Steve Rasmussen owns the site his tiny Milk Pail Market occupies on California Street, which has only enough space to park five cars, 17 short of what the city requires. He has survived by leasing spaces from adjoining businesses, but the deal ends in five years. And if developer Merlone Geier has its way, the Milk Pail will move off its site and into a rental space, which Rasmussen doesn't want.
Amid this nose-to-nose drama, the City Council is wrestling with the developer's final plan for the redesign of the north end of the mall at the corner of San Antonio Road and California Street. With Mayor John Inks forced to recuse himself because he owns property near the mall, the council has split into two, three-vote factions. One, composed of Chris Clark, Mike Kasperzak and Margaret Abe-Koga, is generally supportive of the company's plan, while Ronit Bryant, Jac Siegel and John McAlister would like to see changes. But at last week's study session Bryant signaled she may be ready to compromise if the developer makes better accommodations for bicyclists and pedestrians and hires a "place-making consultant" to make the center unique.
We have a better idea for Bryant and her colleagues: Tell Merlone Geier to accommodate the Milk Pail's needs if they want the council to approve their next phase plan. This should not be an unfamiliar experience for Merlone Geier, which has to make trade-offs every day to accomplish its goals. Why should the council allow the Milk Pail, or any small property owner, to be pushed out and forced to sell out to the developer, when all it would get in return is an opportunity to become one of Merlone Geier's tenants?
The Milk Pail has been a part of Mountain View culture for nearly 40 years. The council will lose no friends by taking on a developer that last year made an ill-conceived attempt to pressure Barron Park Supply and Halal Market into leaving their properties by putting up a fence to block their customers' access to the center's parking lot. The city intervened and the fence came down, a process that underlined the city's authority to oversee development issues at the center property.
At last week's study session, Council member Bryant said she wished she could lock Milk Pail owner Rasmussen and Merlone Geier in a room until they could find a workable solution, but that is not within her powers. In the end, all Vice Mayor Chris Clark could muster was a half-hearted statement of support for the Milk Pail. "We really like the Milk Pail and we'd really like them to stay," he said after the meeting.
But just as it did before, the council needs to step up and take a much more aggressive stance to end Merlone Geier's refusal to accommodate the Milk Pail. One way out, suggested by resident Bruce England, would have the council declare the Milk Pail a "community benefit" of the project, a position few residents would contest.
If the council cannot resolve the issue, some have suggested disgruntled Milk Pail supporters could mount an initiative drive that would force a settlement. Such an extreme measure seems unnecessary when four votes on the council are all it would take to end the stand-off. That would be a much better way to resolve this problem.