Sebastopol council signs off on CVS at emotional hearing

Sebastopol’s City Council voted 3-2 Thursday to approve redesigned plans for a disputed CVS store at a downtown crossroads in a wrenching meeting that brought several council members to tears and had some vowing to boycott the national chain.

Mayor Robert Jacob, pledging $5,000 of his own money to kick-start “a well-funded, thoughtful and protracted campaign” against the store, and Councilman John Eder, dressed in black for “the funeral of my optimism,” cast “no” votes, acknowledging the project design would pass in any case as a condition of a recently negotiated settlement.

Vice Mayor Patrick Slayter and council members Una Glass and Sarah Glade Gurney voted “yes,” each stipulating they did so only to avoid continuing litigation that already had cost the city more than $336,000 in legal fees they could not recover under law.

They also highlighted concessions made by CVS that helped offset their dissatisfaction with what they said would blight the entrance to town in defiance of the community’s will.

“Sometimes you have to move on,” Glass said. “And I think we should move on. What we need to do now is to make it a priority that this kind of mistake doesn’t happen again.”

“I do see this as some sort of victory, although it’s one that I enter into with a sick heart,” Gurney said.

But Gurney, struggling to compose herself, clearly called out the family of Angelo “Pete” Pellini, founder of the former Pellini Chevrolet, which closed in 2008. That ultimately led to the sale of the 2.45-acre property on the corner of Highway 12 and Petaluma Avenue for development by CVS.

“That CVS owns this really prominent corner … is the legacy of a local family,” Gurney said, suggesting the family, who she did not mention by name, had other options for selling the parcel.

“So it is their legacy that we will live with,” she said.

She and other council members also cited a 2011 vote by a 3-2 council majority approving what’s called a negative declaration they now believe was faulty. The declaration indicated the project’s environmental impacts were not sufficient to warrant a full-blown environmental impact report. Gurney and the late Councilman Michael Kyes were in the minority that night. Slayter voted in the majority, with two former council members.

Thursday’s action approving the project redesign was required to finalize a legal settlement hammered out over many months between the city, CVS/Long’s Drugs, Armstrong Development Properties Inc. and a citizens group called the Committee for Small Town Sebastopol. The citizens group sued in 2011, challenging the city’s failure to conduct a full environmental impact report on the store proposal.

The council voted 5-0 in closed session Monday to approve the settlement, which also resolves a lawsuit CVS filed against the city in response to a temporary ban on drive-thru windows approved in 2012. CVS and Armstrong initially wanted drive-thru windows at the pharmacy and at a second, smaller building on the site that had been planned for a Chase bank. Chase has since withdrawn, and the settlement eliminates all drive-thru features.

But council members Thursday said they believed that throughout negotiations and even in the days since the settlement was approved that CVS was not negotiating in good faith.

They said drawings requested repeatedly from CVS arrived only Tuesday evening, showing not a two-story building city officials said they had been promised, but a single-story retail store with a high exterior walls and false windows that only suggest the existence of a second floor.

Representatives from CVS did not attend Thursday’s meeting, and a representative from Armstrong Development did not address the council.

Eder spoke of “bait and switch tactics,” and described CVS as “a corporate terrorist,” that used the fact that the city has limited funds to force resolution “gained through coercive and unethical means.”

“Please know that great efforts were made by this council to attempt to overcome these impediments, and secure the best possible result for the citizens of Sebastopol,” Eder said, his voice cracking.

“I consider myself to be a savvy businessman,” Jacob said, “and a savvy negotiator, and someone who is hard to deceive. And CVS outsmarted me and outsmarted this council.”

But the city, he said, had no choice but to settle, given the corporation’s deep pockets and apparent readiness “to sue for as long as it takes until the last tax dollar is drained from a city’s coffers.”

There was an extended period during which no one on the council would step forward to make the motion necessary to take a vote, until finally Eder - who already had announced he would vote against - moved the vote forward, and Slayter seconded the motion.

Jacob, who requested an individual role call vote, voted last, with three votes in favor already guaranteeing the settlement would be finalized.

“I honor my colleagues who voted ‘yes’ here today, as our city is without any other recourse,” he began. “In solidarity with them, I will cast my vote with council member Eder this evening. It is essential that we as people stand up to bullies … Even if it is a protest vote, I do vote ‘no’ this evening.”

The vote obligates CVS to dismiss its lawsuit against the city and pay $150,000 to finance a traffic signal synchronization study for the downtown area and to cover Small Town Sebastopol’s legal costs.

Any remaining cash is to be used at the joint discretion of the city and the citizen committee, City Attorney Larry McLaughlin said.

Additional concessions made by CVS include scrapping the drive-thru features it initially planned for the project; adoption of more refined building designs with larger, more numerous windows and variable roof heights; extensive landscaping and site design improvements; prohibitions on left turns into and out of the project site; installation of rooftop solar panels and provision of five electrical vehicle charging stations.

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or

Mary Callahan

Environment and Climate Change, The Press Democrat

I am in awe of the breathtaking nature here in Sonoma County and am so grateful to live in this spectacular region we call home. I am amazed, too, by the expertise in our community and by the commitment to protecting the land, its waterways, its wildlife and its residents. My goal is to improve understanding of the issues, to find hope and to help all of us navigate the future of our environment. 

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