Mi Pueblo update: Mayor joins political fray

The Gilroy Planning Commission will look at an agenda item on

Heated debate drove groggy-eyed planning commissioners to reach
a midnight verdict: Mi Pueblo can keep its colors, but has to play
nice with its neighbors.
Heated debate drove groggy-eyed planning commissioners to reach a midnight verdict: Mi Pueblo can keep its colors, but has to play nice with its neighbors.

“When you’re the new kid on the block, I think it’s a good idea to fit in by pleasing the people that share the shopping center,” said Connie Rogers who shops at the all-beige stores on the 700 block of First Street.

Mi Pueblo has caused quite a stir in Gilroy sparking debate on what tackiness is compared to cultural pride and the importance of financial gain as compared to city regulation.

Mayor Al Pinheiro has entered the political fray by communicating with city staff that he wants to appeal the planning commission’s decision. He said Monday that he has contacted City Administrator Tom Haglund and Berliner Cohen, the legal firm with which the city contracts, to find out whether he could order city staff to place a City Council agenda item to appeal the decision, or if he had to propose the item at a council meeting.

Pinheiro said the proper course to take is still being looked into.

“I felt that, as I watched the commission, there needed to be further discussion about the existing code and whether or not the colors were in harmony and to stay away from things like how many jobs it brings,” he said.

His sentiments mirrored similar concerns of some of the attendees at Thursday’s Gilroy Planning Commission meeting.

The meeting dealt with a Mi Pueblo appeal against the Gilroy Planning Department’s claim that the Hispanic foods store’s bright cranberry, yellow and blue corporate color scheme did not follow a city ordinance.

At least eight concerned residents and business owners endured more than four hours of often mundane reviews of ordinances and residential developments to state their case on both sides of the spectrum.

Commissioners were reluctant to take it on the issue as the clock struck 10:52 p.m. since the planning commission can forgo any agenda item after 11 p.m.

But a few minutes of sparked debate and public comment had a way of livening up the room.

“When I saw the colors up, I almost caused a car accident,” said Ann Marie Lopez, a business owner and building designer.

Others stood behind the store because it mirrors diversity in Gilroy.

“Without those colors it’s not Mi Pueblo, it’s just a regular store,” said George Urbina, who was with four family members and friends, all supporting the store. “They represent diversity and that’s what Mi Pueblo is all about.”

At issue is the two cranberry-colored towers opponents say is an eyesore for other businesses and it customers.

With it’s grand opening slated for Nov. 6, Mi Pueblo split the public so sharply that only commissioner Ben Anderson, who is colorblind, managed to bridge the divide.

“As you know, color is not my strong suit,” Anderson said. “But it was the cranberry that fired the interest in the store.”

His suggestion? Less cranberry and more yellow.

The commission also required the grocery store to work with planning department staff and local businesses to come to a more acceptable color scheme.

Mi Pueblo agreed.

Perla Rodriguez, Mi Pueblo’s public relations representative, has been passing color palettes and drawings back and forth with the Gilroy Planning Department staff for several months.

After butting heads repeatedly with Planning Manager David Bischoff over City Zoning Ordinance Section 50.44, Mi Pueblo decided to appeal to the Gilroy Planning Commission.

The ordinance requires any building planned to be harmonious with the adjacent development.

The result was a 5-2 vote to approve Mi Pueblo’s appeal.

Commissioners Brad Bannister and Joan Spencer dissented, while Thomas Boe, Ermelindo Puente, Kai Lai, Chair Jim Gailey and Vice Chair Anderson approved the motion.

The San Jose-based Hispanic foods chain has 17 locations throughout Northern California with $2.8 million invested in the Gilroy store.

Rodriguez said the business is currently hiring 150 people from the area, and most people are happy to see a new business come to Gilroy.

Despite all of this, the planning commission said Mi Pueblo has to reach out to some of their disgruntled neighbors and come up with an acceptable color scheme.

“It’ll be easier to tolerate as more is painted,” said Boe. “I would never presume to ask a corporate business to change their corporate color scheme.”

The Gilroy Planning Department has not had any issues with Mi Pueblo other than it’s color scheme, according to a planning commission document detailing the background of the appeal.

Rodriguez said the store rarely faces any obstacles going through the planning process, with this being the first time the superstore has had to go beyond city staff to attain approval for their colors.

On Mi Pueblo’s letter of appeal, Rodriguez mentions stores such as McDonalds or Best Buy not being hassled about their bright colors and believes the grocery chain is being singled out.

“We know Gilroy treats it’s businesses with fairness and equity, and we hope you’ll extend us that same welcome,” said Rodriguez as she showed pictures at Thursday’s meeting of other stores being accepted in communities such as San Rafael, Newark and Atwater.

In a phone interview, Rodriguez stressed equity.

“I would say that there are many businesses in Gilroy with bright colors and we want to know why the Mi Pueblo colors are different,” she said. “We are a Hispanic business and that makes us different, but our hope is that these public representatives understand we deserve the same fairness and equity.”

According to Rodriguez, the 21,000 square-foot building will be the anchor store of the mall attracting customers to it. The grocery store has received more than 3,000 applications for jobs, reflecting a dire need for employers in Gilroy, she said.

Gailey factored the business incentives into the equation when commissioners were getting ready to vote.

“We may find that, in time, they are a new idea in extending the Latin culture,” he said. “This is a brand. It has been used in other communities successfully. If their colors affect people, they will find that out with their sales. I think what they’re asking is little in relation to what they’re providing us.”

Banister could not get past the overwhelming hues.

“I’d like to see the building a different color than the shopping center, but not this color,” he said. “It’s just too much, just too bold. I’d like to see the staff work with the company but not with that color palette.”

Spencer said she’d spent 20 minutes or more viewing the store from different angles, but couldn’t see it fit in with the rest of the mall.

She acknowledged there are other bright-colored businesses in town but, “two or three wrongs don’t make a right.”

Bischoff spoke little at the meeting after he presented the Gilroy Planning Department’s staff report, but said in a phone interview that eight to 10 store owners at the First Street mall have called to complain about the colors.

Loretta Ventura from Looking Good Salon, brought in a petition with the signatures of six out of 12 mall tenants and 24 others who disagree with the Mi Pueblo colors.

“I don’t have anything against Mi Pueblo, but the colors are just way out of line,” she said. “It’s just shocking. It’s just way too flashy.”

Ventura said the meeting contained little discussion about the ordinance and sidetracked too much on the economic benefits of the store.

“The ordinance is written for a reason,” she said. “We can all come in to town and say we can do good for the community, but that is not a reason to give you what you want. I mean, I need sunglasses to walk past the store.”

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