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Palo Alto mulls chain restrictions on California Avenue

Original post made on Aug 8, 2014

As the commercial stretch of California Avenue continues its transformation into a fancier business district with fewer driving lanes, wider sidewalks and new plazas for pedestrians, Palo Alto officials are considering restricting chain stores to protect the small businesses in the area.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, August 8, 2014, 9:47 AM

Comments (31)

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Posted by randy albin
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 8, 2014 at 10:01 am

well, why not go back in time a little bit. there were established businesses on this street. it has changed over the years. there is still the same kind of shopping. make it accessible to customers. this is not a bad area. make palo alto more affordable to live in palo alto


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Posted by robh56
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 8, 2014 at 10:38 am

Why did California Avenue even need "improving" in the first place? It's a great local shopping/restaurant area that inevitably will migrate toward chains because that's who can afford the higher rents that will result. We've already lost Cho's, Printers Inc., Know Knew Books, and more. Why spend millions to pretty up an area that was already charming and useful for locals? The way to "keep the charm" was to keep greedy-developer hands off it. Probably too late now. The money would be better spent on road improvements to deal with worsening gridlock throughout the city.


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Posted by Disappointed
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 8, 2014 at 10:52 am

End of An Era! I've shopped on California Avenue for many years and regret to hear about the changes to "transform it into a fancier business district". We will lose all that is unique, relaxing, and lovable about California Avenue. It will become a rubber stamp of other areas - from South Palo Alto, we can easily go elsewhere to sit in a Boulanger - Main Street Los Altos, for example.
Another example that City Hall does not care at all about South Paly. (Meaning CA Ave and Southward) NB - The
way that public works (sneakily) cut down all the trees on California Avenue Overnight. And the repulsive high density housing build right up to the sidewalk on El Camino where Ricky's Hyatt used to be -- And the removal of a much loved, much used, and valued community recreation resource: Palo Alto Bowling -- that is being replaced by a similar high priced housing structure. I realize Palo Alto is no longer the sleepy little university town it was in the last century, but it would be nice if we can retain some of the charm of days past.
Disappointed with changes to CA Ave.


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Posted by Mixed use controlled by same interests
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 8, 2014 at 10:57 am

"San Francisco has chain-store limitations in several areas, he said, including sections of the Mission and Hayes Valley, which prompts people to describe the city as a "retail rainforest." What the limitation does, Alcheck said, is "change the way an investor or a developer looks at a project."

Limitations are necessary to force re-thinking, but we need a diversity of developer and investors. As long as the same ole same ole developers, architects, and office landlords are working the system, it will never change.

I heard of a downtown Mt. View landlord who wants unique small retail, and makes it attractive for these tenants. One of the small vintage shops from dt palo alto went there. This same thing has happened with small startups. The big already funded giants are sucking the air out of downtown, and the unique companies have no place here.

This topic needs to be expanded to all uses (offices, housing, and retail). What is the point of mixed-use if it's the same users controlling everything?


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Posted by anon
a resident of Monroe Park
on Aug 8, 2014 at 11:23 am

@Disappointed...

"And the removal of a much loved, much used, and valued community recreation resource: Palo Alto Bowling -- that is being replaced by a similar high priced housing structure."

That's not a "housing structure" - that will be Hilton Hotel, paired with the other new Hilton being built across from the old Rickey's site. (one Hilton is supposed to be aimed at business travelers, the other at vacationers.) They're joining the two Marriotts already there along the stretch between Charleston and San Antonio.


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Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside
on Aug 8, 2014 at 1:04 pm

What business is it of Palo Alto whether or not people prefer to transact with chain stores or local boutiques? Answer: none whatsoever.


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Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 8, 2014 at 1:12 pm

No chains. I'm so tired of the proliferation of chains and Palo Alto doing everything it can to kill small business.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 8, 2014 at 1:20 pm

How do we define "chain"? If Philz, or Piazzas opened, would they be called chains? What about Su Hongs?

On a separate note, chains tend to be the anchors that bring in business. Well known brands are known, tried and tested, by the clientele. It takes a while for an unknown store to find its niche. A chain can be recognized for what it is straight away.

