Editorial: Safeway project a lesson in corporate citizenship

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There is a right way and a wrong way to be a corporate citizen in a community. Any corporations out there aspiring for reputable citizenship in Petaluma should pay close attention to the way Safeway has pushed its gas station project. It does not appear that Safeway is vying for the title of Corporate Citizen of the Year.

Safeway, a subsidiary of Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons, for years has been bent on building a discount gas station next to its supermarket on McDowell Boulevard, despite considerable objections from neighbors and city officials. The location is across Maria Drive from McDowell Elementary School, a preschool and a park.

Neighbors, who have fought the project, organized into the “No Gas Here” coalition. Several city council members have said they are not against the project, just the location. After all, an option for discount gas would be welcome in Petaluma, where high fuel prices are a regional anomaly.

Petalumans like their air clean and their shops Mom-and-Pop, so Safeway faced considerable skepticism from the beginning. Their corporate parent is one of the largest grocery chains in North America, and they have the deep pockets to muscle the project through with lawyers and threats of litigation.

It is said that you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, and while Safeway has tried the acerbic vinegar approach, they haven’t appeared to employ much sweet honey.

They did hold a pair of community outreach meetings before they reintroduced their project last summer, but there has been seemingly little done to try and sway the gas station opponents. For example, had they made a good faith effort to find an alternative location for the project, they could articulate why this contentious spot is the only viable option.

The latest battle in the ongoing saga involved Safeway pushing back at a requirement that it do more environmental review. To recap, the planning commission approved the project, which triggered an appeal to the city council. After several false starts, the council in December sent the project back for more review.

That seemed like the best possible compromise. Without approving the project outright, it would assure that all of the environmental impacts were considered and proper steps to mitigate them were taken.

But instead of doing the environmental review, which would have added cost and time to the gas station project, Safeway got the council to redo the hearing on a technicality — the extra review was not listed on the agenda as up for discussion that night.

At the rehearing, Safeway insisted that the city council approve their project outright. The council clapped back with a technicality of its own — they upheld the appeal then filed a motion to reconsider the decision at a later date, ensuring even more debate.

Safeway risks being seen as a faceless corporation with the time and money to ride out the challenges to its project and strong arm it through. The bigger risk, though, is squandering community goodwill and alienating any potential customers once the project is finished.

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