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Publication Date: Friday, January 18, 2002

As March election draws closer, Home Depot campaign gains speed, money As March election draws closer, Home Depot campaign gains speed, money (January 18, 2002)@12subhead:As proponents, opponents kick spending machines into high gear, Chamber of Commerce endorses store

By Justin Scheck and Bill D'Agostino

With the issue of Home Depot going to the voters on the March ballot, residents, local politicians, and even the Chamber of Commerce are taking sides on the contentious issue.

Through the end of last year, a combined total of more than $300,000 _ only $1,200 of which has come from Mountain View residents _ had been spent by groups supporting or opposing the measure.

And as the anti-Home Depot group Citizens Voting No on N was celebrating the installation of a gorilla (see story, page 5) _ to symbolize the retail chain's behavior _ Chamber of Commerce Mountain View was coming to the decision to support Home Depot.

Since Home Depot began its efforts to move into the old Emporium site on El Camino more than five years ago, the City Council has blocked numerous plans to build a "big box" retail store on the site. The issue has grown more contentious as Home Depot, stuck with a multi-decade lease on the site, has found it difficult to sublease the property for other uses.

And after Home Depot spent more than $200,000 on the issue _ as opposed to about $80,000 from Burt Avery, the owner of an apartment complex near the Emporium site and a leader of the anti-Home Depot charge who lives in Atherton _ an organized group of community members, led by former Mayor Art Takahara and Astrid Thompson, a chamber employee, has surfaced to support the store.
Chamber support

"We believe they will be a good business citizen, and bring $400,000 to $500,000 a year to the city in sales tax," said Carol Olson, the chamber's CEO and president.

Olson said the chamber's board of directors voted unanimously to support the store. "We believe it's every business's right to follow the process they are doing and take this to the voters," Olson said.

"Our position is not about Home Depot, it's about business," she added.

Astrid Thompson, the chamber's membership development director, said Wednesday that she, along with former Mayor Art Takahara, is serving as community co-chair of the campaign to get Home Depot approved by the voters.

"I've been a consumer of [Home Depot] for years in East Palo Alto and Sunnyvale, and they're a reputable business," said Thompson, adding that her work with Home Depot _ for which she is not paid _ is separate from her position with the chamber.

"I expected that [the chamber] would probably stay neutral on it," said Mayor Sally Lieber, who has opposed Home Depot. "I think it's a disappointing move."

Olson said that, while there has been loud opposition within the community, she has heard relatively little from businesses about the issue.

"We haven't heard a lot of opposition. We heard from maybe two or three members... It's not like there has been a groundswell either way," she said.
Political debate

Council member Rosemary Stasek, who signed the rebuttal against Home Depot's argument in its official filing for the ballot measure, said she recently attended a chamber of commerce event where a Home Depot representative gave a presentation about the store.

During the talk, Stasek said, the representative claimed that Home Depot did not know what the city staff wanted during the years they were submitting various proposals.

Stasek said that Home Depot's declaration was "completely out of touch with reality ... we poured so much time into that project over the years. It was so frustrating."

One of Stasek's fellow council members, Ralph Faravelli, is taking the opposite view, supporting the store because of his concern over property rights and his desire to secure the sales tax revenue Home Depot promises during these tough economic times.

"The money that Home Depot will generate for Mountain View, we certainly could use to continue our after school programs and for youth and senior services," Faravelli said.

In the past, however, Faravelli expressed reservations about the store, calling the Emporium a "gateway" site that needs to have an appropriately attractive tenant.

Faravelli believes that the problems of traffic and congestion that concern the neighbors can be mitigated. "We can post 'no trucks' signs and enforce it," he said. "If the voters pass Home Depot, we will still have control ... I'm not a pushover just because I'm endorsing it."

As of the end of 2001, the Georgia-based Home Depot had spent $231,694 on the campaign.

At the same time, $85,116 has been spent in the campaign to oppose Home Depot; developer and landlord Avery has contributed $82,216, as well as $1,100 worth of used office equipment to Citizens Voting No on N.

Mountain View residents have donated $1,600 to the anti-Home Depot campaign.

Avery has also contributed to the $2,000 and $2,500, respectively, to the State Assembly campaigns of Stasek and Lieber. The Democratic primary for Stasek and Lieber's campaign _ in which the two will run against each other and Santa Clara Council member Rod Diridon, Jr. _ will also be held on March 5.


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