Editorial: Reversal of franchise ban provides opportunity for revenue

Jim Gibson was looking to build a gas station in the parking lot of the Windmill Market in San Juan Bautista, but had his plans rejected in 2010.

San Juan Bautista is coming around on some of the city government’s antiquated economic development policies.
 In recent weeks, city leaders have weighed two considerations that reflected the political culture’s bias against change and the sentiments of many San Juan Valley residents. They included the community’s ban on franchise businesses and a proposal for an Arco gas station at one of the county’s most traveled intersections, Highway 156 at The Alameda.
Although approving the gas station proposal may have caused more of a ruckus due to developer Frank Leal’s push against the project – he wanted to build a restaurant in the same location – the franchise ban reversal is more significant to the Mission’s City’s culture and economy.  
The city – with supporters pointing to the importance of maintaining San Juan’s historic character – implemented the ban against formula businesses in late 2002 and renewed the ordinance three times, most recently in 2007. The ordinance bans most chain merchants, with an exception for those fulfilling a need that is unmet by current businesses.
Franchise opponents are fighting for a worthy cause, but there are ways to compromise and still maintain the city’s historic character. City Manager Roger Grimsley deserves credit for recognizing the potential of letting franchise businesses such as Subway or El Pollo Loco establish operations in San Juan. Grimsley has argued since early 2013 that the accommodation is necessary due to the city’s struggling economy – its niche shops and restaurants depend largely on consumers’ discretionary spending and don’t weather downturns well. He points to a proven track record in other historic communities, such as Carmel or Santa Barbara, where laws have required that the atmosphere and architecture of chain businesses blend in with surroundings.
There is nothing wrong with maintaining a hometown’s history and character. As other cities in the region grow, however, San Juan Bautista must adapt in order to compete for extra money in the wallets of all those commuters and truckers and tourists driving by along Highway 156.

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