San Anselmo Council Looks at Keeping it Local

San Anselmo council members discussed restricting chain stores from town after hearing concerns from the founder of High Tech Burrito (who wants to open a High Tech in town) and an owner of the Red Hill Shopping Center.


Some San Anselmo council members recently agreed that downtown San Anselmo might be better without chain stores. 

But if the town should officially restrict formula-retail establishments, and how it would do just that, hasn’t been determined. The council will discuss the topic again in July, according to Town Manager Debbie Stutsman.

At Tuesday’s council meeting, some council members were more interested in pursuing formula-retail restrictions than others.

Councilman Ford Greene said it seemed like a daunting project. “The task of defining all this stuff -- I’m not sure whether it’s one that we want to take on right now or not. The difficulty of attempting to execute this is daunting and draws a little bit of ambivalence in me.”

Councilwoman Lori Lopin said limiting formula retail could help keep San Anselmo’s small-town feel. “I do think it’s important to maintain downtown San Anselmo Avenue. … I’m not willing to say ‘we should shelf the whole thing.’ ”

Vice Mayor Kay Coleman said San Anselmo has much to preserve. “People say they love San Anselmo, they love coming to our town. I’m going to be dead and gone in 20 years and you all are going to have to look at what we want downtown San Anselmo to look like.”

Some town officials expressed concern that not allowing chains would only exacerbate the number of downtown vacancies. “Is what we’re doing for the public good or are we going to shoot ourselves in the foot and have more vacant storefronts? I hate to add another level of bureaucracy,” said interim Planning Director Diane Henderson.


McDonald’s vs. High Tech Burrito

The council discussed exactly what kind of formula retail is undesirable in town, mainly after hearing concerns from the founder of High Tech Burrito and one of the Red Hill Shopping Center owners.

Coleman said she didn’t see “big box” retailers as an issue. “We don’t have the population to support that kind of thing here. They aren’t interested in coming here.”

Councilman Jeff Kroot said San Anselmo's location, far from a freeway and “right off the beaten track,” has protected the town from a lot of chains.

High Tech Burrito Founder and President Greg Maples said he was concerned High Tech Burrito would be considered a chain. There’s interest in opening a High Tech Burrito in San Anselmo, he said. “I started [High Tech] on Miracle Mile some 20 years ago. Recently the lease came up for renewal and we let it go because we felt it wasn’t supporting our customer base. Since, we’ve been in the hunt for the right place. We feel San Anselmo would be a great alternative to Miracle Mile,” Maples told the council.

There are 12 High Tech Burritos in the Bay Area, Maples said. “We’re a success story from this area. We don’t want to be punished for that. We support the community.”

Kroot said an area that could be protected from formula retail is San Anselmo Avenue and a small portion of Sir Francis Drake Blvd near Bank Street, where Marinitas restaurant and other businesses are located.

“If we do this we have to do it in a thoughtful way,” Kroot said. “There’s a difference between a Subway and McDonald’s and something like High Tech Burrito.”

Mayor Tom McInerney agreed with his colleagues that downtown San Anselmo is where the anti-chain focus should be. “We, as a council, shouldn’t be in the position of picking and choosing which businesses come in, especially in Red Hill, which is a strip mall,” he said.  


Redhill Shopping Center owner addresses ‘misconceptions’

During public comment, Tom Arntz, one of the owners of the Redhill Shopping Center, told the council he wanted to dispel some of the misconceptions that recently rose while he was out of the country. “What concerns me is that the idea of this ordinance has come from whatever happened at Red Hill … The Easy Street issue that came up had nothing to do with chain stores. It had only to do with their failing business. They hadn’t paid us any rent in a year-and-a-half and their lease ran out three years ago.”

Arntz said the center is a small business, where the ownership has never changed, and they are talking to local groups to fill vacancies.

He also said a rumor that Chipotle was moving into the center was just that: a rumor. “I had an unsolicited offer from Chipotle nine months ago, and it was financially the best offer by far, but we didn’t want them there. We don’t think that should be the focal point of the Red Hill Shopping Center. We’re looking for something with local flavor that will draw in people.”

One example, he said, is pizzeria and wine bar Pizzalina, which a San Anselmo resident .


Sausalito, Fairfax restrict chains

Henderson said planning staff research revealed that mostly tourist-oriented cities have a chain-store ban.

Fairfax and Sausalito are the only Marin towns with formula-retail ordinances.

In both towns, formula retail establishments must meet certain criteria to receive a conditional use permit.

The formula-retail debate recently became heated in Mill Valley, where , according to the Mill Valley Patch. 

