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Alma Plaza redux

Original post made by Not so fast on Apr 17, 2007

Has a miracle occurred in Palo Alto??

The city council actually voted in favor of the development of Alma Plaza:
Web Link

However once again we have evidence that nothing will appease certain people, who would hold up Alma Plaza for another 10+ years.
the developer increases the amount of retail at the plaza, in response to demands by neighbors and the planning commission--what response do we get--"it is inappropriate", "we were blindsided" "it stinks".
obvioulsy some people would prefer that now have another couple of years discussion on this matter.

Also note that our mayor voted against the development--I guess she would prefer that people drive to other shopping centers rather than having to walk to a neighborhood one--so much for climate change.

Comments (79)

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 17, 2007 at 2:54 pm

Wanna bet the lawyers make more money here than the developer?


Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 17, 2007 at 3:04 pm

So now we will have more housing in S PA. For those who say that our schools are not getting more and more overcrowded, here is an example of what we are talking about. This area of PA is already impacted and those whose kids attend Fairmeadow don't want it to grow - don't be surprised when the portables are rolling in.


Posted by Bill, a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 17, 2007 at 4:14 pm

Not so fast. I think you do our mayor an injustice. I feel confident she wanted a community
center, not a micro-mini strip mall. She was right. Others caved to the persistence of a
patient developer. She was for the neighborhood. What do think he was for????


Posted by Not so fast, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 17, 2007 at 4:29 pm

No doubt the developer was, at least partially, for profit. As I have stated in other threads:
1) this is a terrible location for a shopping center
2) although the neighbors want retail, retail, retail--there is no guarantee that any retail will want be in Alma Plaza
3) as the developer said last night, 3 supermarkets have said no thanks to locating in Alma Plaza
4) the neighbors had the opportunity to have a 28,000 square foot grocery store--they decided to play the "it's too big, it's too small" game a little too long
5) unfortunately Alma Plaza was included in the infamous Charleston corridor building moratorium, which our mayor supported at the time
6) who knows what the mayor wants besides climate change


Posted by Horay, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 17, 2007 at 5:59 pm

Well said Not so Fast.

I listened to McNellis's rationale on the site, and it seemed that without a "Big" anchor store, which the neighbors shot down before, this is the only viable retail alternative.

I think the McNellis put up with alot over the years, and he should be congratulated for his perservance and I wish him much success with his project.


Posted by Bill, a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 17, 2007 at 6:59 pm

Mr McNellis put up with a lot????? The neighbors did! He parlayed the errors of Lucky's -
Albertonson's into the position of getting the Alma Plaza for himself , one and a half
years ago, for a bargain-sale price of $6 Mil. Have you figured his land profit if he builds
38 townhouses there?? That's a land-cost of $150,000 per, with the grocery and parklet
thrown in for free. Would a profit of $25-30 Mil sound about right ? Minus costs.
So, from his viewpoint, 8 years of getting fees from L-A, then a $25 Mil profit at the end....
And you want us to commiserate with him??????


Posted by Bill, a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 17, 2007 at 7:00 pm

Mr McNellis put up with a lot????? The neighbors did! He parlayed the errors of Lucky's - Albertonson's into the position of getting the Alma Plaza for himself , one and a half years ago, for a bargain-sale price of $6 Mil. Have you figured his land profit if he builds 38 townhouses there?? That's a land-cost of $150,000 per, with the grocery and parklet thrown in for free. Would a profit of $25-30 Mil sound about right ? Minus costs. So, from his viewpoint, 8 years of getting fees from L-A, then a $25 Mil profit at the end.... And you want us to commiserate with him??????


Posted by not so fast, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 17, 2007 at 7:26 pm

While the developer may have "parlayed the errors of Luckys/Albertsons, he also parlayed the errors of the city council (for not approving development earlier and for kowtowing to vocal "neighborhood leaders" who insisted on including Alma Plaza in a building moratorium) and the neighbors themselves (who just were not satisfied with any size supermarket at Alma Plaza)--you could have had a nice sized grocery, with the plaza remaining all retail.
Maybe this will be a lesson to our civic leaders (get a spine and focus on the cities problems, not just climate change) and the "friends" of alma plaza (you play "too big, too small" long enough and you will end up something you do not want)


Posted by Bill, a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 17, 2007 at 8:17 pm

True, the Charleston delay was a disaster. Now we have another. Mr McNellis wins.
Citizens lose. Sometimes a second disaster does not erase an earlier one.

