The long-embattled 7-Eleven on San Mateo Drive is now closed and, while neighbors who fought the store’s opening at the location are cheering, the entire situation is not necessarily a cause for overt celebration.
First of all, the obvious. The store was allowed to open because of a city staff member’s interpretation of code that allowed for its use since its previous non-compliant use was that of a market. How that interpretation happened we will never know, but it was the root cause of a very public probe into possible meddling at the council level and the fact that staff was overworked. That brought forth a series of public meetings about the legality of the store and court action that dragged the city’s legal team into a situation it never should have been in the first place.
Second, it was costly. While the settlement means it won’t cost the city millions like it could have, it still cost $150,000, which is nothing to sneeze at. That amount would pay for the salary and benefits of a firefighter or police officer for the year.
Third, it brought forward a sometimes uncomfortable sense of elitism. Don’t get us wrong, the neighbors of the site didn’t sign up for a 24-hour chain store that is known for its Slurpees when they moved into the area. Previously, there was a neighborhood market known for its selection of pasta and freshly-made sandwiches. Its hours were reasonable, deliveries sparse and had been there so long no one would dream of complaining about it. The 7-Eleven was new, different and not in fitting with the community’s customs.
But a market is a market, and it’s difficult to say which one is better and more suitable for an area particularly since the city’s code allows any market to be open 24 hours if the owners so choose. Some people liked the 7-Eleven, as much as one can like a 7-Eleven, but they were not nearly as vocal as the ones who did not want it there.
Now that the market is closed, who knows what will take its place? It is officially zoned residential, but it is an extremely small lot and may remain empty for some time.
For neighbors who fought the store, that is better than what was there. The neighbors fought it hard and organized themselves quickly and aptly. For that, they should be proud. But the vacant store will also serve as a reminder of an extremely challenging time for the city of San Mateo on many different levels.