Girl Scout cookie season is here, but don't count on picking up your Thin Mints or Peanut Butter Patties outside grocery stores in Blackhawk.
Troops can't get permission to sell at the Safeway on Camino Tassajara or Draeger's in Blackhawk Plaza, due to property owner policies forbidding solicitation in shopping center common areas.
"It's discouraging for them," said Amy Gee, whose 12-year-old daughter Alyssa is in a Las Trampas Association troop. "It's not like they are promoting political ideas."
But as it turns out, political petitioning, distribution of pamphlets and other "reasonably exercised" forms of speech are protected by the California Constitution in privately owned shopping centers.
Selling products - even by charitable groups or nonprofits - is not. Many Danville and Alamo businesses allow Girl Scouts to sell simply out of good will.
Scouts must usually get permission from the store manager or property owner, sign a form, and obey standard time, place and manner restrictions.
"We support nonprofits, we just can't allow sales," said Blackhawk Plaza Property Manager Trisha Wilkalis. "It becomes a whole new can of worms."
Giving one community group permission to sell and not another opens the door for too many legal what-ifs, managers say. The decision has to be "global," Wilkalis said.
"They just said if they let Girl Scouts sell they have to let everybody sell," explained Alyssa, who called several businesses to ask permission.
In the Danville area, Girl Scouts find that grocery stores are the best places to set up cookie stands, said Alyssa, who is earning a silver award.
Foot traffic is best at Safeway and people know to look there for cookies, she said.
"Going to Wells Fargo and Longs is not as desirable," her mom Amy echoed.
So when Alyssa and her fellow Girl Scout Jessica Kuelz were told they couldn't sell at the Blackhawk grocery store locations, the girls were nervous they wouldn't have enough popular places for cookie sales. Most of the good spots around town were filling up fast.
Safeway NorCal Manager of Public Affairs Sherry Reckler said if Safeway owns the property, then all the Scouts have to do is meet with a store manager, sign some papers and comply with a few rules.
But if a landlord owns the property - like in the case of the Safeway on Camino Tassajara - the situation is a little more tricky.
"That's a harder route to go," Reckler said.
Many property owners strive to keep their policies about sales consistent. And they have concerns about shopping centers getting clogged.
The company allows community groups like Girl Scouts and Brownies to sell, along with charitable organizations. Commercial retailers are not permitted.
"I'd want to tell them ... we wouldn't do any harm or anything," Alyssa said.
Blackhawk property owners reviewed a 1980 Supreme Court case called Pruneyard Shopping Center V. Robbins when determining their own policies about what to permit in their common areas.
The Supreme Court ruled that peaceful publicly expressive behavior does not infringe on the shopping center owner's rights. It would be much more difficult, however, to make a case for the right to sell merchandise on someone's private property.
Approximately 70 percent of the proceeds from Girl Scouts cookie sales stay in the local Girl Scouts Council, while the rest goes toward paying for the product at cost, according to the Girl Scouts Web site.
The Las Trampas Association of Girl Scouts includes over 120 troops and will be selling cookies Feb. 29, March 1-2, 7-9 and 14-16.
Cookie sale locations include Lunardi's, Peet's Coffee, Lucky, Starbucks on Hartz Avenue and Wells Fargo in Danville. In Alamo they will be available at Longs Drugs and Safeway, and in Blackhawk at Starbucks on Crow Canyon Road and Chamois Car Wash.
"I commend them for sticking it out," said Amy Gee.
For more information on cookie locations, visit www.cookiefinder.com.