Sonoma chain store issue settled
The Sonoma City Council finally approved the chain store ordinance that has been under careful consideration for the last year. I want to commend the council majority for creating an open public process that brought together a broad spectrum of community views, resulting in a balanced decision that reflects the due deliberation that this complex topic merits.
The role of local government is to serve the common good by setting the rules and guidelines that set the community standards, thereby reducing uncertainty and signaling to commercial interests the type of development that we, as a city, seek to incentivize.
The key features of this modest legislation are zoning the Plaza to discourage a proliferation of national chain restaurants, which are directed to open in existing designated shopping centers, and a requirement that any new commercial enterprise of more than 10,000 square feet apply for a conditional use permit that will allow community input on any major development that could have significant impacts.
This is a widely-adopted permitting process that is required in many cities in the state. This is a land-use, best practices standard that is quite common, and should really not be controversial.
Contrary to the naïve and simplistic free market fundamentalist ideology that “the market” will magically arrive at the optimal outcome, historical and empirical experience has demonstrated repeatedly that healthy, functioning market systems require a consistent, rational set of community standards that maximize economic potential through zoning and permitting.
Opposition to this simple and necessary ordinance was rooted in this misguided ideology. Opponents claimed that the “business climate” would be harmed by placing zoning restrictions on business locations. This is a case of ideology trumping common sense. Business climate is determined by income demographics, quality infrastructure, good schools and public services, and a safe, livable community environment.
We can take pride in the decision of the council to preserve the character of Sonoma as a world-class destination. Time will prove the council’s sound judgment.
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Ben Boyce is a Sonoma Valley resident, is the coordinator of the Sonoma County Accountable Development Coalition and was one of two public members of the ad hoc committee advising the Sonoma City Council on its formula store policy.