Saying it's finally over is also saying Alma Plaza is over. Little comfort that.


Posted by Kleinberg's special interest, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 17, 2007 at 8:31 pm

Kleinberg always votes for housing, to the detriment of the residents.
You have to seriously ask if she has clients in the real estate business or owns commercial real estate herself.
We know Barton has special interests in real estate development.


Posted by Horay, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 17, 2007 at 8:46 pm

Being against McNellis because he is making money isn't germane to the issues of what sort retail could be supported at Alma Plaza....

The neighbors drove what McNellis came up with by objecting to what Lucky & Albertson's had originally proposed. They only have themselves to blame for not having a larger grocery store.


Posted by Watching Alma, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 17, 2007 at 10:06 pm

Kleinberg votes for housing but I don't think it would just be owning property. She tries to be friendly to developers, which is where the big bucks are. And the housing advocates are her political base. They both fit together -she can get all sentimental about poor people and vote with the developers. Pretty cool.


Posted by Not so fast, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 18, 2007 at 8:41 am

After reading the PA Daily News report of the council meeting and the reaction from the "friends" of alma plaza group:

Web Link

I predict that we will be seeing a lawsuit in the near future from this group to try to block the re-development. or in other words, get ready for another 10 years of delays.
Walter Wallis may be right about the lawyers in this case!!!


Posted by Bill, a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 18, 2007 at 9:00 am

But the lawyers need profit as much as developers!

Let's all support them. If they can save Alma Plaza, then great for them.

As for 10 years more, though that would be better than the plan of Mr McNellis, he might
be persuaded to transfer his 4.2 acres to a friendly developer or to the city, and then
development of a proper Alma Plaza could be rapid.


Posted by Not so fast, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 18, 2007 at 9:06 am

I am just curious--do you think a "friendly" developer will be willing to develop Alma Plaza so that he does not make a profit?
As for the city developing Alma Plaza--where would they get the money to do it, considering the current state of affairs?
Another question is, let us say that Alma Plaza is redeveloped as all retail, with a large grocery store--what effect would that have on other nearby retail centers in the area--i.e. should we for example, negatively effect JJ&F or Piazza's, by placing a large store in Alma Plaza.


Posted by Bill, a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 18, 2007 at 10:28 am

NSF, 1. YES. A FRIENDLY developer would be happy to turn $6 Mil into $ 10 Mil and build
a good Alma Plaza of mostly retail. He could be cautioned by the City he would not be
able to aspire to enormous profit by decimating the Neighborhood Cernter with 85 % housing. 4 Mil is a profit. That is not, however, the kind of enormous profit that Mr
McNellis seems determined to have.

2. The City could easily finance the purchase, pending early resale to a friendly developer.
It would not be money said goodbye to forever. Maybe the City would even turn a small
profit.

3. As to the effect on other grocery stores, that seems beside the point of having a proper
Alma Plaza. Alma Plaza was designed as a local neighborhood center, not as a location
of housing to make OTHER REMOTE grocery stores more profitable.


Posted by Not so fast, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 18, 2007 at 10:51 am

Bill:

Please note from yesterday's PA Daily story regarding Alma Plaza:
Web Link

the following part:
"Currently, as a planned community, the plaza site on Alma Street near East Meadow Drive has no set land use regulations."

So the developer is not decimating anything--if there was any decimation it was done by the city council's lack of spine to address the issue earlier and the neighbors never being satisfied with anything suggested for an all retail plaza (btw the names of the people fronting these organizations (i.e. friends of alma plaza etc)may have changed but it is the same cast of characters leading the charge against any progress at Alma Plaza for years)

I am not sure where you are coming up with your "facts" regarding the developer and his ultimate profit expectations.
i would hardly consider Piazza's a remote location (3-5 blocks away).
Even the Chamber of Commerce has said that an all retail Alma Plaza will not work and also note that their is a deed restriction limiting any grocery store to 18,000 square feet. And remember that so far no grocery has expressed interest in locating to Alma Plaza.

It could have been saved as a "local neighborhood center" a number of years ago--but nothing satisfied the neighbors and now they are "stuck" with what was decided upon on monday.

