On May 9, I attended my first Castro Valley Municipal Advisory Council (MAC) meeting. It turns out I was not the only one.
A California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) appeal put into doubt the future of a new Sprouts grocery store at the current site of an underutilized Rite-Aid on Castro Valley Boulevard and brought more than 200 people who thought this issue was important enough for them to spend their evening on something they felt strongly about. With people overflowing into the lobby, it was apparent that residents of Castro Valley care about the vision of our community and how businesses can help enhance our quality of life.
More than 20 residents, members of the MAC, and Supervisor Nate Miley voiced their support for a Sprouts or a worthy retail and showed support to put an end to the CEQA appeal. CEQA “requires state and local agencies to identify the significant environmental impacts of their actions and to avoid or mitigate those impacts, if feasible,” according to the California Natural Resources Agency.
Many believe having a Sprouts or another fitting business will bring an end to an eye-sore to a busy intersection and bring in more desirable businesses that will benefit the community that will allow residents to shop locally. During the meeting, it was agreed by the public that the issue was not necessarily about CEQA but more so about labor unions. The named appellant is a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). As Castro Valley Matters noted in its previous post on the Sprouts project, filing a planning appeal or litigation under CEQA is a common tactic used to delay or stop projects for non-environmental reasons.
Supervisor Miley announced he would work with his fellow Supervisors and would meet with the union to see about coming to some form of agreement or compromise. However, he did say that if it comes to a point where CEQA lawsuits are filed against the county, it is very difficult for the county to win.
Some at the meeting suggested boycotting our local Lucky’s and Safeway. Purchasing power in local retail has a great impact on how businesses engage with their consumers.
Former MAC member and Chair Cheryl Miraglia, who was instrumental in bringing attention the blight at the Castro Valley Rite-Aid to its corporate offices and sparked the effort to redevelop the site, spoke at the meeting and is leading the effort with the support of Eden Chamber of Commerce for residents to sign petitions in support of the project. Her efforts were praised by MAC Chair Marc Crawford.
One of the residents asked how our community can support the MAC and Supervisor Miley on the efforts of getting the appeal on the project dropped. Crawford suggested that the strong attendance had demonstrated overwhelming support for Sprouts, and that was a big step to demonstrate to Sprouts to open business in Castro Valley. He also urged everyone to sign all of the petitions and contact Assemblymember Bill Quirk and State Senator Bob Wieckowski on how CEQA laws can be reformed.
Another MAC member said that Lucky’s has been struggling and may not be in business much longer. MAC member Chuck Moore suggested that other than picketing Lucky’s or Safeway, we can find another diplomatic way to organizing the community. He also suggested that co-existing with Safeway, Lucky’s and Trader Joe’s has afforded the community with more variety.
During the meeting, emotions were strong and many exuded passion on this particular issue. Often when groups act solely out of anger to blame a party, there is not a path for a constructive outcome.
We also need to see both sides of the story to find a win-win situation or find ways to alleviate the union’s perception that they are under threat. While boycotting Safeway and Lucky’s is one way that individuals could make to send a message that they are not happy with UCFW’s actions, it takes more than that. And while we can just sign petitions or contact local and state lawmakers, we must find a pragmatic way where we can voice our needs in the most proactive way possible for our long-term goals in improving the prospects of desirable businesses to open up businesses while building the quality of the downtown area.
The meeting was about Sprouts, but it pointed to frustrations about the vitality of our business community and how we develop Castro Valley in the future.
We need to think about long-term solutions and try to get “complicated issues” from a “no” to a “yes” or an alternative solution in a timely manner. The currently vacant Daughtrey’s building was brought up at the meeting.
Many of us are wondering why something like the vacant Daughtrey’s building has continued to be an eye-sore and nothing seems to be moving forward.
Castro Valley residents are looking for solutions and at a faster turn-around rate than what they have been experiencing, particularly with the next generation of families moving in. Castro Valley’s demographics have changed over the years and will continue to do so. In the past few years, we have seen more people engaged and developing community leadership. Even if Sprouts does not ultimately go into the Rite-Aid site, Castro Valley residents are ready to assist with quicker, more effective, yet well-informed decision-making in our area.