AG City officials tussle in escalating fight over grocery store

May 9, 2016

 

By KAREN VELIE

While the former space of Arroyo Grande’s only full-service grocery store remains empty, city officials are tussling over what should be done.

In late October, as part of a bankruptcy, Haggen Food and Pharmacy shuttered its Arroyo Grande location. The anchor store site remains empty with no concrete plans to put in another grocery store.

The closure has led to residents leaving the city to shop, lower tax revenue for the city, and problems with reduced income for neighboring businesses.

In the past, grocery stores at the site brought in about $2.4 million per month in revenue making it one of the city’s top five tax revenue generators. While food items on the shelves are not taxable, food from the hot delis, pharmaceuticals and nonfood items are taxable.

In addition, stores near the empty anchor site have seen significant reductions in revenue. In contrast, merchants  adjacent to  Trader Joe’s have voiced concerns over the lack of parking because of the closure of the city’s major grocery store.

In November, Spencer’s Fresh Markets was the top bidder in a bankruptcy auction for the Arroyo Grande Haggen’s location, according to court documents. However, some locations including the Arroyo Grande site were pulled from the auction because of lease issues between two Haggen entities, OPCO and PROPCO.

After months of no updates and no action by the city, on Feb. 23, Mayor Jim Hill sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) expressing his concerns.

”I would greatly appreciate your attention to the issue with the former Albertson’s Haggen location in Arroyo Grande and the possibility to restore competition and vital access for our residents to a full service traditional grocery store at the earliest,” Hill wrote in his letter.

The FTC responded back in a letter it sent to Hill through city hall. City staff then sent the response to the mayor and councilpersons at the same time.

In a May 5 email to Hill, Council Member Barbara Harmon chastised the mayor for sending a letter “conveyed an official city position” without informing her of the letter. (Nowhere in the letter does it say it is sent by the city and the letter did not include a city letterhead). Harmon also voiced her concerns that members of the public were aware of the letter, while she was not, and that it appeared the mayor was supporting one business over another.

“After giving this matter much consideration, I am sending this email to express my disbelief and disappointment about your actions and your lack of transparency involving your letter to the Federal trade Commission,” Harmon’s email says.

Hill said that he was not promoting one business over another. While there has been no concrete report of any other grocery store operator interested in the site, Spencer’s Fresh Markets was the bidder of record. Hill’s goal is to have a competitive grocery store fill the location as soon as possible.

Hill also questioned Harmon’s letter.

“Now, Council Member Harmon is questioning my contact with the Trade Commission claiming ‘lack of transparency,’ apparently because I didn’t check with her in advance,” Hill wrote in his response to Harmon.

When asked about her email, Harmon said she gets calls from concerned residents at least once a week, and wants to be informed of any actions taken by Hill. While noting her lack of understanding of bankruptcy court processes, Harmon said she was worried that any city involvement could slow down the process even further.

During the past week, Harmon had heated discussions with several members of the public including John Spencer, over Harmon’s letter chastising Hill while she has not stepped forward to address the issue.

“Through this long process, I have not heard from any city officials expressing their concern about the process,” John Spencer said. “It seems at this point, Harmon’s concerns appear to be strictly political.”

Nevertheless, the FTC said that after the store was pulled from the Haggan bankruptcy, if Spencer’s Fresh Markets wanted to move forward, they could negotiate with the landlord directly. However, Haggen continues to pay the lease insuring that all negotiation be conducted through Haggan’s PROPCO which was not involved in the Haggan OPCO bankruptcy.

Jim Hill’s letter to the FTC, the FTC’s response, Barbara Harmon’s letter to Hill and Hill’s response to Harmon  by CalCoastNews


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56 Comments

  1. LeAnn says:

    Follow this link to read the article by Shredder about the recent 3:2 vote in AG regarding the resolution.

    http://www.newtimesslo.com/shredder/13863/i-know-you-are-but-what-am-i/#.V0duUOjfRiw.email

    If you want to change your community, email me at makeschoolwork@gmail.com. AG needs you, your time, and your voice!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    (2) 2 Total Votes - 2 up - 0 down
  2. ajdury says:

    I am really happy that Council member Barneich is showing her true self in a year that her seat is up for election (remember, she’s an appointee and NOT an incumbent).

    Let’s run down a few of her activities while being a council member, shall we?

    Her part in the vicious and entirely unnecessary John “Mack Attack”.

    Her lead in the crass motion to embarrass and censor our mayor over his attempt to help our community.

    Her leadership at the helm of the Tree Guild, an agency accused of strong-arm tactics, among other things.

    Her repeated shows of ineffectiveness and inability to understand issues, as evidenced by her odd questions on agenda items.

    Her disinterest in any member of the public that isn’t part of her inner circle.

    Feel free to add your own to the list!

    (9) 19 Total Votes - 14 up - 5 down
    • StakeHolder says:

      My favorite two were:
      1) telling the man with the major health issues from his overgrown Oak tree, to use an inhaler!

      2) telling a terminally ill patient to go buy medical marijuana in a parking lot in Pismo Beach on Wednesdays!