Personally, there is a subgroup of people living near Alma Plaza who want to plaza to remain as is, vacant and quiet, sine any development will generate traffic and noise


Posted by Bill, a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 18, 2007 at 11:17 am

NSF, regarding facts of profit: do you wish facts about his purchase of AP for $6 Mil, or the calculation of transformed value if the Center is virtually eliminated in favor of housing. Please specify.


Posted by eric, a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 18, 2007 at 11:23 am

Bill, your statement that the developer will make "25 mil, not including costs" shows how ridiculous your whole premise is. Do you know what the construction will cost? The carry cost DURING construction? The site work?


Posted by Not so fast, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 18, 2007 at 11:29 am

Bill--i just want to know where you are coming up with your statements regarding the developers profit expectations. You have earlier stated a $25 million dollar profit figure--is that what you know the developer expects to reap from Alma Plaza??
Have you personally spoken to the developer regarding his expectations?
That is all I want to know--the actual figures are not of interest to me.


Posted by Bill, a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 18, 2007 at 11:49 am

Eric, the way I see it;
1. Buy A.Plaza for $6 Mil (this is a fact).
2. Convert a Neighborhood Center into 85 % housing, with 38 Town-Houses, in a town
where housing land value is worth about 1-Mil for a detached house, and condo's are
retailing for around $900,000, mainly because of high land value.
3. Now what is the land at AP suddenly worth, for detached housing there? Perhaps
700K to 800K per townhouse (that will later sell for 1.4-1.5 Mil each). That is a new
developer land value of around $30 Mil, or an increase suddenly of around $25 Mil,
4. Site work, construction, etc can have their own costs of around $30 Mil, if housing
sells for 1.5 Mil.
5. Thus a land-value-increase profit of $25 Mil is realized.

Please also see the excellent contribution of Karen White, 3-23-07, to the FACT-BASED
DECISION MAKING AT ALMA PLAZA. Now on 3d p. of Weekly Archives.

To confirm the 6 Mil purchase price, access the SC CO ASSESSOR'S OFFICE website
and check parcels 132-28-009, ...-073, and ....074, sold 10-12-05.


Posted by Not so fast, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 18, 2007 at 12:04 pm

I think the idea of retaining Alma Plaza as all retail are long gone. I think if you even the Friends of Alma Plaza they that Alma Plaza as an all retail center are history.
You will notice that they, even, have not come out against the housing in general, but have been pushing for more retail at the site.

And as I have stated numerous times, the developer is not breaking any rules since Alma Plaza has not set land use rules.

the real question is how much retail can be sustained at Alma Plaza--based on my readings of the comments by the developer, the Cahmber of Commerce and others, I would conclude not much!!


Posted by Bill, a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 18, 2007 at 12:04 pm

NSF, no. Haven't spoken to the developer. Would that likely be illuminating? Once at a
presentation of his AP plan (at Unity Church), when asked what he expectly to profit,
he calmly stated he had never calculated. I don't think you would get much of an answer
going the route you suggest. Maybe better to figure it out yourself. Why wouldn't he want
it kept secret?

Likewise this gentleman said once that AP was the best Neighborhood Center (Center, not
housing development) that he had seen in 25 years; now it's suddenly "not viable"
because of its geography, which is the same as when he pronounced AP as THE BEST HE
HAD EVER BEEN ASSOCIATED WITH. I personally don't think one can count on getting
good info by asking for it from him. And why shouldn't he have secret information?
It's his business. Seems a nice chap. BUT, WHY SHOULD THE CITIZENS HAVE TO PAY ?
Just because of the Charleston Center traffic study delay???? I don't follow that.


Posted by Not so fast, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 18, 2007 at 12:21 pm

The citizens, in this case, "have to pay".
They were very close to agreeing to a 25K sq foot supermarket, then the moratorium, Albertsons pulled out during that time and sold the property with the deed restriction. Now no major chain will open a supermarket in Alma Plaza and many local chains are not interested.
As I have stated before the neighbors played the "it's too big, it's too small" game for too long and they now will not have an only retail center.


Posted by Bill, a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 18, 2007 at 12:30 pm

NSF, now I get it. First Lucky's, and then Albertson's made inconsiderate proposals.

Then Mr McNellis did also, in the opposite way.

Of course, Q.E.D., the citizens should pay. Now I think I can see it clearly through the
smoke and mirrors. Almost. Maybe.

Thanks.


