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The controversial CVS Pharmacy and Chase Bank branch development and its approval by the City Council emerged as the defining campaign issue during a candidates' forum Thursday night.

"CVS-Chase is one of the greatest injustices in Sebastopol," said candidate Robert Jacob. "When we have two community boards denying the project, to have it overturned by the council is not the choice of the people."

City Councilwoman Kathleen Shaffer, one of three council members who gave the project final approval, defended her action as the proper thing to do.

"When the project came to us, they had followed the rules," Shaffer said. "As a council member, I was sworn to uphold the law and the rules of the city."

Shaffer, Jacob and candidates Kathy Austin, John Eder and Colleen Fernald are running for two vacant seats on the five-member council.

Shaffer is seeking re-election, while Mayor Guy Wilson is not.

Shaffer, 65, is the retired owner of a Florida company that manufactured field equipment for Major League Baseball. She is finishing her first term on the council.

Jacob, 35, is the founder and owner of Peace in Medicine, which has medical marijuana dispensaries in Sebastopol and Santa Rosa. He also is chairman of the Sebastopol Planning Commission.

Austin, 60, is an architect, former member of the Sebastopol City Council and served as mayor.

Eder, 59, is a representative of and designer for Boise Mobile Equipment of Boise, Idaho, which makes firefighting vehicles.

Fernald, 50, is an artist and sustainability consultant who is running for the council for a third time. She has also run twice for the U.S. Senate.

The candidates sought to differentiate themselves for the crowd of 200 during the 90-minute forum at the Community Center.

All but Fernald support Measure Y, which would raise the Sebastopol sales tax by a half cent, raising $1 million annually for city services.

The candidates also advocated listening to the public and being attentive to the public's wishes, pushing for economic vitality by encouraging small businesses, finding ways to ease traffic and making streets safer for cyclists and pedestrians.

"I am determined to work for the 99 percent," Fernald said. "It's important to represent the majority, and that has been missing. The council should have a third night per month to hold a town hall meeting."

Despite getting final approval by the City Council in August, controversy over the plan for a CVS Pharmacy and Chase Bank branch at the site of the vacant Pellini Chevrolet dealership has refused to die.

Supporters contend Armstrong Development of Sacramento followed all city guidelines and rules and deserved to get the approval, saying the issue is now resolved.

Critics contend it will generate too much traffic, doesn't reflect Sebastopol's Main Street character and is the wrong type of project for that congested corner.

They also cling to the hope that with a different makeup on the council, the project may yet be defeated.

"It is not the right project, and it is not over yet," Eder said.

Austin said, however, that CVS was one of the only businesses in Sebastopol large enough to afford the Pellini property, which sits at one of the city's most prominent and expensive locations.

"The downtown is made up of small and large businesses," Austin said.