VISTA — It’s official — Sonic is coming to Vista! Soon, the high visibility corner of Main Street and South Santa Fe Avenue will be home to the vintage-style burger drive in, complete with intercoms that summon roller-skating servers to your vehicle.
Sonic Drive-Ins have been a fixture of the southeast for half a century, but locations out west have been few and far between. On Jan.13, City Council voted 3-1 to approve the siting of San Diego County’s first Sonic franchise. Councilwoman Judy Ritter had recused herself, as her son-in-law is a partner in a Sonic franchise.
The new restaurant occupies a sensitive spot in Vista’s downtown. City officials have expressed concern that Sonic’s 1950s aesthetic will clash with the redevelopment already planned for the South Santa Fe corridor, including the “demonstration block” of mixed-use construction planned for the intersection just west of Main Street.
With that in mind, the Planning Commission unanimously approved plans for the project Dec. 16, 2008, on the condition that the franchise relocate its big sign off the corner of Main and South Santa Fe. The commissioners also insisted that much of the signage on the store itself be removed. The building’s stylings were modified to be a better match for upcoming projects.
Many of the commission’s proscriptions were overturned by the council. None of the council members had a problem with the “Open” and “Fresh Food” signs adorning the restaurant proper. They also favored the location of Sonic’s main sign directly at the corner of Main and South Santa Fe though, at Mayor Morris Vance’s suggestion, they asked that it be reduced in size.
But the council came to loggerheads over the shape of the restaurant’s carport. Councilman Robert Campbell liked an outsized arched design. Councilman Frank Lopez preferred Sonic’s standard vintage-style carport to the flat, compromise version recommended by city staff.
“To me, it looks cheap,” Lopez said. “I don’t want to see all the buildings looking the same. We need to be unique.”
Both Councilman Steve Gronke and Vance wanted the compromise version.
“I think we’re looking at the entire South Santa Fe corridor when we look at this building … and I think we want to make it complementary,” Gronke said.
With both sides deadlocked, Gronke offered Campbell a bone. Campbell had asked for a light to be installed near the drive-through exit to alert pedestrians of oncoming vehicles, explaining that he was once hit in London. Gronke amended the motion to include Campbell’s request. The motion then passed over the objections of Lopez.
“I think it is not only going to draw people from the Krikorian Center to the historical downtown,” Gronke said in support. “I think it’s going to bring a lot of people into the city who haven’t been here before.”
Tom Fleming, president of the Vista Village Business Association and Paul O’Neal, CEO of the Vista Chamber of Commerce, were both enthusiastic about the site’s approval.
“We’re fully in support of hamburgers!” O’Neal said.