Forced out of its East Bayshore Road site to make way for a key flood-control pump station, Ciardella's Garden Supply has begun operating illegally at 1001 San Antonio Road, the Palo Alto City Council learned Monday evening.
The 48-year-old business lacks city architectural and environmental permits, planning director Steve Emslie said.
The council voted unanimously -- minus Councilman John Barton who has a nearby client -- to delay the rezoning of Ciardella's new location until the business applies for and receives the required permits.
Approving the zoning change Monday would have placed the city in "some legal jeopardy," City Attorney Gary Baum said. "We haven't done an adequate environmental review."
"We do have to abide by the law," Mayor Yoriko Kishimoto said. That could mean the family operation will need to close, at least temporarily, leaving the nine employees who attended Monday's meeting, and others, out of work.
"This is a really disappointing situation to be in," Councilwoman Dena Mossar said.
The council had planned to rezone and change the Comprehensive Plan designation for the 1.8-acre Caltrans-owned property at 1001 San Antonio Road, Ciardella's new location, to "general manufacturing" and "light industrial," respectively, Monday.
But acting on information from neighbors and others the city had sent a code-enforcement officer to check the condition of the site.
"I learned that Ciardella's Garden Supply is open for business but without any city permits or approvals to do so," Code Enforcement Officer Judy Glaes wrote in an Oct. 4 notice.
"This is a demand for an immediate cease of all commercial activities at 1001 San Antonio Road," she said in the letter, which was both delivered and mailed to Ciardella's.
Nicholas Jellins, an attorney representing the business and the former mayor of Menlo Park, said Ciardella's had been told to leave 2027 East Bayshore Road, land owned by Santa Clara Valley Water District, by the end of August.
Jellins said he did not think architectural or environmental permits could be acquired until the city had approved the zoning and land-use designation, actions that had been planned for Monday.
Jellins said owners Larry Ciadella and Bob Budelli have begun work on the applications, but he didn't know what would happen next.
"We're discussing our options," Jellins said.
By Ciardella's moving before it had acquired the permits, the business complicated a previously straightforward application, Emslie said.
The city worked with Ciardella's to find a new site and supports its relocation, he said.
"We couldn't have been more accommodating," Emslie said.
Ciardella's new neighbors on Transport Road, Paul and Patricia Pearson, have already expressed concerns about dust, noise and parking -- issues that should be included in the environmental review, according to letters submitted to the city.
The East Bayshore Road site will be used for the San Francisquito Creek pump station, which is needed to carry rainwater into the creek when the creek is elevated.
Once the application has been submitted, Emslie said his staff could issue permits within six weeks.
In other business:
• Santa Clara County Supervisor Liz Kniss, a former council member, met with the council Monday evening.
"It is really intriguing to be back here," Kniss said, noting that many of the county's health and public-safety efforts gain little notice.
Kniss expects to become the next chairperson of the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Agency (VTA), Kishimoto pointed out.
Palo Alto faces cuts in its bus routes beginning in January.
To compensate, VTA plans to investigate Palo Alto's public transportation options and opportunities for streamlining, beginning with a public meeting tonight (Tuesday) from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Jordan Middle School.
Palo Alto is the only city that is receiving a special analysis, Kniss said.
"You are not seen as a needy community and I think sometimes that does influence your (treatment)," Kniss told the council.
She said VTA General Manager Michael Burns came to Palo Alto to ride buses and was sometimes the only person on the bus.
Vice Mayor Larry Klein challenged Burns to return during morning or afternoon school commute periods.