Mi Pueblo supermarket approved
By Henrietta J. Burroughs
East Palo Alto Today
Posted on October 14, 2009
By a three to two vote, the East Palo Alto City Council upheld the decision of the city’s planning commission to approve a license for Mi Pueblo to operate a supermarket in East Palo Alto.
The council’s decision, in effect, denied the appeal brought by the East Palo Alto Merchants Association, which sought to overturn the earlier approval given to the supermarket by the city’s planning commission.
For some it was a very disappointing outcome. For others it was exhilarating. Certainly, the council’s approval resulted from a battle that was hard fought by both sides and their supporters, in the audience and on the council.
The vote to approve, which came at the end of the city council's special meeting on Tuesday, October 13, effectively paved the way for the Mi Pueblo supermarket to continue the construction activities that it already had underway at the East Palo Alto site in the Gateway 101 shopping complex where the Circuit City store formerly operated.
During the city council’s review of the planning commission’s decision, council members and the large group who attended the meeting heard residents make passionate arguments for and against giving Mi Pueblo approval to open a supermarket at the Gateway 101 location.
In their presentations to the council, those speaking against Mi Pueblo having a license to operate argued that the store would not represent all of the community, that the Gateway 101 site was not the appropriate location for the supermarket, that another type of business would bring in more tax revenues, that the store would not hire as many residents from the community as it claimed, that the store abused its own employees, would not offer unemployment compensation and other expected benefits and would not represent the diversity of the community in hiring for the new store.
Opponents also gave statistics showing how the current grocery stores in the community would be negatively affected, with some even being forced to close.
Jimmy Almaliti, a representative for the East Palo Alto Merchants Association, said that the construction of University Circle, which replaced Whiskey Gulch off of Highway 101, wiped out 50 percent of the city’s small businesses and Mi Pueblo would wipe out the remaining 50 percent.
Those speaking in favor of Mi Pueblo at the council meeting argued that the supermarket would represent positive growth for the community, would give better prices, more diverse and healthier foods, would keep needed monies within the community since residents would not have to go outside of the community to buy groceries, would employ more residents, would lead to the recirculate of more money within the community, and would bring more shoppers to the area and would improve the general climate within the community.
At times, the meeting got heated and took on racial overtones. In speaking to the council during the public discussion, East Palo Alto resident Rosa Womack said, “I am appalled that we are thinking of putting in a store that has a label for only one ethnic community… a label that doesn’t represent the whole community.”
Womack, along with others who opposed Mi Pueblo, said that the city should seek a store that was more general in name and in what it represented, like Safeway.
In the end, those favoring Mi Pueblo won the day with Mayor Ruben Abrica and council members Laura Martinez and Carlos Romero voting yes on the motion to approve the supermarket and to deny the appeal brought by the East Palo Alto Merchants. Council members David Woods and Peter Evans voted no.
In what appeared to be one last ditch effort, Evans sought to delay the vote on the grounds that the motion which was made by Romero was long and involved, so he wanted it to be put in writing and the vote delayed to a future meeting to give everyone extra time to read it and understand it.
In explaining why he was voting for the motion, Romero said that it was not the duty of the council to protect local merchants but the council’s duty to protect the general welfare of the entire community. Romero said that while some store merchants would be adversely affected, he said that there was enough room within the city for merchants to co-exist.
Abrica ended his remarks by saying that “We need to keep working together to improve the climate for all of the businesses in the community.”
Mi Pueblo is expected to open in East Palo Alto by the end of the year.