I have nothing against chains. Some I like, some I don't. We already have chains on Cal Ave. Chains are often franchises and they bring jobs and economic vitality to what may be a hard to understand retail area. I used to find lots of useful shopping on Cal Ave, now it is much harder to find. Without a couple of chains I am not sure I would know what to find on Cal Ave. I rarely go there unless I have a lunch appointment, mainly because of parking. When I do, I park off Alma and walk through the tunnel.

Banning chains may just be the wrong move for all retail apart from restaurants.


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Posted by Paula
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 8, 2014 at 2:27 pm

California Avenue was charming BEFORE the city cut down the trees. Then it was ugly. The city wants the area to be more like downtown? It will be exactly like University Avenue with the traffic crawling along two lanes.


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Posted by Marianne Mueller
a resident of Professorville
on Aug 8, 2014 at 3:20 pm

To all the critics who bemoan things ain't what they were 30, 50, 80 years ago ... well, in addition to "duh," come on, it's great that there might be some restrictions on chain stores, since otherwise, it would become almost all chains, like University Ave downtown has. And you know what? University Ave is still great. We still have downtown walking areas, let's treasure them and encourage the powers that be to follow this good path. --Marianne, "Grow More Sunflowers for World Peace, that's my motto!"


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Posted by Rupert of henzau
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 8, 2014 at 3:21 pm

This is a bad idea. More of the CC trying to interfere with the free market. They tried that once before, with protecting JJ&F from competition, and PA ended up with lousy grocery shopping choices. What constitutes a chain?? What about the " chain" stores already on California? Are thee chain shoe stores planning to open on California? Then why the worry from European cobblers? Independent stores seem to be doing well, as are the independent restaurants. In general, mom and pop stores cost more. I suggest not trying to,tamper with landlord rights and the free market.


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Posted by Marianne Mueller
a resident of Professorville
on Aug 8, 2014 at 3:26 pm

Talk with someone who runs a Mom and Pop store about their costs and consider the large multinational chains have a "size" advantage. They buy and sell in bulk, in some cases avoid sales tax, etc.

I think the proprietors of Mom & Pop stores reflect the cost of living in this area. The chains reflect (partly) the cost of poverty living in Malaysia, China, etc. OK, off topic, but part of the reality. [Portion removed.]


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Posted by College Terrace Mom
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 8, 2014 at 4:35 pm

Please, No more chains on California Avenue!


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Posted by sounds good
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Aug 8, 2014 at 5:01 pm

Excellent idea–please pursue it.


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Posted by Rupert of henzau
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 8, 2014 at 5:03 pm

Did not realize that there was a problem. The majority of restaurants are independent. Country sun, Keble and suchat and other retail store seem to be doing okay. There have always been chain store on California anyway. Seems like this is a solution in search of a real problem.


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Posted by Nora Charles
a resident of Stanford
on Aug 8, 2014 at 5:29 pm

Nora Charles is a registered user.

I still miss those beautiful trees. What possessed the city to do that--I only remember a vague explanation that some were diseased, which I do not buy. And what is happening with the fountain? Instead of cutting the trees they should have replaced the fountain with something really special. Oh, well.


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Posted by local
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 8, 2014 at 6:00 pm

Please no more looming buildings and high density. Someone described University as a food court for yuppies now, and it's not far from truth. That's the influence of this CC.

Cal Ave is a real place to go shopping, art supplies, photography supplies, bagels, radio shack for batteries for the alarm system (at all hours of the night), Country Sun for supplements and bulk organic, Molly Stones, Keeble and Shuchat (pro lens rentals, ever since I realized they match internet prices on the consumer side, I run down there when I need something, got my last 2 camera purchases there), Blossom Birth for baby classes. The loss of Printers Inc, Cho's, the used treasures...awful. We don't need another yuppie food court, we need unique retail to serve residents so we don't have to drive to big box stores in mountain view.

I can't take the tree huggers too seriously because it seems like the same ones who screamed about the trees on Cal Ave which are being replaced anyway were out with their bulldozers at Maybell, where there are 100 established trees that don't even need watering. The City estimated the orchard (after selling off the ranch houses on the periphery) was $6.8million, hardly more than they're spending to beautify city hall, and they had the right to buy the orchard without competition. Would have been a nice gesture since the orchard sits across from a school and rehab center for very disabled kids. Oh well.


