Public hearing prompts business impact concerns

CALIFORNIA CITY -- Plans are brewing to bring a drive-thru Starbucks coffee shop to California City in the future after the planning commission unanimously approved a conditional use permit and site plan recommendation for its location at a Sept. 15 public hearing.

The new coffee shop will be constructed on California City Boulevard and Constitution Drive, located near McDonald’s.

The applicant, Damian McLawhorn, will construct the new shop and lease it back to Starbucks for operation, according to Planning Director Shawn Monk.

Monk said that while there are no environmental concerns connected to the property, Starbucks requested a environmental site assessment be conducted to look at the lot’s past uses.

“Specifically, they’re looking for any toxic spilling uses such as a gas station,” he said. “It is underway by the applicant.”

Monk added the new site would have ample room to accommodate drive-thru traffic, with additional room in the planned parking lot in case of overflow.

“Even if they get through the capacity of the drive-thru ... there is no chance of backing up into California City Boulevard or any public right-of-way,” Monk said. 

According to an operational statement from Starbucks Corporation, the new store could either operate as a 24-hour facility or from 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week. Between 12 and 20 full-time and part-time employees would be hired after the store opens its doors. The operational statement projected up to 1,500 customers a week once complete.

Business concerns

The planned Starbucks received overwhelming support from residents who provided eComments, noting the benefit the new coffee shop could bring to the town.

Not everyone was thrilled about the news, however, including Duane Vasquez, co-owner of Raven’s Nest Cafe on California City Boulevard across the street from Aspen Mall Shopping Center.

Vasquez said the city lacks a business impact report to examine the impact larger companies might have on small businesses prior to opening them.

“Raven’s Nest Cafe was created to fill two needs in the city -- one was coffee and the other was a place to gather and build community,” Vasquez said. He said the BLVD Espresso drive-thru owned by the Heller family at  South Loop and Cal City boulevards opened to serve a similar purpose, as well as provide drive-thru service.

A Starbucks that provides both in one location would upset that balance, he said.

“It’s not a level playing field,” Vasquez said. “Starbucks is a major name brand and people are programmed to want Starbucks.” He used the corporate giant’s gift cards as one example, where family members get others Starbuck cards as a possible alternative.

“We cannot compete with that,” Vasquez said. “Why is it we are not looking at the impact on smaller businesses ... and not seeking new businesses that aren’t already not in town and placing emphasis on providing businesses and services we desperately need.”

Resident and developer DJ Twohig said he had no objection with Starbucks, calling it a great opportunity for the city to increase its brand. However, he said Vasquez made a point on a business impact report.

“You really got to think about how to approach attracting big brands and enhancing existing small businesses,” Twohig said. “I’m not sure if anyone has looked at that to the degree that some analysis has been done.

In the eComments section, most of the 23 commenters approved bringing a Starbucks to Cal City, including a few who believed it a sound business approach.

“Approving this business shows that the city can be forward thinking and look at California City from a larger perspective,” said resident Kelly Kulikoff, adding there was no reason to say no. “Saying no to this business is like voting yes to a future special tax. Even if I never plan on buying anything from this business, I wouldn't want to put my preferences ahead of the greater good for the entire city.”

Resident Miguel Lopez said it wasn’t the best time for Starbucks to open because the “city lacks a lot of features” such as entrance signs, traffic control and quality tree care.

“There is no real grocery market for the California City residents,” Lopes said. “In my personal opinion we need to focus on other areas of the city. Our last concern should be instant coffee.”

Silver Farr said it would increase both city tax revenue and add jobs.

“Starbucks is a tried and true business model, with more than sufficient operating capitol, which will minimize the risk of business failure,” Farr said. “Please approve this business because the members of our community will welcome it with open arms!”

Commission: ‘Not our role’ to block business

Commissioners, in approving the site plan for recommendation, noted it wasn’t their place to block or approve businesses themselves.

Commissioner Ron Hogan said some commenters missed the commission’s role in that it just approves building plans and conditions.

“We really don’t have too much to say on that (them opening up), just the drive-thru and how it’s built,” Hogan said. “We don’t dictate what is put into required zoning. If you want to put a building that fits the need, you have that right .. .We don’t have any laws that allows only so many coffee shops or pizza shops or whatever other businesses that may be.”

Planning vice chair Richard Macedonio added “competition is a wonderful thing” by raising everyone to a better level.

“Yes it’s a little more difficult,” he said, but noted neither Raven’s Nest or The BLVD are the only ones serving coffee in town. “I say more the merrier ... maybe some non-coffee drinkers will become coffee drinkers.”

Commissioner Carla Conry noted Starbuck’s addition of new jobs will provide opportunities for those who don’t have transportation out of town. 

“I see Starbucks as the opening up of something bigger for California City,” she said. 


Conditions for safety

Monk said conditions will require new signage, ADA-compliant parking spots, a new sidewalk as well as a crosswalk near the store’s location leading across the other side of California City Boulevard.

Planning Commissioner Carla Conry requested the sidewalk for safety reasons, noting the high level of jaywalkers that could cross the boulevard.

“People are going to cross the street regardless,” she said. “The nearest crosswalk from there is down on Conklin, so you’d go from Hacienda to Conklin without a crosswalk. Right there would be ideal for people coming from City Hall or the library.”

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