said Kasperzak. "They actually run the city. Mountain View's mayor couldn't say 'we're not going to allow them in town.'"
Because it is a quasi-judicial hearing, "it's not appropriate for any of us to say one thing or another. It's sort of like going into a trial with the jury already having said, 'Oh, they're guilty.'"
But Kasperzak adds that "this is clearly an issue that is going to quite active for the rest of the summer."
Speakman has become quite familiar with the national outcry over Chick-Fil-A. "I've been getting a lot of emails from across the country, particularly the Bay Area, from people asking if I had any pointers for them," Speakman said. "There are people in San Jose that didn't realize Chick-Fil-A was moving in until it was too late."
Speakman said he and his group know they can't win the appeal based on Chick-Fil-A's politics. He's been working on a list of other reasons, including the fact a restaurant with the goal of bringing in as many cars as possible doesn't fit in with the city's efforts to make El Camino Real more pedestrian friendly or the council's interest in studying a ban on new El Camino Real drive-throughs.
Speakman said he recently learned about Chick-Fil-A's use of Styrofoam cups, a practice that, according to Chick-Fil-A's website, is environmentally friendly because the company says it recycles the cups.
Speakman called that "kind of ridiculous."
"Every other restaurant is moving away from Styrofoam because it's so bad," Speakman said. "And the (Stryrofoam) trash accumulates in the Bay."
There's definitely an issue with trash, said resident Bruce England.
"There's a lot more throw-away material when you go through a drive-through, a lot more refuse impact," England said, adding that the drive-through goes against the zero-waste aspirations city officials hold for Mountain View.
England is working with another group that has a much different approach to opposing Chick-Fil-A, "a solid group of people who have experience in appeals like this." The gay marriage issue won't be part of their effort.
"We think we are more likely to be successful with more focused approach," he said.
England was hesitant to even comment about how much Chick-Fil-A's anti-gay marriage stance motivated him.
"Because of our backgrounds, we know the kinds of things that work or don't work," he said. "We wouldn't even have started on that premise. There are just restrictions on what a city can and can't do."
The group had planned to make a second appeal, with England offering to pay the fee himself, until zoning Administrator Gilli said on Wednesday the city would not accept it because an appeal had already been filed.
England said the group would focus on the conditional use permit issued for the drive-through, which he says is too close to nearby apartment buildings. Despite Chick-Fil-A's claim that extensive outreach was made to the adjacent complex, England said he asked around and found that many had not heard of the proposal.
During the city's general plan visioning process, England said "the city came out loud and clear in support of walk-ability and bike-ability in the city. "More drive-throughs is inconsistent with that vision. Also the Grand Boulevard Initiative supports better pedestrian and biking access, which means de-emphasizing car travel."
Speakman said last week that he has similar concerns.
"We cannot win on any claim based upon this evil company's hateful actions against minorities," he writes. "But we can fight the land use change and the increased danger to our population from cars driving up and over the sidewalks to get to fast food — a danger that is not worth the risk to our otherwise bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly city."
"It doesn't matter who owns the restaurant," Speakman said. Considering positions the council has taken previously, "it doesn't sound like something the City Council would approve."