Woody Weingarten's blog June 15, 2012 at 02:19 PM
This is a well balanced, well presented summation of the nuances about whether chains will help or hurt San Anselmo. In my somewhat arbitrary personal view, huge national chains such as McDonald's are bad, small local chains such as High-Tech are good. The real question is how the town can differentiate without being sued.
David Edmondson June 15, 2012 at 03:09 PM
Typo in the sub-headline.
David Edmondson June 15, 2012 at 03:10 PM
Oh, and a proper response once I can read the whole thing :)
Jessica Mullins (Editor) June 15, 2012 at 03:25 PM
Thanks for pointing that out. Apparently I tried to write a longer dek than i'm allowed to.
David Edmondson June 15, 2012 at 03:43 PM
This is a really interesting discussion, and you did a great job summarizing it. I'm firmly of the mind that the areas zoned for downtown should remain a place for non-formula merchants. The Highway Commercial zones have been bothering me, though, and I think this is where chains could be allowed. These areas along SFD and Miracle Mile, with high parking minimums and anti-urban form requirements, contribute to bad traffic. I'd love to see them reformed in a fashion similar to Fairfax, which has eliminated Highway Commercial from its streets. Rather, I'd want to see a General Commercial zone that has a form-based rule, but no limit on formula stores. Downtown is preserved, our boulevards become more pedestrian-friendly, and chains have a place to do their business.
David Williams June 15, 2012 at 08:02 PM
These restrictions hurt many more people than they help. Store vacancies and less choice from lower quality options the obvious result, not to mention fewer jobs and revenue. What make High Tech Burrito or Grilly's okay and not Chipotle? Just because the latter is larger? More successful? Might it be because they do a better job and serve better quality product for communities like ours across the country? Markets really do decide these things better than town councils.
Rebekah Collins June 16, 2012 at 03:49 AM
Mr Arntz, please clarify - is it only a rumor that Red Hill Pet is being replaced by a chain pet store ? How many generations of children have grown up with Red Hill Pet Store ? And did perhaps the long period of construction right in front of Easy Street have anything to do with them becoming a struggling business ? Also - a big chain store ordinance is such a puzzle for San Anselmo Town Council ? Hmm - it's neighbor has had one on the books for years, has a hearty local economy with it's own currency to boot . . .
Thestaypuffmarshmellowman June 16, 2012 at 04:46 AM
Having owned a small business myself in Marin County and lost it and all my life savings in the economic apocalypse of 2008-2010. I am sickened to see that Red Hill Pet Center is being replaced by a Chain Pet Store. I knew the owner of Red Hill Pet Center and I am sure he is as disturbed as I was having lost his business at the hands of powers that are totally out of his control. Born and raised in Marin County, I am sick and disturbed to see what has become of this once lovely place. It truly is a paradise lost.
Elvis June 16, 2012 at 08:36 AM
good point rebekah, fairfax is thriving, and I remember when San Anselmo succeeded in discouraging a blockbuster video, but then succumbed to a Walgreen's - neither would or have done anything for the local economy. No corporation with its ofcs. in another county ever benefits the local economy. Their sole purpose is to vaccuum up money and send it to the corp. headquarters. when that fails the ashes left behind take a long time to grow back into local businesses. My business "Red Hill Pet Center", is moving to a more "local" business friendly area, the west end village of San Rafeal. Unfortunately one of the big losses is of 40 years of history and children growing up and remembering where they got their first pet. and of course being replaced by a chain is an embarrassment to all involved. NO chain can serve the community like we do.
Tammy lynn Camp June 18, 2012 at 02:40 PM
Is weight watchers from the store also a good way to follow this program or is it not the same and bad for you? I guess I just need to know what the difference is and how do I get the complete facts about this program
Tammy lynn Camp June 18, 2012 at 02:42 PM
how many points are you allowed in one day?
CB June 18, 2012 at 05:01 PM
Seems worth noting here, that the "rumor" about Chipotle was circlulated by..."The Patch". Is this "Journalism- with checked sources"? or "Gossip- guess what I just heard?" I love the Patch and appreciate it for what it is, but just felt this needed to be said. I would like to hear more from Mr. Arntz about the Red Hill Remodel fiasco.
Bob Hunter July 10, 2012 at 01:39 PM
Local business is about to experience a renaissance brought on by the launch of Crowdfunding for small business in early 2013. The Crowdfund Act was signed into law in April of this year and the SEC is to have rules ready by January. Let's get behind building some successful, responsible local chains.
Robert Sanders August 15, 2012 at 09:51 AM
High tech burrito.
Robert Sanders August 15, 2012 at 09:54 AM
High tech burrito although a local chain, is mostly owned by a meat company in Southern California, the founder owns only a small share of the company, they are going to expand and become a big chain soon. They don't pay the employees descent wages and offer no benefits at all, which will attract only cheap labor, they don't buy local. San Anselmo Residents need to be aware of all that.


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