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July 08, 2005

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Publication Date: Friday, July 08, 2005

Longs wins downtown garage site Longs wins downtown garage site (July 08, 2005)

Better offer from drug chain snuffs out grocer's bid

By Jon Wiener

City council members who as recently as last week had spoken in favor of bringing a grocer to downtown Mountain View changed their tune Tuesday night, voting 5-1 to sign a lease agreement with Longs Drugs for the retail space on the first floor of a future parking garage.

Neighborhood support was heavily in favor of Zanotto's, a small specialty market from San Jose. One resident spoke about his ordeal of trying, and failing, to buy soy yogurt in Mountain View last week. But council members were unmoved, saying the nearly $1 million difference in their bids was too big to overlook.

"There are probably 50 people cursing me under their breath right now," said council member Greg Perry. He had just finished arguing that signing the contract with Zanotto's would amount to a citywide subsidy -- and a risky one, at that -- for the benefit of the Old Mountain View neighborhood.

The issue had been discussed in two closed sessions in June, so the staff recommendation to ink the deal with Longs was a reliable indication of the council's leanings.

"If you're looking over public funds, you have a fiduciary responsibility," said council member Matt Pear. "It's not solely based on a whim."

Laura Macias was the only council member to vote against the staff's recommendation.

"The concept of smart growth says you don't only add housing, you add livable services," she said.

Council member Tom Means addressed his comments to the 14 members of the audience who spoke about their desire for a market they could walk to downtown. (A 15th supported Longs.) Means pointed out that there already is a grocery store downtown -- Mountain View Market -- but hardly any of the speakers even acknowledged it. He added that building a 405-space parking garage with some space reserved for a market would be an ironic way to make the city more pedestrian-friendly.

Council member Mike Kasperzak was out of town.

Longs will sign a 15-year lease with the city with three five-year options. The value over the life of the deal is approximately $3.5 million, according to a consulting firm hired by the city.

By contrast, the Zanotto's deal was about $850,000 less, mainly because of building improvements it was asking the city to pay for. The market also was demanding free parking spaces from the city, and would have created more solid waste and truck deliveries than Longs, according to staff. The report called plans by Zanotto's to seek a grant from the federal Small Business Association "a red flag."

What the staff report did not mention was the issue of gentrification. Many of the residents who testified were homeowners who spoke about the benefit of increasing property values and having access to specialty foods.

Council members seemed to agree these were worthy goals, and said they would have preferred a grocer if the offers were closer. Council member Nick Galiotto reminded the audience of the painful budget cuts the city made last month (though they were less painful than those made in other cities). He said that finding a drug store to occupy the space was an achievement the city and neighborhood could be proud of.

Mayor Matt Neely said that the neighbor's positive response to the market proposal -- residents organized a vigil and bombarded council members with e-mails -- should perk the ears of entrepreneurs.

"If grocers haven't been listening or reading the papers, they're fools," said Neely. "There are clearly folks here who would support their business."

E-mail Jon Wiener at [email protected]


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