Cotati amends ordinance for fast-food joints
Three additional FBFFRs to be allowed in city
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By Dave Williams  August 23, 2013 12:00 am

Cotati’s City Council on Wednesday, Aug. 14, unanimously voted to amend its formula-based fast food franchise ordinance (FBFFR), allowing three more FBFFRs to enter the city and bringing the number of such businesses allowed to 11.

Before the vote, the ordinance had capped the number of FBFFRs in Cotati to eight.  Cotati city staff had presented a proposal to the planning commission requesting an increase up to 20 FBFFRs. The commission, however, pared the number down to 11 and sent it to the council for final approval. The council had the option of increasing or decreasing the commission’s number but stuck with it.


Proceeding with caution

“From what I’ve heard tonight, the word has been caution,” Cotati Mayor Mark Landman said. “I think that staff recommendation, although well intentioned, might be a bridge too far.”

The majority of the standing room only audience at City Hall was in favor of leaving the ordinance as it was. But the consensus among those who wanted the status quo was that if there were to be amendments, keep them as minimal as possible. Councilman John Moore fell into that category.

“Ordinances can change, economies can change and direction of cities can change. I don’t think the fast food industry is the savior of Cotati,” Moore said. 

“I don’t think there needs to be a change in the ordinance, but if I was going to work in the spirit of compromise, my suggestion would be to go with the planning commission’s recommendations.”

Other amendments to the ordinance include the elimination of the 60-foot buffer zone between FBFFRs and the allowance of a franchise business to open more than one store in the city, so long as there is not more than one store in each commercially zoned district. 


Historic downtown intact

The commercial districts in Cotati are Gravenstein Highway, the Downtown Specific Plan (northern corridor on Old Redwood Highway) and East Cotati Avenue. One part of the ordinance that has not and will not be changed is the ban of franchise restaurants in historic downtown Cotati.

Two of the additional FBFFRs allowed will go on the Downtown Specific Plan and one on East Cotati. Gravenstein Highway (116) was not granted an additional FBFFR allowance because there already are four slotted but only one – Burger King – has been filled. Currently, Cotati has five formula-based businesses in operation. Cotati’s ordinance limiting the amount of FBFFRs has been in place since 2007.

“Economics is No. 1 in the city, and we need to make sure the economy is stable and long term,” Vice-Mayor John Dell’Osso said. “This is a tool. It’s not the only tool, but a tool that we could use that may or may not work. Do we know if bringing in just two more will have an impact on existing restaurants? We don’t know the answers to that.”

One audience member who opposed changing the ordinance was Eric Sligh, manager of Cotati Coffee, located on Old Redwood Highway. With Peet’s Coffee and Tea right up the road on Old Redwood Highway and Starbucks nearby on East Cotati Ave., he feels his business is being squeezed by the franchise chains, making it difficult for him to compete.

Sligh wants Cotati to maintain its non-corporate vibe and he implored the council to consider the impact on local vendors. Sligh rattled off a list of local vendors he deals with to produce his product.


What about local vendors?

“I wish you would consider how many local vendors do these fast food chains deal with. We’re talking about an ecosystem like the economy,” he said. “There’s something to be said to the fact that we deal with other local businesses. And I’m just not sure that’s going to be the case with other businesses.”

Dawn Russell, speaking on behalf of the Cotati Chamber of Commerce, encouraged the council to adopt the proposal made by city staff to allow up to 20 FBFFRs. 

“We the board of directors of CCC are in favor of all the measures presented to Cotati Council from Cotati city staff regarding formula based fast food,” she read from a prepared statement. 

“The City of Cotati planning commission recommended to the City Council to cap the increase to 11. We do not believe this number is enough to make a significant difference.”


‘Open it up’

Greg Karraker, a longtime critic of the council, agreed with the decision to increase the number of FBFFRs but he feels the city isn’t going far enough. Still, he got in a couple of digs about the city government while also chiding the notion of Cotati’s small-town charm.

“When I look around this town, I see chain-link fences, I see weeds, I see blank pieces of glass in front of empty storefronts,” he said. “But tonight, I see some hope because I have a feeling that finally, you’ve hit bottom. I don’t think you should take the small step and say ‘let’s do three.’ Open it up, use the permit process, use your judgment, for once make a step in the right direction to getting this town back on its feet.”

The five current FBFFRs in Cotati are Burger King, Starbucks, Subway, Peet’s Coffee and Tea and Papa Murphy’s Pizza.

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