      (13) 15 Total Votes - 14 up - 1 down
    • swampfrogge says:

      Asking Matt Horn did you write the details in the staff report it is so good and so well written,
      Matt tells Kristen “I went on the internet and cut and pasted the information that is all I did.”

      She is so phony just like Barbara Harmon, aka the bitch and the bimbo

      (7) 11 Total Votes - 9 up - 2 down
      • ajdury says:

        I would have liked to give your post a Thumbs Up, but misogynistic labels are not anything I support.

        (0) 4 Total Votes - 2 up - 2 down
        • SamLouis says:

          I think it’s largely misandrists like yourself who are so quick to apply the misogyny label to anything they personally disagree with.

          (0) 4 Total Votes - 2 up - 2 down
    • ajdury says:

      I remembered another activity she participates in – one that very few folks know about:

      Her husband is a firefighter in SB county, with full employee benefits at his disposal. Instead, KB chooses to pull from the City of AG insurance benefits, as a *perk* to her position.

      If I remember correctly, Tim Brown, a current government employee, and Mayor Jim Hill, a current PG&E employee, both passed on the city-funded medical benefits since they have coverage provided elsewhere.

      Not our Mrs. Barneich. Her *public service* comes with a pretty price tag for the city ratepayers to incur.

      Thank you so much, Kristen, for the opportunity to foot the bill of your family’s insurance coverage despite you having a viable option through your husband’s taxpayer-funded job in Santa Barbara county :/

      (4) 10 Total Votes - 7 up - 3 down
  3. kayaknut says:

    Something I noticed during the last city council meeting, During the item regarding the city’s water matter our City Manager Thompson spoke up and said the council should restrict public comment until the very end of the multiple sectioned presentation, even though the council asked questions after the presentation of each section. I saw this as either a way to speed of the council meeting or a attempt to curtail public comment. My thought is if she really wanted to speed up the meeting then also ask the council to wait until the entire presentation was complete before asking questions. Since the presentation was very long many people could not wait until the very end to ask questions, this also restricts the public to a maximum 3 minute comment covering all sections of the presentation instead of up to 3 minutes for each person for each section. So I saw this as just her way of attempting to silence the public. I know asking the council to do anything now is pointless with Guthrie and Barneich and mostly Harmon on the council, but hopefully after this fall’s election and the seating of a new council, minus Guthrie and Barneich, we can finally have a conversation about Thompson and a real discussion about who she really works for.

    (11) 19 Total Votes - 15 up - 4 down
  4. Otis says:

    “Kristen Barneich wants an agenda item (Guthrie seconded the motion)” Wow, here we go again.

    This Council abounds in sulking. Guthrie, who at one time had my respect, joins Barneich in the disrespect of Mayor Jim Hill’s election and direction.

    Barbeich and Guthrie by objecting to Hill’s rightful initiative joins Barbara Harmon, not so much on the issue but in a tactic to embarrass Hill. Hello!!!

    This matter should be decided in this fall’s election by those standing for election to the Council in this election year to replace Barniech and Guthrie on the Council.

    (12) 20 Total Votes - 16 up - 4 down
  5. Ishmael09p says:

    As mayor, it is incumbent upon him to ensure that his voice as a citizen not be confused with his voice as a city official.

    It was Mr. Hill’s responsibility to clarify the point within the letter, because anyone aware of his title could infer that he was speaking on behalf of the city.

    I notice he included his title in the letter where he could just have easily, and without significant contextual impact, entitled himself a “citizen,” and removed 100% of the controversy.

    You can’t tell us this benefit of including his title escaped his consideration.

    (3) 19 Total Votes - 11 up - 8 down
    • ajdury says:

      I completely understand your point Ismael09p. If someone signs their name to a document and includes their official title, then that document has greater weight over any of our “Joe Blow” comments.

      Did you know that every single City of Arroyo Grande council member already carries that authority?

      Councilwoman Kristen Barneich signs off on Tree Guild issues she oversees, and within her purview as a member of the city council?

      Council member Guthrie signs off on AGTIB activity all the time, within his official purview and with absolutely ZERO input from the council..

      Mayor Pro Tem Harmon takes action, constantly, on behalf our our city, without any input ever, on multiple issues.

      What is the end result that is the best for our city and community?

      A fistful of elected officials in the city of Arroyo Grande are raising arms against a small group who just want to make the city better.

      Our Mayor – Jim Hill – makes the city better. If you don’t believe that, ask Barbara Harmon, Jim Guthrie and/or Kristen Barneich why they are a better answer and why they are allowed to publicly share their views yet Mayor Hill is not.

      I will take Jim Hill every day and twice on Sunday. He is everything right with local politics.

      (9) 23 Total Votes - 16 up - 7 down
      • Seecanyonrd says:

        ajdury – bottom line is that the other council members inform the mayor and council of their actions. Mayor Hill did not and when asked about it – he goes to the press.
        How is that good for AG?

        (-1) 13 Total Votes - 6 up - 7 down

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