At the City Council meeting the other night, the Park Street Smoke Shop/Convenience Store/tschotske shop was “called for review” by Councilmember Frank Matarrese. To quickly recap, this is a shop that wanted to open up on Park Street, but the North of Lincoln side. They received approval from the Planning Board for a use permit with a whole host of conditions attached to it, but as with any business trying to do business in Alameda, nothing is ever that simple.
So, full disclosure, I don’t watch the City Council meetings live. I generally watch them the day after, playing in the background. But on Tuesday night, I did turn on the television for a bit and tuned in and this was the agenda item that I started watching. But then, I decided to watch a Tivoed recording of the Mentalist instead. But after I finished the Mentalist, it’s about 45 minutes long once you fast forward through the commercials, I turned back on the City Council meeting and was dumbfounded to see that the Council was STILL talking about the store.
All in all, the City Council expended almost a good hour talking about one store in Alameda. I mean, come on! And then, without a hint of irony when the agenda item comes up to talk about Councilmember Marie Gilmore’s referral about the Boys and Girls Club and moving forward to agendize the discussion minus the legal report from the East Bay Recreation and Parks Department, Frank Matarrese laments the fact that the EBRPD can’t commit to a timeline to submitting said legal report and wonders aloud about what is taking them so long.
The City Council spends hours discussing minutiae and then wonders what is taking other public agencies so long to get documents prepared.
In the end the City Council voted 4 to 1 (Frank Matarrese being the one) to let the store open. The argument against was that Frank Matarrese didn’t want to have to expend City money to have to monitor the store to make sure they aren’t selling more tobacco products then they have said they are going to sell.
Look, I’ve said it before, I am not a fan of the cigarette, but if this is the only store that wants the space we can’t hold out for a boutique selling handmade all natural baby sweaters knit by blind monks in Tibet or something to decide that they HAVE to open in Alameda. This was the argument that Councilmember Marie Gilmore was making, sans snarky comment about handknit sweaters, the “market” will decide what stores are necessary in Alameda. If folks don’t need whatever this store is selling and the owner doesn’t turn a profit then they will go away, but we can’t turn away a legitimate business in hopes that something “better” will come along. She used the example of the South of Lincoln Park Street example of the investment that was made in that building that now houses Books Inc and other stores. Once the investments were made and the area becomes desirable, the stores that may not be “ideal” are eventually priced out — rent wise — making way for stores that are deemed to be desirable.
Really though, Alameda needs to shake this reputation of being hostile to business and personally, incidents like this do not help any. If City leaders want to start regulating the types of store that can exist then they need to create a moratorium on certain types of businesses. That way businesses will know ahead of time to just not even bother with Alameda. But as it stands, a lot of businesses have to waste a lot of time and money because of the back and forth games that get played in order to open shop.