Our regular readers could probably have guessed what the outcome of last Thursday evening's Arden Arcade CPAC meeting would be - and they would be right. There were two items on the agenda: a liquor license and a large storage building for the site of the old Saving Center. The CPAC approved the liquor license and winked at the storage building proponent, urging communication with the neighbors. Let's delve into each of those.
- The Liquor License. The 99 Cent Store at Howe and El Camino wants to sell to-go alcoholic beverages. They claimed the shopping center there is in a "food desert" (with only 4 grocery stores and 15 other stores that sell groceries within a 1 mile radius) and, since they are trying to re-brand themselves as a grocery store, they think it would be inconvenient for their customers to go to either of the two places where you can already buy to-go alcoholic beverages in the shopping center at Howe and El Camino, or the two other places across the street, or at any of the other 5 to-go liquor licenses in the shopping center's census tract (for which the California ABC regulations say there should only be 3), or from the massive Total Wine liquor warehouse down the street at Howe and Arden. Citizens testified that, though the 99 Cent Store is owned by nice people, the shopping center is a mess - ground zero for homeless problems - and that the community should have less liquor licenses instead of more. They also said the Sheriff's conditions have proven to be ineffective. The CPAC ignored the citizens' input and cut a deal with the 99 Cent Store's slick consultant to shift to a less-restrictive beer and wine license. When a citizen protested that the beer/wine license was a different project than the public had been told about, they told him to shut up and sit down. It was a solid decision by the CPAC, though not a unanimous one. It's important to note that, in the case of liquor licenses, the CPAC doesn't advise the County Planning staff or the Planning Commission, but advises the Board of Supervisors directly. Box score: CPAC 1, Citizens 0.
- The Storage Building. Storequest wants to build a 4-story storage building where the Savings Center used to be. This item was a "workshop" to hear citizen input. Naturally, the CPAC only wanted to hear SOME citizen input, not all of it. They heard that residents east of the site are deeply concerned about being overwhelmed by a 4-story building. So they advised the proponent to "work with" those neighbors to see if there could be a middle ground. They heard, but did not listen to, concerns that a storage building would be a poor way to utilize the site. Box score: CPAC 1, citizens 1/2
Final score: CPAC wins 2 - 1/2. Now here's what's wrong with that: the CPAC is an ADVISORY body with no authority to approve or disapprove a project. The CPAC's job is to LISTEN to community opinions so they can INFORM County staff, the County Planning Commission and/or the Board of Supervisors about the community's feelings about proposed projects. They are supposed to HEAR what the public is saying, rather than telling the public to cram their comments into 2 minutes, whereafter the commenters must zip their lips. Instead, they try to play God and find ways to help the project proponents. They are solid supporters of the County's old canard about something being better than nothing. They are all appointees of the Supervisor, so one can readily see where their loyalties lie. Further, they are all - every single one of them - men. None of the CPAC members present last Thursday were females. None were people of color. Three were lobbyists and another was an attorney for a pro-business law firm. One was a Construction Project Manager, another was an IT guy. The bottom line is these guys are not at all representative of the diversity of the community and, with the possible exception of the IT guy, not really adept at listening to anyone other than the Big Shots. Is that a problem? It depends. One one hand, the CPAC seems to function as the project proponent's friend, with the added function of keeping the public at arm's length. We all know the Community Plan is so out of date it is totally out of tune with the community. So why should the people charged with being the front line for the Community Plan be any different? Still, if the job is listening and advising, then why doesn't the CPAC just listen and advise? What do you think?