Saturday, September 16, 2006

Albertson's & Economic Development

In today’s IJ, Brad Breithaupt notes that Mill Valley is actively seeking a Trader Joe’s store to occupy their former Albertson’s site. Residents often ask me about the status of our Albertson’s. I don’t know the specifics of Mill Valley’s situation, but for the Fairfax Albertson’s site, the company that owns Albertson’s still has rights to the lease for another 13 years. The company put the sublease out for bid over a month ago, and I have been in touch with their real estate agents weekly, both locally and in Chicago, all of whom have informed me that the negotiations are still confidential and they are unable to release any information to the Town. I was also told that the information could be released any day depending on how things go. A few weeks ago, I contacted the head of Trader Joe’s new market development to ask if they had submitted a bid for the Fairfax store and they said that we were not a market they were pursuing at this time. I explained our demographics to them, as well as my opinion that a store of their type would do well here. I have lobbied and continue to lobby the real estate firm representing the company that owns Albertson's to take into consideration what our community wants to have here in terms of a store, and not just what store would bring the leaseholder the maximum profit share. I want you to know that Mill Valley is not the only city trying to encourage a better replacement for a lost Albertson’s.

Depending upon the particular situation of a city, cities can have limited or expanded powers in relation to the extent of control we can exert on the private marketplace in our society. When land is privately owned and controlled, as is the case with the Albertson’s site (owned by the Friedman family with the lease controlled by the leaseholder), a city is limited in the power it can exert in trying to bring a particular business or type of business to town. One place our power does come in is in the zoning process, whereby we can limit the type of uses in a particular zone to the types we would like to see there, those that are most compatible with community needs and preferences. For instance, sometimes a city might believe that there are too many types of a particular retail use already in place, such as liquor stores, and a city might pass a moratorium on those types of stores to keep others from opening, or rezone an area to disallow this use. The current Town zoning at the Albertson’s site allows a wide variety of uses beyond the sale of groceries.

Some cities decide to create redevelopment agencies to have more control over new development. This is a controversial topic, admittedly, but I just wanted to explain that redevelopment agencies are by law able to do things that cities alone cannot, such as entice certain types of retail development through tax incentives and provide funds and infrastructure improvements to attract private investment. Fairfax does not have a redevelopment agency.

In any case, this is the perfect segue to inform you that at the Town Council’s Strategic Planning meeting held last Saturday the 9th, the Council decided that being proactive in terms of revenue enhancement for the Town was important enough to create a committee dedicated to this cause. I was directed to add the creation of an Fairfax Economic Development Committee on the next regular Town Council agenda for October 4th. The Council’s idea was to formulate such a committee and invite residents and business owners with a keen interest and insight in revenue enhancement to serve on the committee. The Council considers this initiative so crucial to the Town’s future and with the sunsetting of Measure F in less than four years, that the discussion at the Strategic Planning meeting focused on having all five Councilmembers serve on the committee, in addition to community members. This committee can serve as a tool for us as we formulate a long-term strategic financial plan for the Town and solicit ideas and input from the community on how we can continue to pay for the services that we have all come to benefit from and enjoy.

Why am I speaking of revenue enhancement and economic development in the same blog entry as an update on Albertson’s? One of the Town’s main sources of general fund revenue (the legally unrestricted revenue that we can use to pay police officers’ salaries, for instance, to ensure that we have a safe community) is sales tax. Our Albertson’s grocery store was in the top five sales tax generating businesses in Town. Even though most food is non-taxable, there were enough other taxable items to put the store’s sales tax that high up in the revenue stream. Like all cities in California, Fairfax receives 1 cent out of every taxable dollar purchase in Town. The Town Council is rightly interested in what might be coming in as a replacement business, not just because of how it affects the Town’s general fund, but because of how it affects you as a stakeholder in this town, our community character, and our collective future.

Please feel free to contact me with your thoughts on this issue. I can be reached at 458-2345 or at my email link to the right on this page.