Posted by Not so fast, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 18, 2007 at 12:46 pm

I guess any proposal that does not satisfy the requirements of a vocal minority is to be considered "inconsiderate", while the needs of the city and the region are to be ignored.
One has to wonder what the vocal minority would have considered a "considerate" proposal.
Also think how these "considerate" neighbors drove numerous business' out of Alma Plaza with their refusal to accept ANY kind of re-development of the plaza, that may have kept many of the retailers in place. Too bad NIMBYism rules in Palo Alto.


Posted by Bill, a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 18, 2007 at 1:47 pm

Vocal minority?

NIMBY's?

Next "zealots" ?

What kind of argument is that ? Am sure you recall the 940-person petition. Just
perhaps there's a vocal MAJORITY, not all of whom have time for blogging as you and
I do. Ten bloggers working hard enough can pretend to be a majority.

5 hours ago you (NSF) asked about facts concerning prices and profits, which I provided.
Without further comment, you are now silent on that subject. Did you try the Assessor's
site to see if I spoke correctly ?


Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Apr 18, 2007 at 1:53 pm

Palo Alto lacks a revenue strategy

Palo Alto lacks a retail strategy

The retail environment that existed 30 years ago when this city finished getting built out is not the same as what it is today. Palo Alto has not adapted to the times or figured out what its place in the overall retail environment should be, in light of a whole host of changes. Neither Whole Foods or Costco existed 30 years ago, how many are like me and shop both today?

This whole sorry Alma Plaza mess reminds me of an argument between two sports fans who are avid supporters of their respective losing teams. Fills up the air waves on talk radio but doesn't get them into the championship.

I am a marketing guy by by profession, I think about target markets, segmentation and niches in my day job at the company I own. I hear very little about overall market context, how AP can serve needs that are unmet or poorly met, nor do I hear such conversation about the role of retail in Palo Alto as a whole.

"I'd like to get some directions," said Alice to the Cheshire Cat. "Where are you going?" the Cat inquired. "Oh, I don't have a particular place in mind, any place will do nicely," said Alice. "Well, then," replied the Cat, "you need no directions from me."

With apologies to Lewis Carroll.


Posted by Not so fast, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 18, 2007 at 2:07 pm

I think that you are confusing my post with Eric's--Eric asked specifically about the amount you quoted as profit. I asked about how you knew what the developer was expecting as a profit and you answered that question.
I do not doubt your figures--I see no reason for you to misrepresent an issue that can so easily be looked up.

Are you referring to the petition below:
Web Link
If so, there are 300+ signatures on this one.

And yes I do believe that there is a very active vocal minority/NIMBYists at work here that have stifled any proposed progress on Alma Plaza (be it all retail or more housing than retail) for years by nitpicking, exploiting the so-called Palo Alto process and relying on the inability of our city council to make tough decisions in a timely manner.


Posted by eric, a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 18, 2007 at 2:07 pm

Bill, I dont dispute the base cost for the dirt. I dispute both yours and Karen Whites simplistic calculations of the development cost for the project. If I recall, she used a building price of $200/sf-- short by at LEAST 25%, and probably more. She did not account for any cost of site work. She did not add in the cost of construction financing (huge!). Architectural work. Permits. etc, etc, etc.

You probably assume building houses in PA is a zero-risk proposition, and that housing prices will go up forever. Just like all the sub-prime lenders and borrowers. REAL lenders that have REAL standards and will actually finance a big project like this HAVE to build downside risk into the equation, and still show a reasonable return.

Oh, and I'll bet you my lunch money that McNallis is assuming that the small grocery store space he's required to build will be vacant for YEARS, and that he'll have to eat that cost. What does that do to the ROI of the retail component of the project? Flush...


Posted by Not so fast, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 18, 2007 at 2:12 pm


Paul--i agree with you about Palo Alto and it's retail/revenue strategy.
I guess my question is how do you define "needs that unmet or poorly met"?
Does not having a shopping center within walking distance of one's home constitute a unmet/poorly met need?


Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Apr 18, 2007 at 2:27 pm

Not So--

Point taken.


Posted by Bill, a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 18, 2007 at 3:08 pm

Hi, Eric.

I assume the cost of his grocery store to be zero for the land and little for the store.
To him, virtual freebies. The profit comes from the great increase in land value for the 38
townhouses. The mini-park is another freebie, with its land-cost reduced to zero by
the allocation to the townhouses. If the grocery fails, he'll say great. I told you so.