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Posted by jh
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Aug 8, 2014 at 9:26 pm

jh is a registered user.

When the city quietly changed the zoning for California a couple of years ago to allow and encourage taller, denser office buildings, there wasn't a property owner on California Avenue who wasn't rubbing their hands with glee. Property values increased significantly with that one zoning change.

Those on the city council who have advocated for density and "vibrancy," which seems to be the latest buzzword, will particularly enjoy the new California Avenue. Greg Scharf, a strong and vocal proponent of bringing "vibrancy" to Palo Alto, will be particularly pleased to see his vision for California Avenue (and all of Palo Alto for that matter) being realized with the first of the new tall buildings currently under construction between Birch Street and the train station.

In ten years there will almost certainly be wall to wall tall buildings lining California Avenue. With the high cost of building, first floor retail rents will have to increase significantly. As one after another of the existing one and two story buildings are torn down and replaced with dense building to the new height maximum, fewer and fewer individual store owners will be able to afford these new rents. In the face of the economics, I don't believe it is possible for the city to restrict property owners from leasing to chain stores, who can afford the much higher rents.


Me, I miss the open feeling we are losing in Palo Alto, seeing the sky and the mountains, as we are increasingly hemmed in with taller buildings along California Avenue. Property owners and developers, laughing all the way to the bank. As would I if I were them.


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Posted by Colin
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 8, 2014 at 10:23 pm

I'm a big fan of this porposed restriction on chains. It's not that I'm afraid of change, in fact I'd welcome a bunch of new restraurants, shops, bars, whatever, I just really dont want them to be the same places I can get at any mall across America. Please give the local merchants a chance to keep Califorinia Ave unique & special.


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Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 8, 2014 at 10:39 pm

Come on Larry Paige, put Cho's in Googleplex, at least back on Cal Ave.. After thirty years, Homeboy did not deserve to get kicked to the curb.
Thirty years, (+ or - )of paying rent on that property, and he got kicked to the curb. If that is not evil, than what is? Think about it.


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Posted by jh
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Aug 8, 2014 at 10:47 pm

jh is a registered user.

Colin, How can the city stop building owners from tearing down and rebuilding to the max if they keep within the building code? If they build within the code the city can't prevent them.


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Posted by ChrisC
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 9, 2014 at 12:10 am

ChrisC is a registered user.

Now they decide this? Palo Alto City government certainly ignored the petition against the Starbucks that went in on Cal Ave. It was argued that the one at Stanford and El Camino was sufficient, but, no.... There have been neighborhoods in San Fran and other areas that have been successful in stopping over-proliferation of chains. I'm not anti-chain, but Palo Alto has a perceived history of favoring them. Usually chains can survive the insanely long permit process to begin remodels while the small businesses are broke before their permit to remodel even comes through. There's not much in PA that favors small business, so let this be on tiny step for small-business-kind.


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Posted by Sea-Seelam Reddy
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 9, 2014 at 4:31 am

The fight is not over.

We have enough people that want to keep the 'early era Palo Alto/Mayfield' architecture.

Why do we need a duplicate or mini University avenue??

Have we polled the residents by College Terrace + others?

Why is every thing so hard?

Why don't we listen to the community?

On Sundays it looks so beautiful and old worldly when we have the farmers market and we interact with our friends/family and neighbors with these 60-70 booths with organic food etc.,

All we are missing is artists like Elvis Presley, Don Henley of Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Jazz Music etc., I like the California Hotel there too. Do not screw it up please; keep it the way it is and let us enjoy the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s..

Respectfuly


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Posted by Midtowner
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 9, 2014 at 7:47 am

As a long time (37 years) customer of CalAv businesses I have always appreciated the local ambiance of the street compared to crowded "sophisticated" University Ave. As a participant in the high-tech community I've also enjoyed the development of west of El Camino space such as that on Page Mill Road, so I'm not against progress. Having my home appreciate in value is certainly a plus as well.
The problem is, how much progress is enough?
Frankly, I've had enough.
I'm at the point that I value livability way more than the progress of high-rise buildings and high density housing.
We DO need change.
The major change we need is to rid the city of the current city planning staff.
The path to this change is to rid the city of the current city council.
I'M ALL FOR CHANGE!



