CVS: City just says no to drugstore

By BARBARA DIAMOND

The Planning Commission on Wednesday unanimously denied a conditional use permit required for CVS to replace Laguna Drugs.

A permit is required because of Commission concerns, when it approved Laguna Drugs, that if the store failed, the owners would try to sell to a formula-based pharmacy, which is practically the definition of CVS. The Downtown Specific Plan discourages formula-based (code word for chains) businesses that do not contribute to the diverse mix that contributes to the “village atmosphere.”

“I don’t know if I have ever received this much correspondence on any other proposal,” said Commissioner Ken Sadler. “Most were against CVS.

“The main challenge – and I think it is an insurmountable one – is the merchandise. It is not unique, not special and overlaps with nearby businesses.”

Sadler suggested CVS upgrade the merchandise in the store they have in South Laguna, a recommendation echoed by Commissioner Anne Johnson. 

The Police Department opposed the CVS permit, based on the sale of alcohol at the pharmacy.

Sheila Bushard Jamison, second generation owner of Bushard’s Pharmacy, also opposed the permit. 

“In less than three weeks, we collected over 1,200 signatures,” said Bushard. “People came into my store just to sign the petition.”

Karen Martin, who spoke on behalf of CVS, said she was surprised by some of the concerns, and pointed out that proposed CVS store would continue to provide Cal Optima downtown, preserve 19 jobs and better serve the community. The pharmacy would open earlier and close later than Laguna Drugs and also be open on Sundays.

“This is not a fight between Bushard’s and CVS,” said Marisa Faber. “This is the whole downtown “

Letters of opposition included one from Shilpa Balan on behalf of the Village Mart Gas Station, just down the corner from Laguna Drugs.

Several of the 22 speakers on the proposed store spoke highly of CVS, but opposed the opening of a second store.

“I get my prescriptions at CVS, but I don’t want it downtown,” said Roberta Kansteiner.

Supporters included Sam Goldstein, owner of the historic Heisler Building which houses a Tommy Bahama store, and Lisa Broughton, who said having an emergency preparedness supply downtown would be valuable. 

“The South Laguna CVS is not all that far from downtown and [this would be] a significant threat to other businesses,” said Commission Chair Sue Kempt before calling for a vote.

The Commission denial is subject to a 15-day right of appeal to the City council.

CVS spokeswoman Martin said Wednesday night that she did not know if CVS would appeal.