Culture clash over Mill Valley Depot

MILL VALLEY, Calif. (KGO) -- In Mill Valley, locals are worried about big plans to change a classic cafe that's also an important cultural space.

It's owned by the city but run by a popular restaurateur, who says he has the community's best intentions at heart.

If you know Mill Valley, then you may also have visited its venerable Depot Café and Bookstore in the town square.

"It's a place to hang out," said retired teacher Barbara MacDonald as she sat inside with friends.

After a modest demonstration Friday, the place is also a community lightening rod.

Restaurateur Paul Lazzareschi bought the business almost two years ago. He has plans to improve it. "All we want to do is create a beautiful, little European Café," he said.

Some locals regard him as a hero, and others as a villain. "The story has changed 55 times already," said Gerald Nicosia, who opposes the plan. The bad blood between Lazzareschi and him steams as hot as a fresh cappuccino.

"I think they don't trust (me)," said Lazzareschi.

The City of Mill Valley owns the Depot building. This is the only public building Mill Valley leases out as a private business.

It hearkens back to the Northwestern Pacific Railroad and is a landmark. "The city is our landlord," said Lazzareschi. We are under strict rules to keep that historically valid."

What remains now is an old building needing upgrades.

Lazzareschi wants to expand the kitchen, upgrade the bathroom, fill some of the bookstore with more tables and clean up the exterior.

Locals worry that after Lazzareschi invests in those changes, they will be priced out.

"The issue is turning a community center into a building for maximum profit," said Nicosia.

"Can a café and community center co-exist?" we asked Lazzareschi.

"Yes! It's all over Italy. This is what all their cafes are," he said.

But this isn't Italy. It's Marin County, where those opposing the change have signed a petition and will ask the Mill Valley City Council to act on it at a meeting on April 2.

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