Last month, the Planning Commission had an intersting public hearing on whether to allow an upscale version of a Goodwill thrift store to set up shop in Larwin Square. The store, known by the brand “Threads”, would be more like a posh shop featuring higher end merchandise that is not usually found in the run-of-the-mill thrift shop. Corrine Allen, representing Goodwill Industries, said she was excited to bring this concept to our community. Ninety percent of the goods sold at the store would be thrift shop items with another ten percent sold as new. As with other Goodwill stores, there would be a donation area in the rear.
When I first heard about this concept I thought, “What a great idea.” My family and I have occasionally shopped at Goodwill stores and have sometimes found some real treasures. With a store coming to Tustin, I felt we would be shopping there more often. Apparently, the Planning Commission felt the same way and unanimously approved the conditional use permit and location of the store.
There were a few objections, of course, mostly from other businesses. Two of the objections were pretty vague and did not state specific reasons other than the fact the First Street Specific Plan did not include thrift stores. However, it does include retail stores and the proposed use is really more like a boutique rather than what one usually thinks of as a thrift store. Larwin Square has been host to many dress shops, t-shirt shops and even a Joanne’s which sells fabric and arts & crafts items.
A third objection was made by Ian Carter, who owns the Wellington Plaza across from Larwin Square. He named the same issue that the store is not an approved type of business for the First Street Specific Plan and questioned why the need for another Goodwill store when there are four others within a 5 mile area. He went on to say the addition of a thrift store “downgrades the area which is primarily office buildings.”
Now, Carter must be a friend of Jerry and John because he then says:
Wellington Plaza has had difficulty policing its office complex with undesirable individuals coming into the complex. Our building has been broken into on at least two separate occasions and computers and miscellaneous items stolen. The police are hard pressed to stop such incidents. The city can help by not allowing incompatible uses in this zoning area which will have the effect of bringing an element into the area surrounding our office spaces.
Let’s see, this is starting to sound like the argument used by the city council in the failed Heritage School lawsuit against TUSD where the city’s argument was that folks in Columbus Square were being forced to bus their kids to substandard, overcrowded schools that “primarily serve minority students.”
Essentially, the objections are baseless. Goodwill has a stellar reputation over its 87 years in Orange County. They provide jobs to folks who would otherwise be written off and provide valuable services to the business community and local government where their clients are placed for work. None of it is make work and they are considered valued employees by the folks who are smart enough to hire them, including my own employer. We have used Goodwill employees for a lot longer than I have been around.
And, it is these stores that make it possible to do their work.
So, as I said, the Planning Commission read the objections, weighed the arguments and, with some minor modifications, approved the CUP. Goodwill was good to go with “Threads”. And then, the other shoe dropped.
Anyone can file an appeal to a Planning Commission recommendation. I was surprised to see Councilmember Deborah Gavello file this one. When I heard about it, I immediately emailed her. I first
received a return email saying that she could not talk about it. When I reminded her that the Brown Act did not apply and that I was only asking what she was objecting to, she gave me a rather cryptic answer and refused to discuss the issue further.
A few days later, the City Council agenda was published. Attached to the public hearing on the matter was a staff report that inlcuded Gavello’s appeal. Again, we were left with a cryptic answer as her appeal said only that it was based on “location”. So, given all the benefits that opening “Threads” would bring to the community, we have to wonder what new argument she could bring to the table that would be so earth shattering it would cause the rest of the council to uphold the appeal.
For our part, we recommend the city council deny the appeal and uphold the Planning Commission’s findings. This store will be an asset to our community where we can use good businesses that will give folks another reason to stop and shop here. If the donation area in the rear of the store is the issue, Goodwill has readily agreed to all proposed modifications including a guarantee the area is kept free of donations during off hours and adding additional security cameras. In fact, they have gone above and beyond to accommodate nearly every request made without complaint. That tells me they have faith in this concept and look forward to being a bonafide member of the Tustin business community.
So, stop your griping, Deborah, and show a little goodwill.