Controversy brews over Chick-fil-A at San Jose’s airport
Photo courtesy of Chick-fil-A

A controversy is brewing over a plan to open a Chick-fil-A inside San Jose’s city-owned airport.

The restaurant chain, which has taken positions against marriage equality and other LGBTQ+ issues, is poised to open an outlet inside the Mineta San Jose International Airport in June, reported the Silicon Valley Business Journal.

The decision to allow Chick-fil-A to serve customers inside the city airport’s busiest passenger terminal has sparked anger among some Silicon Valley activists and passengers.

“Since Chick-fil-A has some deeply embedded, anti-LGBTQ values out of step with, and offensive to, many San Joseans, it shouldn’t be allowed to operate in a space run by the City of San Jose,” wrote community leader Alex Shoor in an email to city and airport leaders. “Moreover, we don’t want LGBTQ visitors who come to our city to feel unwelcome when they first arrive and see a business they may be fully aware opposes their own right to marry.”

Although the Bay Area is home to a handful of Chick-fil-A restaurants — two in San Jose, one in Sunnyvale and two in Fremont — the outlet inside the city airport would be the first in a public space.

“We’re talking about public property that our tax dollars created and helped supplement,” said Paul Escobar, president of The Bay Area Municipal Elections Committee. “We would expect the businesses brought in there would be reflective of the values of our community and be inclusive and respectful of the values. You can expect that our community will be showing up at the next council meeting and asking some critical questions about what we do now.”

In response to the criticism, airport spokeswoman Rosemary Barnes said the city has “a strict nondiscrimination requirement for our contracts and subcontracts.” She added the airport is a self-supported enterprise.

San Jose isn’t the first city to grapple with allowing the controversial eatery inside its airport. Airports in Buffalo and San Antonio gave Chick-fil-A the boot after backlash from the community.

The San Antonio City Council voted 6-4 in March to oppose the franchise inside the city’s airport, leading to an investigation by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton for potential First Amendment violations.

“The Constitution’s protection of religious liberty is somehow even better than Chick-fil-A’s chicken,” Paxton, a Republican, wrote in a Thursday letter to San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg. “Unfortunately, I have serious concerns that both are under assault at the San Antonio airport.”

Santa Clara County Supervisor Ken Yeager, the region’s first openly gay lawmaker, boarded a plane on Wednesday and couldn’t help feeling a stab of pain passing by the proposed Chick-fil-A site.

“I was saddened,” Yeager said. “Because I felt it was sending the message that the city of San Jose allows businesses that discriminate to be at the airport.”

Barnes said the Chick-fil-A outlet is under construction and scheduled to open in Terminal B, across from Gate 25, in June.

The plan to open the Chick-fil-A restaurant is part of a six-year contract extension approved in March 2018 with HMSHost valued at approximately $267 million, which includes other new concessions such as Shake Shack, Trader Vic’s Outpost and The Great American Bagel.

On Tuesday, the San Jose City Council will discuss extending the HMSHost contract for two more years due to escalated construction costs and delays related to ADA permitting requirements.

Contact Ramona Giwargis at ramona@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @RamonaGiwargis on Twitter.

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