Chick-fil-A has filed permits to occupy the former Panera space on 40th street near Target according to the city’s March Progress report. Panera closed amid the pandemic following the end of their lease.
The popular fast food chain is known for its chicken sandwiches, stellar customer service and long drive-thu lines. They are also known by some for their staunch religious beliefs and supporting organizations that oppose gay marriage.
The company drew the ire of LGBTQ+ groups when it was revealed that they donated substantially to a conservative group that advocated against gay marriage.
Chick-fil-A’s late founder S. Truett Cathy, a devout Southern Baptist, held deep Christian beliefs that influenced the company’s values including closure on Sundays and all Christian holidays.
Reaction to the news on our social media channels was split between excitement and disdain. Many commenters expressed concern over a company deemed “homophobic” operating in their city.
Others pointed out the potential for “permanent gridlock” at the location and impact it would have on shopping at the nearby Target.
The Santa Barbara Chick-fil-A has had such a negative impact on the area it operates that officials have threatened to declare it a public nuisance.
The former Panera location does not have a drive-thru and it is unlikely Chik-fil-A would pursue adding one.
The reality is that there are few tools at the disposal of local governments to prevent businesses that might not align with their community values from opening other than protest and symbolic gestures.
The below Wall Street Journal video segment notes that the issue crosses first amendment and legal protections.
“There are virtually no legal grounds for [preventing] this,” the reporter concluded after consulting legal, land-use and constitutional experts about a Chicago location.
Chick-fil-A is a private company and not beholden to pressure and advocacy from shareholders.
“We have already approved the Minor Design Review application [on March 8],” noted City of Emeryville Planning & Building Director Charlie Bryant. “A company’s policies are not a factor in land use and design review decisions.”
Bryant added that the only additional approval needed is a building permit which would be provided by the City of Oakland Building Department.
Under the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the two cities, Emeryville handles planning approvals for the entire shopping center that straddles the two city’s borders. Building permits are handled by whichever city the building physically resides in (in this case, Oakland).
LGBTQ+ groups “cautiously optimistic” about Chick-fil-A’s philanthropic shift
In 2020, under pressure, their foundation changed their giving policies to focus on education, homelessness and hunger.
According to this 2019 Vox piece by journalist Gaby Del Valle, LGBTQ+ groups are “cautiously optimistic” of the company moving toward inclusivity.
“There’s no question we know that, as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are,” Chick-fil-A’s president and CEO Tim Tassopoulos told the publication Bisnow in a 2019 interview.
The company has also pushed for healthier food options including eliminating trans-fats and antibiotics in its chicken products.