Lawsuit deal to allow Smart & Final to open Santa Rosa Avenue store

Santa Rosa and the Living Wage Coalition have reached a lawsuit settlement that will allow a Smart & Final grocery store to open in south Santa Rosa under the city's "food desert" ordinance.

But under the settlement of the lawsuit by the coalition, the City Council must rescind the ordinance it adopted last September.

The ordinance allows grocery stores to open in an existing building in a federally designated "food desert" area without needing a use permit and Planning Commission oversight. The area bordering Santa Rosa Avenue is the only part of the city that meets the criteria of being an area where low-income residents are underserved by grocery stores.

The Living Wage Coalition sued in October in Sonoma County Superior Court, contending the ordinance makes it easier for a large grocery store to open with no input from residents or an assessment of effects on other businesses.

Both the city and coalition said the deal satisfies their needs.

It paves the way for Smart & Final to open in the vacant Circuit City store in the Santa Rosa Town Center, a section of the city that desperately needs a grocery store, said Mayor Scott Bartley.

"It is by the federal definition an area that is underserved by food stores, and the whole goal was to trigger someone going in in that area," Bartley said. "Ultimately, it worked. I don't know how we would have done it differently."

For the coalition, rescinding the ordinance will close any loophole Wal-Mart or other big box store would use to try to open a store, said Marty Bennett, coalition co-chairman.

The coalition opposes those stores because they pay what the coalition contends are poverty wages and do not provide benefits, Bennett said.

"We never thought this food desert policy was about healthy foods, about giving access to healthy foods to the community. We thought it was giving a free pass to a developer," Bennett said.

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