SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – Picture this: a Safeway gas station along the back corner of a now empty 72-acre lot just off Sutterville Road in Sacramento.
You may know it as the Curtis Park Village Project, years in the making. But it’s also come to be known as “the fight over fuel.”
“This has obviously been a hotly contested item. It has taken a lot out of me,” said developer Paul Petrovich.
Petrovich, the developer in charge, spoke to us back in August of 2014 about his big plans – which included cleaning up this old toxic railyard in between Curtis Park and Sacramento City College and building homes, retail and a large supermarket chain.
He was excited about landing his coveted anchor tenant.
“You know, Safeway has not built a new store in Sacramento in a decade,” Petrovich said.
And this Safeway, like many of their stores, would include a fuel station.
All Petrovich would need is a conditional use permit, required for any builder who wants to put in a gas station in the City of Sacramento – be it attached to a Safeway or anywhere else. And it’s usually smooth sailing.
Not this time.
“We have been working on this for 16 months for the conditional use permit and we’ve listened, listened some more, made changes, listened some more, made more changes,” Petrovich said.
Those changes resulted in an initial victory for Petrovich. He won approval from the planning commission by an 8 to 3 vote.
Typically that’s all that needs to happen.
But then a citizens group in Curtis Park led by the same attorney who tried to put the brakes on the new downtown arena filed an appeal with the Sacramento city council.
Petrovich knew he had a fight on his hands. Curtis Park residents are known for being active members of the political process, but just how large was the opposition?
“There is a radical group within that neighborhood that consists of between 5 and 12 people that can infect more people if a city council person allows that to happen,” said Oak Park area pastor Larry Meeks.
That city council person? Jay Schenirer, who represents the district where the project is being proposed and lives in this Curtis Park neighborhood.
“Overwhelmingly what I heard [is] people did not want it – and it wasn’t just a small group of neighborhood leaders,” Schenirer said.
The bottom line, Schenirer says, is that a new gas station just doesn’t fit here – or anywhere else, for that matter.
“Frankly, if we never have another gas station built in Sacramento I’m okay with that,” Schenirer said.
Schenirer rode that applause and rallied his colleagues to vote against the Petrovich plan.
Last November’s vote was 7 to 2, denying the conditional use permit for a gas station – a move that had never been done in the history of the council.
Petrovich was stunned, given the fact extensive environmental reports – studying everything from the health impact to traffic congestion, to how much tax money the city would rake in from the project – were all in his favor. And so was the recommendation from city staff which told council members the project should be given the green light.
Still, the opposition in Curtis Park won.
Some feel their gain might be Oak Park’s loss.
“Because I have a church full of people who need jobs,” Pastor Meeks said.
And as part of this deal, Safeway had promised in writing first crack at those high-paying union jobs would go to the people of neighboring Oak Park – an area with the highest unemployment rate in the city of Sacramento.
“And then when they said no, then I all of a sudden said ‘What? How do you say no to this?’” Pastor Meeks said. “A neighborhood didn’t want a gas station? And that’s gonna stop us from getting 200 jobs. I was absolutely appalled. I was astounded.”
In a last ditch effort to save the jobs and the Safeway promise, Petrovich came up with a compromise –a few of them, in fact. The first: he agreed to move the location of the gas station from just stone’s throw away from brand new homes to a far corner lot, promising homeowners wouldn’t even be able to see the fuel center. It would be hidden from view by buildings.
In the event that wouldn’t fly, Petrovich offered to pull the gas station idea totally off the table.
But if Safeway’s closest competitor to the location, Raley’s Supermarkets, decided to offer fuel, the gas station would be back in the mix.
“Instead of having the fuel station built right now, we wouldn’t be able to build it at all unless Raley’s applies for a fuel center, or unless Safeway’s volume fell down to a level where they were going to close the store and they were going to lose the jobs,” Pastor Meeks said.
Schenirer and the majority of the council said that wasn’t good enough.
“We don’t run Safeway, we don’t know what they’re business model is, we don’t know their books. So to rely on a private business who may or may not want a gas station to say ‘well this is what our volume was so we can go ahead and do something just as a business decision’ doesn’t seem very good either to me,” Schenirer said.
“Will there be another vote on this issue?” we asked.
“No,” Schenirer said.
Petrovich feels it’s personal. His in-your-face style doesn’t sit well with some – including Schenirer.
“I think that this really is a neighborhood issue,” Schenirer said.
“This is not a neighborhood issue,” Petrovich said.
“Is that true? Is this personal?” we asked Schenirer.
“It doesn’t matter. What I think of Paul personally – and it’s not personal – I’m gonna do what I think is right for the district. I’ve always done that,” Schenirer said.
Those that beg to differ, like activist Anita Earl, say they now have plans to pursue a recall election targeting councilmember Schenirer.
“This is a democracy and if people want to start a recall that’s really up to them,” Schenirer said.
What’s up to Safeway now is whether it’ll pull out of Curtis Park Village.
“They’re done being patient,” Pastor Meeks said.
For now, Petrovich says Grocery Outlet will move in. Or perhaps a much bigger name – a well-known big box store.
“What if something like a Walmart would be put in, would that be acceptable?” we asked Schenirer.
“I don’t think that’s something that would do well in that neighborhood,” he said.
Whichever anchor tenant moves in, one thing we do know: it won’t include a gas station. And this fight over fuel has left emotions still full – and more than a few feeling empty.
“Everybody now is walking away from the project, and we do not get the jobs,” Pastor Meeks said.
Earlier this month, Petrovich filed a claim against the City of Sacramento alleging interference.
The city says it’s done everything by the book.