It was the stuff of courtroom dramas. A tiny band of San Mateo residents against a powerful corporation. The subdued voice of a woman attorney against loud, smooth talking male corporate lawyers.
The only thing missing from Monday night's special meeting of the San Mateo City Council was a stunning plot twist at the end.
When Mayor David Lim announced an anonymous vote that found the 7-Eleven at 501 North San Mateo Drive in San Mateo in violation of city zoning ordinances, there was no uproar or gasps.
There was only a question: Now what?
Now there's a lot of paper work to complete, meetings to be held to determine how to comply with the ordinances and possible litigation.
"Let the words speak for itself," Councilwoman Maureen Freschet said. "For me it's pretty simple."
7-Eleven's attorney Stephen Jamieson tried to portray the store as much a victim here as its neighbors who fought to close the store.
Jamieson argued that the council had "no basis legally" to overturn the decision.
"It's a transparent attack on 7-Eleven," Jamieson said. "If something other than 7-Eleven was there, we wouldn't be here. That part is clear."
As with any good drama, misinformation, subterfuge and double talk took center stage.
Lim, Freschet, deputy mayor Robert Ross and Brandt Grotte waded through thousands of pages of testimony and hours of videos to conclude what the San Mateo Planning Commission had recommended. The market use at 501 North San Mateo Drive is not a legal nonconforming use.
Councilman Jack Matthews recused himself from the meeting because of a conflict of interest. His architectural firm was hired by the previous owners to do some work at the site.
This particular drama dates to the 1920's. A market has always been operated at the location, although it is zoned as residential. It was determined to be a legal nonconforming use.
Fast forward to September of 2010, when Stangelini's Italian Market and Deli closed its doors for the last time. The building sat vacant for nearly two years, with ownership changing hands twice.
Section 27.72.030 of the San Mateo Zoning Code states that any non-conforming use building that remains vacant for six consecutive months will revert to its originally intended zoning.
There is also a provision that should there be an intent to abandon the market use, the legal non-conforming use would end.
One set of owners remodeled the building for use as an office. Portfolio Development Partners (PDP) purchased the property for just over one million dollars with the intention of reopening a market.
No one (well, the public at least) was aware that market was going to be a 7-Eleven until the sale to PDP was in escrow.
In October of 2011, San Mateo city planner Stephen Scott told the previous owners that the location would have to revert to residential use.
PDP began negotiating for the property later that year, planning to put a market there.
The owners apparently based their decision to continue development, without regard to the zoning code, on a memo issued by assistant city attorney Cecilia Quick, which suggested PDP had "a credibly argument that the market is still a nonconforming use."
Grotte suggested that Quick presented "options, not opinions. I think the original determination made was the correct one. It was the right one from day one and nothing contradicts that. There were multiple avenues of legitimizing the process. I think what happened was an end around."
Lim, as was his right, sought to hold hearings last September concerning residents' complaints, who said they were surprised to see a 7-Eleven going in without warning.
Both Richard Givens, the attorney for PDP, and Jamieson tried to characterize Lim, an attorney in his own right, as being "biased" and tried to get him to recuse himself.
"My first question is why are we here?" Givens said. "The city is being asked to pick winners and losers."
Jamieson suggested that city codes gave the council no authority to act and delivered a long, meandering explanation that would have done well if it were in a movie and was a final argument.
One member of the public went so far as to suggest that a tape of a previous city council meeting was doctored and one of his comments was edited out.
In the end, though, it was rather a quiet end to the proceedings.