By Daniel DeBolt
Mountain View's City Council voted 4-2 Tuesday evening against allowing a Chick-Fil-A to open at 1962 El Camino Real, saying that a drive-through restaurant would be at odds with visions of a bike- and pedestrian-friendly city.
With as many as 60 to 100 hungry drivers an hour entering its drive-through, Chick-Fil-A would be in conflict with bicyclists and pedestrians on a portion of El Camino Real where several have been killed by cars, council members said. They also said the drive-through would be too close to an apartment building, where residents could be exposed to higher levels of tailpipe emissions.
"We just finished our general plan," council member Jac Siegel said of the blueprint for the city's development until 2030. "It is all about sustainability. We worked on it over several years, and this just flies in the face of that to me."
Council member Ronit Bryant echoed Siegel's comments about the city's vision for El Camino Real. "When we were talking about bus rapid transit, we all got quite excited about the thought of bike lanes. Having a use based on cars just doesn't make sense."
Council members Tom Means and John Inks supported the drive-through, while Mayor Mike Kasperzak was absent.
Chick Fil-A may still apply to open a restaurant without a drive-through. "We need to deliberate on that," Blake Goodman, senior manager for Chick-Fil-A, said after the meeting. "A lot of things are still up in the air."
Chick-Fil-A officials had told the council that a drive-through was needed to make the store financially viable.
A number of Chick-Fil-A supporters spoke, saying the store would provide valuable first jobs, and that the store would fund youth sports and other community programs.
Kathy Lin, the owner of 1962 El Camino Real, was in tears at the end of the meeting with a crowd of Chick-Fil-A supporters around her. She told the council that the Sizzler there now was refusing to pay "market rent" for the site and that it had become a financial burden on her family. "We could not tenant anyone else," Lin said. "Only Chick-Fil-A or a 24-hour Denny's. We don't have much choice."
Zoning administrator Peter Gilli had previously approved the project, citing no real opposition at the time, and the fact that the restaurant's being closed on Sundays would reduce drive-through impacts. The decision was appealed to the City Council, by not one, but two groups.
The first appellant, David Speakman, had raised the $1,000 appeal fee on wepay.com overnight, noting Chick-Fil-A's funding of anti-gay rights groups. But Speakman and his husband, Richard, focused entirely on land-use issues on Tuesday night, as did everyone else. City officials noted that "free-speech issues" could not be taken into consideration.
"As a city, we have decided to be bicycle-friendly," Speakman said. "People lining up and looking for a break in traffic or a green light probably aren't going to be looking for pedestrians as much."
Alarmed by the line forming at the drive-through of the new San Jose Chick-Fil-A, residents of Mountain View's Gemello neighborhood south of El Camino Real organized against the drive-through.
"We don't see this as trivial — people are going to seek chicken through our neighborhood," said Gemello resident Stephen Friedman.
Neighbors and City Council members also said they were surprised that no traffic study had been done for Clark Avenue and other neighborhood streets south of El Camino Real. Gemello residents and Los Altos High School students would be driving to and from Chick-Fil-A through the neighborhood on their lunch hour, especially on Clark Avenue.
"I don't want my son exposed to crazy-driving teenagers in a hurry to get chicken for lunch," said a father of a student at nearby Almond Elementary School.
"The question comes down to: Do we really want more drive-throughs in the city," said the second appellant, Bruce England. "There are already 26; this would be 27."
He held up pictures of the city that are used to promote Mountain View on its website, and noted that not one was of a drive-through. Then he showed pictures of how the city's "grand boulevard" vision for El Camino Real might look, with taller, denser buildings and vibrant street life. "It's not anti-business; cars are able to get through there; it looks like a place you would want to go through; it looks like a destination."
While a plant-covered trellis would cover the drive-through lane, and Chick-Fil-A made assurances that noise would be tolerable and promised double-paned windows for neighbors, council members said they had to imagine feeling comfortable living in the apartment building right next to the drive-through. Siegel said smog levels could be 10 times the average around drive-throughs, according to a study he read.
Resident Joyce England said the drive-through would put "car exhaust next to rooms with children who can't control their environment."
One resident said the noise levels might be tolerable on average, but that this doesn't account for "that one V8 Mustang that comes through every hour, revving its engine."
Chick-Fil-A supporter and City Council candidate Jim Neal responded to the concern, saying: "As the owner of two V8 Mustangs, we don't just rev our engines only at drive-throughs; we also do it at stoplights and on Highway 101. That is what V8 Mustangs are for, thank you."
Council member Tom Means explained his support of Chick-Fil-A by saying that it would be hard to develop much else on such a property.
"We've had a lot of silly comments about why drive-throughs are bad," Means said. "But we really have not vetted that with any other alternatives."
There was much discussion about how the narrow lot created a circulation problem.
"I don't know how you get in and out of that parking lot if you've got that line in the way," said council member Margaret Abe-Koga, referring to a line of cars likely to extend into the narrow parking lot, waiting to place orders at the drive-through. "It just seems like too much happening in this small space."
As part of the project, a new shared driveway with the neighboring strip mall would have been built, allowing a new El Camino Real stoplight at Clark Avenue. A Chick-Fil-A consultant said it would resolve an unsafe situation, as the intersection allows unprotected left turns onto El Camino Real where 14 preventable accidents have occurred in the last five years, said public works director Mike Fuller. But council members and others opposed having a stoplight 550 feet from one at Escuela Avenue, and some said the danger could be addressed by allowing right turns only.
"Do we really want to have signals every 550 feet?" asked council member Laura Macias.
"Typically, no, you don't want to have one every 550 feet," Fuller said. "That is definitely a consideration."
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