Anti-gay stance may bite Santa Rosa Chick-fil-A
By KEVIN McCALLUM / The Press Democrat
If Chick-fil-A thought it had a tough time getting approval for a fast-food restaurant in Santa Rosa, wait until it tries operating one here.
Neighborhood groups and members of the gay community vowed protests and boycotts of the future Mendocino Avenue restaurant in the wake of President Dan Cathy’s quip that the company was “guilty as charged” in being against gay marriage and supportive of “the biblical definition of the family unit.”
The remarks have turned into a publicity nightmare for the company, with a nationwide boycott under way and even Muppets creator the Jim Henson Co. canceling a partnership to create a kids meal for the chain.
The controversy is likely to follow the company through the opening of its 4,400-square-foot restaurant across from the Santa Rosa Junior College.
“You can expect demonstrations at a Chick-fil-A here in Santa Rosa. We’re a very organized community,” said Gary Carnivele, owner and editor of the website gaysonoma.com. “I can guarantee a protest. I can guarantee a boycott.”
Jenny Bard, board member and past president of the Santa Rosa Junior College Neighborhood Association, said the neighborhood where Chick-fil-A is planning to locate is a very tolerant and diverse one. Most residents were initially against the restaurant because of the impact of the drive-thru and because it was a fast-food chain, she said.
“There were reasons they weren’t going to be eating there before, but this adds a whole ‘nother big reason,” Bard said.
The Santa Rosa City Council voted 5-2 in May to uphold the Atlanta-based company’s appeal of a decision by the Planning Commission to deny a permit for the fast-food restaurant to locate on the site of a vacant Burger King.
Debate at the Planning Commission focused on whether the greenhouse gas emissions from cars waiting in line at the drive-thru should be a factor in the decision. City staff said the emission levels were insignificant, but enough commissioners had concerns about the emissions and neighborhood issues to block the project. The company appealed to the council.
In its May decision, the council majority cited several factors for upholding the Chick-fil-A appeal. These included the 60 jobs it would create, the lack of a policy against drive-thrus, the company’s professionalism and flexibility, and the cleanup of a long-vacant building considered an eyesore.
Vice Mayor John Sawyer, who is gay, said he was disappointed with the company’s stance, but it wouldn’t have changed his vote in favor of the project.
“I believe that when the Chick-fil-A is in place, they will receive a cooler reception than they might have otherwise enjoyed,” Sawyer said.
Mayor Ernesto Olivares also stressed that the city did the right thing to grant the restaurant a permit, and shouldn’t be looking to go back on that decision now.
“I don’t believe that we can legally use someone’s political position in a land-use decision,” Olivares said.
The head of at least one city takes a different view. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, in an interview with the Boston Herald, promised to make it tough for the company to open a restaurant in his city. “You can’t have a business in the city of Boston that discriminates against a population,” Menino said.
The company insists it does not discriminate against anyone, customers or employees. Last week, it said in a statement that it would “leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena” and refrain from “proactively being engaged in the dialogue” on the subject.
Councilwoman Susan Gorin, who along with Marsha Vas Dupre voted against the restaurant, said she never liked the way the company refused to modify its proposal to eliminate the drive-thru after hearing the concerns of neighbors.
“This just reinforces my belief that this is not the right company for Santa Rosa,” Gorin said.