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Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 9, 2014 at 9:58 am

If the City can ban "chains" on Cal Ave—then it can ban chains all over Palo Alto. So—where does it get the power to selectively deny the right to do trade to companies that have a national presence? Seems a little more than discriminatory, doesn't it?

And does that mean that a banks are to be considered as members of a Chain? So, that would preclude all of the large banks. And what about fueling stations? Are there any local refineries that could service just Palo Alto? Pharmacies, and package stores, like Walgreens and CVS would have to go. And certainly Safeway would be forced to shutdown, if a City-wide ban on "chains" were to be passed into law. That ban would also impact a nation-wide book store, or video store, being located on Cal. Ave., and perhaps anywhere in Palo Alto, wouldn't it?

So—just were does the City get the power to ban some stores/businesses, because they have grown to be successfully across California, and the US?


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Posted by local
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 9, 2014 at 11:30 am

Government Code Section 65302 lists seven elements cities and counties must include in their general plans:
land use, circulation, housing, conservation, open space, noise, and safety.

Why do we even friggin have a business element to the comp plan (not required) when we don't even bother to have a distinct safety one? Sure, we could roll it into another element, kind of like you might roll some cigarette ash into a rug and stuff it in the attic.

Just a rhetorical question here. How much time and staff effort have gone into revising and updating the circulation or the noise or the safety elements, when the city has changed and densified so much in recent years, and the state mandated purpose of the safety element is to deal with things like evacuation in event of earthquakes? Have we looked at egress networks? How well the infrastructure would handle evacuation in event of a pipeline rupture?

Which is more important, how to make sure the kids at the local elementary can be evacuated in a safety emergency, especially given changes in circulation, or whether Chop Keenan can blot out more of the sun on Cal Ave if he wants? Now tell me which one absorbs all of our staff time and attention? Which effort, safety or development, has resulted in staff, including the City attorney, to make, um, incorrect statements to the public in order to further a development agenda in the last year?

We need a moratorium on new development until we citizens can be assured that rules are in place to literally keep development in its place, and that city employees are honestly and mostly spending their time on the real priorities if a city government, not acting as a publicly funded arm of a developer's company. We really deserve an ethics investigation of city hall, esoecially given the grand jury report.


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Posted by Wassup?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 10, 2014 at 2:16 pm

I get the distinct feeling that the city wants everyone making less than $1 million a year to leave. Soon there will be absolutely nothing, other than Grocery Outlet, in Palo Alto that isn't ultra-upscale.

Does anyone at City Hall care that there are hundreds of people working in the Cal Ave area, especially on Park Ave, who would LOVE some affordable eateries?


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Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 10, 2014 at 9:42 pm

@ Wassup

You finally figured that out? This has been going on for years.
You can thank Gregg Scharff and company for spearheading Cal Ave. project. We know who we will not be voting for.


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Posted by Mixed use
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 11, 2014 at 10:10 am

jh,

"Greg Scharf, a strong and vocal proponent of bringing "vibrancy" to Palo Alto, will be particularly pleased to see his vision for California Avenue (and all of Palo Alto for that matter) being realized with the first of the new tall buildings currently under construction between Birch Street and the train station."

Neighbor
"You can thank Gregg Scharff and company for spearheading Cal Ave. project. We know who we will not be voting for."


Scharff who thinks, the building itself is a public benefit, on Lytton "Gateway"

Has anyone seen the entrance lobby of the gateway? The lighting is white twisted inner tubes hanging by strings. They're not pretty at all. Scharff who now can't stop talking about residential interests.

[Portion removed.]




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Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 11, 2014 at 11:16 pm

Gregg Scharff is a real estate attorney, his office is near Cal. Ave.
How the heck did this guy get elected to City Council ?


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Posted by PAmoderate
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 12, 2014 at 4:27 pm

PAmoderate is a registered user.

The last thing Palo Alto needs to do is imitate San Francisco, unless Palo Alto likes to have empty storefronts because the city has restricted zoning so tightly for retail.

This is ridiculous.


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