A wave of community opposition to a coffee shop featuring bikini-clad baristas set to open in North Fair Oaks may not be enough to stop the business from serving caffeinated beverages in the coming months, but it prompted a discussion about how future adult businesses can be regulated in unincorporated San Mateo County.

By hanging a banner announcing the upcoming arrival of Pink Pantherz Espresso at the former location of the Caffino drive-thru espresso bar at 2797 El Camino Real, business owner Jose Carmona marked the spot for what he hopes will be his business’ fourth location. Having opened three other drive-thru bikini coffee bar establishments in Fremont, Fresno and Modesto, Carmona said he hasn’t heard complaints about the locations he opened in the last four years since he started his business.

But he and county officials have been getting an earful from neighbors who say the business sends a disparaging message about women and doesn’t fit with the neighborhood’s values. Sister Christina Heltsley, executive director of the nonprofit St. Francis Center at 151 Buckingham Ave., was among several community members who raised concerns about the business at the county’s Board of Supervisors meeting last week.

Located at the intersection of El Camino Real and Dumbarton Avenue, the business will be on the route dozens of children take as they walk to Selby Lane School, noted Heltsley.

“It’s so disappointing that in this day and age that something like that can happen,” she said in a phone call with the Daily Journal after the Aug. 7 meeting. “We’ve worked so hard with our young women to lead with their minds and their hearts and not their bodies. … Our kids are learning to advocate for themselves.”

Heltsley was joined by others in asking county officials to require new businesses in unincorporated San Mateo County to obtain a business license, which she thought could prevent adult business from opening in communities like North Fair Oaks. She noted the adult entertainment club Hanky Panky at 2651 El Camino Real and the former site of the adult entertainment store Secrets Boutique are less than half a mile away from the new Pink Pantherz location, adding she wasn’t sure if the bikini coffee bar would be accepted in any of the cities neighboring the small section of North Fair Oaks.

“My hope is that we’re not seen as the dumping ground for these types of places,” she said, noting that the community may not be wealthy but it is rich in culture and values. “This is a beautiful community.”

County spokeswoman Michelle Durand said in an email that should employees of the business wear bikinis as is currently proposed, it would be considered an adult entertainment business, which is not allowed in the site’s zoning code. She said Planning Director Steve Monowitz informed Carmona employee dress must completely cover employees’ bottoms and breasts. She said the application is still under review by the Environmental Health Services Division of the county Health System and if the business does open, county officials will work closely with the owner to ensure the business is in compliance.

Though Carmona, who manages the business with his wife Laura Carter, acknowledged the neighborhood’s concerns, he wasn’t sure if his business constituted adult entertainment. Noting Pink Pantherz employees serve nothing but quality coffee drinks, Carmona said his other three drive-thrus have become involved in the communities where they have opened through events and other activities.

But he said he’s been working with county officials to ensure the business is in compliance with the relevant rules, and will be proposing new uniforms for the employees at its new location to them by the end of the week. Carmona said he plans to hire eight or nine employees at the North Fair Oaks location.

“I’m not bringing anything other than a business with the fun,” he said. “I’ve been doing everything they want me to do. I know they feel like the concept is not a family-oriented business, but it is.”

Though Supervisor Warren Slocum thought little could be done legally to stop Carmona’s business from opening, he has asked for an ordinance prohibiting adult entertainment businesses in unincorporated parts of the county to go up for review at a September meeting of the Board of Supervisors.

“One of the things I think that the unincorporated area of North Fair Oaks needs is business licenses and some kind of a business registry because it would be very helpful to different departments to know which businesses are coming and going,” he said.

Heltsley said several community members are prepared to ask Carmon to reconsider his plans and encourage members of the community not to patronize the business if it opens. It’s not the first time Heltsley has taken a stand against adult businesses in the community. She said she worked with the developer of a multi-unit residential project across the street from Secrets’ former location at 2601 El Camino Real to encourage the adult boutique’s property owner not to renew its lease. The store relocated to a spot across from Sequoia High School, which Heltsley noted is also not ideal.

And though efforts to limit businesses like Pink Pantherz are in motion, not everyone is bothered by the change. Rugiero Sanchez, owner of La Costa Restaurant and Bar a few doors down from the proposed bikini coffee stop, thought the new business could bring new life to the corner and nearby businesses.

“I don’t see a big deal honestly,” he said. “It’s like going to a beach.”

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