Why Didn’t the Student Cross the Road?
Claremont residents succeed in opposing proposed 7-Eleven
By Jeremy B. Merrill, CMC ’12
24/7 or 5am-1am? 6am-midnight or 10am-10pm? These are the times that try Claremont residents’ souls – or, at least, the times that would have, had a local businessman succeeded in opening a 7-Eleven convenience store at the corner of Foothill Blvd. and Mills Ave. After the organized lobbying efforts of many local residents, including Claremont College alumni and Pitzer Dean of Students Jim Marchant, the plan failed when the Claremont Planning Commission ruled that the store would have violated the city’s General Plan.
The would-be entrepreneur lives in La Verne and currently owns and operates three Subway restaurants in Claremont. His proposed 7-Eleven, which would have been located in the existing building on Foothill across from Harvey Mudd’s Sontag dormitory, would have sold beer and wine, as well as food and non-alcoholic beverages.
In addition to attending the public comment meeting at Claremont City Hall, the residents’ group distributed flyers to homes in the neighborhoods near Foothill and Mills. They also advocated using Facebook and Youtube. One video, titled “Mills and Foothill,” is a plea to the Claremont City Council from Claremont High School teacher and Pitzer alumnus David Sawhill, who lives north of the proposed 7-Eleven. The video received 347 views in about a month but has since been removed.
Sawhill’s video focuses on traffic impacts, claiming that the proposed 7-Eleven would encourage illegal traffic maneuvers and would endanger both children walking to school and pedestrians crossing Foothill to reach the store. He also told the Port Side that neighbors were concerned about 7-Eleven customers, both sober and inebriated, driving through his neighborhood late at night after exiting the store. “My neighborhood gets quiet very early in the evening,” he said, and his neighbors said they feared that noise and bright lights would ruin the atmosphere.
Marchant echoed Sawhill’s concerns, explaining that Pitzer’s opposition stemmed primarily from safety concerns. “Students are often not seen clearly by the cars on Foothill,” he said, “and additional traffic to the store, where people stop and start, come and go, adds to the safety issue.” For Pitzer, this issue hits home. According to Marchant, a Pitzer student was killed “years ago” jaywalking across Foothill to purchase alcohol at a convenience store. Recently, two Pitzer students have been injured, one in the past few months, crossing Foothill.
Other residents feared that if the proposed 7-Eleven had obtained an off-premises beer and wine permit, other area convenience stores would have followed suit, causing a “certain type of people” to gather in Claremont. More troubling than the concerns about traffic, safety and crime have been additional concerns – not voiced in official documents, but instead online – about what kinds of businesses are acceptable in Claremont. One online commenter, Ronald Scott, encouraged opponents of the 7-Eleven to promote a Famima!! convenience store in the same location. Described as “upscale” on Wikipedia, Famima!! is the Japanese company Family Mart’s attempt to expand into the American market. Scott could not be reached for comment.
Both Sawhill and Marchant emphasized their unhappiness with the location of the proposed 7-Eleven, not with 7-Eleven in general. In fact, Marchant would have welcomed a 24-hour convenience store in south Claremont, closer to his home. Sawhill remarked that neighbors had concerns about traffic at Mills and Foothill when the building had first been proposed and also that the building’s leasing agent had promised to try to lease the building to “the classiest of tenants.”
While cities certainly have an interest in vetting local businesses, choosing one particular brand or business over another seems problematic. In particular, promoting an “upscale” or “classy” business over a more affordable one blatantly favors more affluent individuals and virtually guarantees that Claremont will remain an island of upper-class individuals surrounded by poorer and darker-skinned individuals, whom Claremont tries to ignore and exclude from our city. And, it isn’t in our interest as college students – particularly those of us on financial aid – to promote yet another expensive boutique offering goods out of many of our price ranges.
The residents have a very compelling case, and the Port Side applauds their actions. Their safety concerns are well-reasoned and may end up saving lives. But the proposed 7-Eleven would have affected students too, for better or for worse. Where were the students in this conversation?