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BoS dubious about gas station proposal

A man in a camouflage shirt and khaki cap stands at a podium.
Mendocino County YouTube channel
Mahmood Alam, of Faizan Corporation, addresses the Board of Supervisors about his proposal for a gas station in Redwood Valley.

A controversial gas station in Redwood Valley is due for another round before the Board of Supervisors next month, as county staff considers a last-minute traffic study submitted by the applicant.

Mahmood Alam, of Faizan Corporation, first won approval for a gas station in Redwood Valley at the bottom of the grade in 2016. Delays led into the pandemic and the expiration of the original permit. In late 2023, he applied again, for a 10-pump station with a convenience store in the strip mall on the east side of Highway 101. He and his supporters say the area is in need of an ‘anchor tenant’ who will revitalize economic activity. But the Redwood Valley Municipal Advisory Council (MAC) and other neighbors say there are enough gas stations in the town, as well as the county; that approving a gas station will not support the county’s goals of meeting the environmental crisis; and that Alam has racked up violations that make them leery of his businesses.

The Planning Commission denied the new permit on January fifth. The next day, Alam’s attorney appealed it, and on March 26, it came before the Board of Supervisors.

County Counsel recommended that the board continue the item so that Caltrans and the county’s Department of Transportation could analyze Alam’s latest traffic study. His consultant, Dalene Whitlock of West Trans, sought to debunk an earlier Caltrans analysis projecting that the station would engender 5,300 trips per day. Whitlock said that, based on the activity at another gas station also owned by Alam, trips would be under a thousand.

The board voted unanimously to delegate Supervisors Glenn McGourty and Ted Williams to gather more information about more traffic at more gas stations to inform their telegraphed refusal next month.

However, Caltrans appears to be standing firm on its insistence that Alam pay to close the median just to the north of the proposed station. That’s to prevent collisions the agency fears would result from southbound travelers turning left off the freeway to get into the business. Alam says he won’t build the station if he also has to build the median, which a local contractor said would cost $2 million. A letter from his attorney implies that Caltrans is in the wrong, trying to stick his client with the bill for a median closure that was well underway before plans for the gas station were revived.

In spite of the convoluted minutiae of the now years’-long saga, Dolly Riley, chair of the Redwood Valley MAC, says she and other neighbors are committed to their opposition. “There may be a lot of money behind this gas station, but there’s a lot of passion among the people of Redwood Valley,” she informed the board. “So we can continue to kick this can down the road, but we have the passion to continue talking about it.”

Former Sheriff Tom Allman said that, although the Coyote Valley tribal station and another station are nearby, the proposed station is the one that will provide a strategic advantage to first responders in need of a fill-up. “I remember, and I hope that you remember, when we’ve had emergencies in this county, and we’ve run out of fuel,” he said. “We’ve absolutely run out of fuel…This is an opportunity to have a state-of-the-art facility in Redwood Valley, a very strategic location, where we are going to improve public safety. We’re going to improve the south edge of the ridge, we’re going to have travelers stop there, we’re actually going to improve our sales tax by not having them stop in Lake County, Highway 20, northbound traffic is going to be spending their sales tax here, hooray.”

Alam owns gas stations all over the region. Last year, his company, Faizan Corporation, was ordered to pay $500,000 for 64 environmental and business practice violations in seven counties, including Mendocino. And in 2019, the California Regional Water Quality Control Board issued a cleanup and abatement order for groundwater contamination and improper disposal of hazardous waste at the Express Mart on Gobbi Street in Ukiah. Alam says the fines were “100% housekeeping stuff,” such as poor reporting on the part of tenants. He also said he was cleared of environmental damage on Gobbi Street. Under questioning from Supervisor Maureen Mulheren, who was on the city council at the time, he said he had a disagreement with an environmental health inspector over what kind of testing was required in the vicinity of a city well. Pollutants were found in the groundwater, but not the city well.

“I spent millions of dollars, cleaning up the environment, rather than polluting it,” he declared, assuring the board that environmental health can back him up if anyone tries to prove otherwise.

But supervisors continued to be skeptical of the 170-page West Trans traffic analysis, which relied on data about trips to one of Alam’s other gas stations. Williams questioned Whitlock, the consultant hired by Alam. “Do you compare it to one other business, owned by the same entity?” he asked.

“Not normally,” she conceded.

“So something not normal has been submitted here, because we didn’t like the answer the Planning Commission gave,” Williams concluded. “Everything else aside, just looking at the research method here, I don’t think it has a lot of credibility. Sample size of one?”

Supervisor Dan Gjerde also found the single source inadequate. He suggested using traffic to the two existing gas stations in Redwood Valley as comparisons. He noted that, “The Chevron on Lake Mendocino Drive, visible from Highway 101, easily accessible from Highway 101. It’s the second closest gas station to the proposed station, as well as Coyote (Valley tribal casino), which is the closest gas station to the proposed station. It seems to me that trip traffics for those two gas stations should at least be considered in determining what is the appropriate trip traffic that this project would generate.”

Alam objected to the suggestion that the Chevron gas he planned to sell be compared to the product at the Coyote Valley casino, which was hotly defended by other community members. “I consider Chevron as the Nieman Marcus or Nordstrom,” he said. “Nordstrom customer’s not going to go to Wal-Mart. Neither the Wal-Mart customer’s going to go to Nordstrom. So with respect, I consider the casino is a Wal-Mart. That’s generic gas, so there is no comparison.”

With Alam’s attorney dropping references to the anticipated reasoning of a judge, and county counsel advising a ‘defensible record,’ the board voted to thoroughly document their denial of the project, which they plan to vote on at their meeting on May 7.

Local News
Sarah Reith came to Mendocino County in 2008 and worked as a reporter and freelancer, joining KZYX as a community news reporter in 2017. She became the KZYX News Director in March, 2023.