Viewpoint - November 17, 2010

Why I voted no on BevMo

by Heyward Robinson

On Nov. 9, I voted against approving BevMo's request to open a liquor store in Menlo Park. I believe that another liquor store, even if it might provide added convenience for some, is not desirable and will result in an overall detriment to the city. I regret that I was not more articulate or persuasive in convincing a majority of the City Council of this view.

The BevMo permit was approved by the Planning Commission (and then appealed to the City Council) because BevMo wants to open a liquor store. City code wisely requires that liquor stores, gun shops, and massage parlors receive explicit approval to operate here. Any other type of retailer would not have been subject to review.

The density of liquor stores in downtown Menlo Park also exceeds state regulations. Opening an additional liquor store in this area requires an affirmative determination by the local governing body (the Planning Commission or City Council) that another store is desirable

The process for approving the permit is to first decide if the proposed use would be desirable or have any potential detriments, and then to make a finding that a new liquor store is either "necessary" or provides greater "convenience." Unfortunately, the council spent little time debating this question and I believe came to an incorrect determination. For some of my colleagues, the choice was viewed as approving BevMo or leaving the space vacant. I believe there were other options.

The landlord at the location of the proposed store (700 El Camino Real) charges some of the highest rents in downtown Menlo Park. Other retailers (non-liquor stores) have expressed interest in locating there but chose other locations, at least in part because of the rent.

If the landlord was truly desperate to fill the vacancy, he could lower the rent. He has not done so, even though the property has been vacant for more than a year. The only tenant willing to pay the high rent is BevMo, whose presence will do little to enhance our quality of life. By approving this permit, we become complicit in the landlord's high-rent strategy, extending the life of a building that should be demolished, and putting upward pressure on other downtown rents.

There is much talk about the uniqueness of Menlo Park. In bringing in BevMo, we diminish that uniqueness, becoming more like other communities so desperate for revenue that they leap at the first opportunity instead of thinking long-term. BevMo will likely want to remain at this location in perpetuity.

Over the years, as the El Camino corridor transforms, BevMo, and the 700 El Camino building, will become more and more out of place. We can only hope that when BevMo's permit comes up for renewal in 10 years, a future City Council will say no, allowing the space to be filled with a retailer Menlo Park's residents truly desire, not just one willing to fill a high-rent space.

Heyward Robinson is a member of the Menlo Park City Council.


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