Mayor’s email irks business owner

Photo By: Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Photo Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier

Los Altos Mayor Val Carpenter’s email to Safeway officials regarding political signs angered Los Altos Pharmacy owner Bart Nelson last week.

Los Altos Pharmacy owner Bart Nelson has accused Los Altos Mayor Val Carpenter of playing strong-arm politics with Safeway officials.

According to Nelson, Carpenter contacted Safeway representatives Oct. 8 in what he believes was an attempt to force the removal of political signs posted on his pharmacy’s storefront window. Nelson, who announced in September that Safeway is buying his 78-year-old business, is displaying signs for Los Altos City Council candidates Jeannie Bruins and Jerry Sorensen.

Nelson told the Town Crier that his transaction with Safeway, which has a policy against displaying political signs, wouldn’t be finalized until December.

Nelson said he believes Carpenter sought to pressure Safeway, set to break ground on a new downtown grocery store in January. He called Carpenter’s action “a totally inappropriate misuse of the mayor’s position.”

“Why was the mayor contacting Safeway in the first place?” Nelson asked. “They don’t get into politics. It’s total intimidation.”

Reached by the Town Crier, Carpenter said her email to Safeway officials was simply an inquiry into their political signage policy and that Nelson is misconstruing her intentions.

Specifically, Carpenter said she was aware that the grocer previously had a policy of not displaying political signs, based on her own campaign for city council. When she noticed the two political signs in Nelson’s pharmacy, Carpenter said she contacted Safeway under the assumption that the pharmacy’s ownership transfer was already complete.

“I just wanted to make sure it was fair,” she said. “I assumed (Safeway) already owned the pharmacy.”

Carpenter said she also inquired about adding signs for candidates she hopes will win seats on the council – Megan Satterlee, Jon Baer and Jan Pepper – in the event that Safeway’s policy on political signs had changed. Nelson simply misinterpreted her email, she added.

“My view is that Bart Nelson once again got his facts wrong,” she said. “It’s not the first time, and it won’t be the last.”

The email in question

Both Nelson and Carpenter provided the Town Crier with copies of the email in question, in which Carpenter writes:

Greetings! Congratulations on Safeway’s recent purchase of Los Altos Pharmacy. I’m looking forward to transferring my prescriptions from Walgreens to your beautiful new Safeway store in downtown Los Altos next year.

As you may know, there is a Los Altos City Council election this fall, with one incumbent and five challengers running for three seats. I wanted to bring to your attention that Los Altos Pharmacy is displaying campaign signs for two of the challengers.

My understanding from my own campaigns for Los Altos City Council is that Safeway corporate policy is to not allow any campaign signs on your properties. If that is still the case, I’d appreciate it if you would so inform Bart and Kent Nelson of Los Altos Pharmacy and direct them to remove the signs ASAP. If that is not the case, I’d appreciate your displaying campaign signs on your Safeway property for incumbent Megan Satterlee as well as Planning and Transportation Commissioner Jon Baer, both of whom voted in favor of your new store in downtown Los Altos.

I look forward to hearing from you on this issue at your earliest convenience.


Val Carpenter

Mayor of Los Altos

Council candidates react

Nelson, in turn, emailed Satterlee, Baer and Pepper Oct. 15, asking them to “immediately and publicly repudiate” Carpenter’s support for them.

Satterlee responded to Nelson via email, calling Carpenter’s actions a case of incomplete facts about Nelson’s deal with Safeway. Nelson provided a copy of Satterlee’s email to the Town Crier.

“I see no implied or real threat to Safeway or its upcoming permit needs,” Satterlee wrote to Nelson. “I read an inquiry about corporate policy and a request based on a misunderstanding that the deal had in fact closed and the property had changed hands.”

Baer echoed those sentiments, telling the Town Crier that his understanding of the situation was that Carpenter’s email was “written on the basis that (Nelson’s) transaction was announced.”

“I think Val raised the question of ‘has your policy changed?’” he said, adding that he believes Carpenter acted on “a lack of perfect information.”

Satterlee, meanwhile, added that she would work to clear up any misgivings Nelson had toward political expression.

“As long as you are the property owner and not bound by Safeway’s corporate policy, you should feel free to post any sign you want as long as it complies with city regulations,” Satterlee wrote to Nelson. “If Safeway is representing this as anything other than that, please let me know and I will endeavor to clear up the confusion so you can express your support for your candidates.”

Pepper, meanwhile, told the Town Crier in an email that she does not “condone such actions by an elected official in this campaign or in the civic affairs of Los Altos.”

Pepper added that she has not accepted endorsements or contributions from current councilmembers – including Carpenter – since the start of her campaign.

“I have chosen not to seek or accept endorsements or financial support from anyone on the current city council,” she wrote. “I am also not accepting endorsements or financial support from any business interests (such as property developers) that may be coming before the city council in the future.”

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