In August of this year, my wife and I moved to the Coachella Valley. We choose to live in Rancho Mirage because we loved the quiet streets, the dark, star-filled skies and the look and feel of the place. But not long after we moved in, we learned about a real estate development planned for nearby our home which will change everything: a fast-food drive-through restaurant to remain open until 1:30 AM on some nights. That plan has ignited a controversy, a lawsuit and a potential ballot initiative to reverse the City’s action approving the project.
Most people believe the issue is whether to allow a fast food restaurant in Rancho Mirage. However, while there are many legitimate reasons for not permitting it to be here (traffic, noise, pollution, increased crime, etc.) the real issue has nothing to do with any fast food chain. The real issue is how the plan was propelled through the City Planning Department and then through the City Council — quickly and quietly in the midst of summer, and how — according to the allegations of the lawsuit — in knowing violation of multiple state and local laws and regulations.
At the October 21st City Council meeting adopting the necessary ordinances to permit the project to go forward, resident after resident stood up and addressed their representatives, voicing strong opposition to the project. The City Council appeared to have forgotten that its only constituents are the residents of Rancho Mirage, not outside businesses, developers, employers or invetors with no long-term interest in the future of the City. The Council members listened silently, never addressed a speaker and, without a single word of discussion or comment, voted unanimously for the restaurant. It was an obvious done deal before anyone arrived that day.
In unanimously adopting the fast-food plan, the City Council members claimed it is good for the City. But is it? It may be good for real estate developers, outside construction companies, shopping center owners and investors and a fast food company, but it is not a good thing for the residents of Rancho Mirage, who will pay the price for the development with a sharp reduction in the quality of their life in the City.
In America, no one is above the law. We are discussing the impeachment of a sitting President because he deliberately violated laws and regulations. The City Council of Rancho Mirage must be held to the same standards of compliance with the law and accountability to which we hold the President or other elected officials. If it is proved that the Rancho Mirage City Council circumvented state and local planning and zoning laws and disregarded mandatory environmental procedures to shove the fast food project, it should not be allowed to proceed. Allowing one fast-food drive-through restaurant in Rancho Mirage is the top of a very slippery slope; it may be the first one, but it will not be the last. Nothing less than the future of the City is at stake.
Stephen Jaffe has been a California lawyer for almost half a century, is a former US congressional candidate and is an advocate for the mentally ill and animals.