RICHMOND -- When a Subway franchise owner wanted to set up shop amid the quaint storefronts of Point Richmond, the City Council, backed by outraged residents, halted the sandwich shop by passing a moratorium on chain restaurants in the neighborhood.
Now, the city is looking to give power to some neighborhoods to decide who can and can't do business there.
A divided council voted Tuesday to draft a new law within 60 days aimed at letting residents of more than a dozen C-1-neighborhood commercial districts throughout the city "prohibit the proliferation of formula restaurants."
"This gives residents the power to determine what their communities will look like," said City Couniclman Jeff Ritterman, who sponsored the resolution.
The genesis of Tuesday's resolution is the backlash over the Subway franchise owner's intentions two years ago of moving into Point Richmond. That prompted the Point Richmond Neighborhood Council to vote 23-2 in December 2010 to ask then-City Attorney Randy Riddle to write an ordinance that would prohibit additional formula restaurants in the designated historic district.
But the city opted for a moratorium instead. Now, Ritterman and other supporters said, they prefer the idea of allowing neighborhood councils to decide whether franchises can open up shop.
Councilmen Nat Bates and Corky Booze dissented in the 4-2 vote, and Councilman Tom Butt recused himself because he has property and business interests in the district.
Bates called the action "discriminatory" and noted that Point Richmond is already home to a major franchise.
"Starbucks is the most popular spot in Point Richmond," Bates said. "From my observations, Point Richmond loves its Starbucks."
Members of the neighborhood council have met with city staff on multiple occasions in recent years, according to a staff report. The Planning Commission had recommended including a ban on formula restaurants in C-1 districts in the General Plan finalized earlier this year, but that recommendation was nixed from the final document.
C-1 districts are defined as "small scale, mom and pop retail and service business areas that serve neighborhoods adjacent to or integrated with them," said Hector Rojas, a senior planner for the city. Point Richmond is one of 16 such districts scattered throughout the city, comprising about 7 percent of all Richmond's commercial zoned areas, Rojas said.
The staff report says 22 similar ordinances have been enacted in other municipalities nationwide, but legal questions remain, and Bates and other critics noted that the city could risk litigation.
Planning Director Richard Mitchell said the C-1 districts comprise about 1 percent of the city.
Councilman Jim Rogers and several audience members questioned why the new law wouldn't apply to more neighborhoods.
"Why don't we do something about stopping liquor stores on every corner in some of our communities?" said resident Wesley Ellis.
Ritterman said he was eager to get the law passed and wanted to start small. Ritterman did not run for re-election and will be off the council next month.
"I don't want to jeopardize the good for the excellent," Ritterman said.
Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726.