Palo Alto Weekly

News - January 6, 2012

News Digest

Bloomingdale's building a smaller Palo Alto store

Longstanding Stanford Shopping Center tenant Bloomingdale's will build a smaller store at the mall, its parent company, Macy's, Inc. announced Wednesday (Jan. 4).

The new store is part of an overhaul of Bloomingdale's stores, focusing on smaller footprints that the company has found successful in recent years in SoHo (New York), Chevy Chase, Md., and Santa Monica, Calif., according to the announcement.

The new 120,000-square-foot store will reduce by nearly half the store's existing 229,000 square feet. The current Bloomingdale's will remain in operation until the new store is constructed and opened in spring 2014, subject to completion of a public-approval process, the company said.

The current store will be razed and replaced by a new specialty retail development by Simon Property Group, developer and manager of the shopping center, which is owned by Stanford University. Bloomingdale's currently has about 180 employees at the mall, and the company plans to maintain a similar workforce in the new store when it opens, according to Macy's.

Macy's made the announcement as part of a store-closing and opening press release that includes closing five Macy's and four Bloomingdale's stores throughout the country and opening stores in other locations. Five new Bloomingdale's Outlet stores will open in 2012, each with about 25,000 square feet and 35 employees.

Report: Halt state funding for high-speed rail

California's quest to build a high-speed rail system between San Francisco and Los Angeles suffered a heavy blow Tuesday (Jan. 3) when a peer-review committee recommended that state legislators not fund the project until major changes are made to the business plan for the increasingly controversial line.

In a scathing report, the California High-Speed Rail Peer Review Group found that the business plan the California High-Speed Rail Authority unveiled in early November offers inadequate information about funding, fails to answer the critical question of which operating segment will be built first and features a phased-construction plan that would violate state law. The group, which is chaired by Will Kempton, recommends that the state Legislature not authorize expenditure of bond money for the project until its concerns are met.

The report is the latest setback to the project, for which state voters approved a $9.95 billion bond in 2008. Since then, the project's price tag has more than doubled, and several agencies, including the Legislative Analyst's Office and Office of the State Auditor, released critical reports about the project.

In its letter to the Legislature, the peer-review group cited some of the same issues that local officials and watchdogs have long complained about, most notably an unrealistic funding plan. The project currently has about $6 billion in committed funding, and the rail authority plans to make up much of the balance from federal grants and private investments.

Facebook expansion unlikely to displace East Palo Alto residents

A consultant's study of whether Facebook's hiring expansion will push East Palo Alto residents from their homes came to the common-sense conclusion that it simply depends on how many employees decide to live in East Palo Alto.

The city of East Palo Alto sent a letter to Menlo Park in May expressing concern that Facebook's hires, attracted by the relatively lower housing prices, would want to live in East Palo Alto, leaving low-income residents — an estimated 79 percent of the city's population — struggling to afford new homes elsewhere.

The environmental impact report for Facebook's campus development did not examine this scenario since it's a matter of socioeconomics, not physical environmental change.

So an additional analysis, conducted by Keyser Marston Associates, came out Dec. 21. The report stated: "Impacts will be minimal if a very limited number of workers seek housing in East Palo Alto; conversely, if East Palo Alto is viewed as an attractive option by a large share of Facebook's workforce, impacts would be greater."

Right now, despite East Palo Alto's relative affordability and proximity, the largest number of Facebook employees — 26 percent — live in San Francisco, compared with 0.2 percent in East Palo Alto, according to the report. Free bus and shuttle service helps ease the pain of the commute.

Nevertheless, Keyser Marston Associates assumed that 3 to 5 percent of future Facebook workers may choose to live in East Palo Alto. The expected net gain of 5,800 new hires by 2018 then leaves 100 to 160 homes needed in East Palo Alto, or 16 to 26 additional units a year — a maximum of about 2 percent of the city's total housing.

— Sandy Brundage, Almanac staff writer

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