Though sipping Starbucks coffee feels natural to Point Richmond residents, noshing Subway sandwiches definitely seems wrong.
Residents and business owners of the highbrow Richmond neighborhood lent the City Council an earful about it Tuesday night. In addition, they delivered a petition signed by more than 200 supporters of a proposed one-year moratorium on chain restaurants in the commercial district.
The first reading of an ordinance to do that was approved 6-0, with Councilman Tom Butt absent for the vote. If it passes a second reading at a future meeting, no new chain eateries would be allowed to open in the neighborhood before January 2012.
"Financially, we're struggling. It's very difficult for business in Point Richmond right now, especially the restaurant business," resident Brith Clerry told council members. "To have a franchise move in, it would have a devastating impact on Point Richmond."
The Point Richmond Neighborhood Council entertained a full house of spectators drawn by the issue at a recent meeting. At issue: A Subway sandwich franchise that applied in August for permits to open on Tewksbury Avenue.
Though the Planning Commission has rendered no verdict so far, residents want more direct say. Neighborhood leaders think chain stores will undermine mom-and-pop businesses and warp their upscale shopping and dining area.
Point Richmond property owners, meanwhile, angrily replied that they wanted more say in that local say, but nobody asked them.
"It's not a question of the community wanting more control over where they live," said Josh Genser, who with partners owns much of the neighborhood's commercial real estate. "It's a question of a small group in the community wanting to exercise control over other people's rights."
Tough economic times have taken a toll on landlords, Genser said, and keeping storefronts filled in Point Richmond seems challenging enough without additional regulation.
Besides, property holder Kevin Pryne pointed out, at least two chain eateries already factor prominently into Point Richmond's business landscape, including a heavily patronized Starbucks franchise.
However, a Subway franchise would directly compete with small, deli-style restaurants already in the neighborhood.
Councilman Corky Booze, noting Pryne's current Santa Rosa address, made the inclinations of the council clear.
"When you lived in Point Richmond, did you want to have control over your area?" Booze asked Pryne. "Or did you want someone in Santa Rosa to have control over your area?"
Councilman Jeff Ritterman, who introduced the ordinance, also noted that he pulled the issue from a previous council agenda because of the same complaints from the same residents. Parties in conflict apparently made no effort to iron out their differences in the interim -- so the council needed to act, he said.
The ordinance would halt applications for any "formula restaurants" in the neighborhood; it includes language describing their hallmarks, including standardized menus and decor. The moratorium would last until Jan. 3, or until the city enacts new zoning regulations regarding such businesses.
Contact Karl Fischer at 510-262-2728. Follow him at Twitter.com/kfischer510.