And then he'll solicit to change its function.

Now that he owns the land, every commercial failure is in his favor. Since he wants housing.

The dilapidated appearance of AP is in his favor, and encourages people to be impatient
with the process. He is highly motivated, I think, to seek out commercial failure,
to reinforce his I-need-to-build-houses.

So I see only happiness from him, and no loss to his ROI, if the grocery fails.


Posted by a casual observer, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 18, 2007 at 7:56 pm

1) This 18K sq ft deed restriction is completely bogus. One has to presume that it was McNellis' idea in the first place and that Albertson's was all to happy to accomodate just out of spite (and really, who can blame them). Having the deed restriction is just perfect for McNellis; he can deflect any real development possibilities by just blaming them on Albertsons. It's absurd to think that Albertson's cares about protecting distant competition. If anything, it's Safeway that gets the most out of the deed restriction from a competition standpoint given the 2 closest stores are Safeways.

But I bet that Albertson's (now actually SuperValu) would be all too happy to give up the deed restriction in return for a concession or two at the Edgewood Plaza. Too bad our spineless council is going to knuckle under.

3) Of course this doesn't absolve that idiot activist that kept yammering about Albertson's 28K proposal. He came to our house 4 times to try to get us to sign the petition objecting to it. I was amazed to see my neighbor's names on the signature list. Just goes to show what people can be goaded into when faced with fear and uncertainty. Nor does it absolve our spineless city council for including Albertons in the Charleston study plan. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Observer, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 18, 2007 at 10:01 pm

Alma Plaza has been an ongoing joke to me since I moved into the neighborhood several years ago. I was surprised, frankly, that Albertson's would have proposed such a big market there before. While I would have loved the convenience, I'd be surprised if they could make money off the store. Every store I've seen open in that plaza was closed within a year.

While I think the new proposal is a bit excessive in the number of units for such a small location, I have to agree with many here that it's really not a viable location for retail. Frankly I don't think people should be worried because it seems like the area along El Camino (which is a better location for retail) near Alma Plaza is beginning to get developed more and we will be better served by stores in that vicinity instead.


Posted by Oh really?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 19, 2007 at 1:57 am

Whatever you think about the outcome, there is something wrong about the developer proposing something at the last minute, and the City Council adopting it without input from the staff or the Planning Commission. The City Council should have continued the item to get staff input. The Below-Market-Rate housing proposed for the site hasn't even been evaluated yet by staff, so we don't yet know whether that's an equivalent trade for the 6 detached housing units that would have been required.


Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South
on Apr 19, 2007 at 8:22 am

What are the bounds on "what the neighbors want"? When is it ok to say "hey you don't get what you want because there are broader city priorities"?

If the neighbors want something that isn't feasible in the marketplace, then what?

What if the neighbors don't want Blacks or Jews in the neighborhood (it did happen once in America) then what? How about if they don't want more housing or more low-income housing, what consideration should Council give to neighbors' wishes?

What if the town needs a new police station and no neighbors want it next to them, then what?

I thought the general process was that the concerns of neighborhoods are balanced against the concerns of the City and, soemtimes, the broader region. I think the neighbors are always "heard" in PA by the City Council.

Are there any bounds on the neighbors right to veto or sue to prevent land uses they don't like?

Yes, maybe a miracle at Alma Plaza unless we have a redo of 800 High with lawyers and referenda.





Posted by Not so fast, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 19, 2007 at 8:26 am

Not sure what the problem is.
From the PA Weekly story, the developer's "last minute" proposal was:
"In a memo dated April 15 and handed to the council Monday night, McNellis offered to give up one of the 39 proposed single-family homes for a third, small retail building."

The Planning Commission and the Friends of Alma Plaza had asked for more retail and he offered them more as a compromise.

Why were people "blind-sided" by this, as claimed in the story? isn;t this what they wanted? Did they want the whole thing to be given back to the Planning Commission for another few years of study and discussion?

It looks to me that some people will do anything or say anything to prevent the re-development of Alma Plaza from proceeding or this proves the old saying--No good deed goes unpunished.



Posted by eric, a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 19, 2007 at 9:15 am

so, Bill, it costs nothing to build a 10,000 square foot retail building? [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Bill, a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 19, 2007 at 10:58 am

Eric, the genius of Mr McNellis's plan is this: Build a dozen tiny, segregated, conjoined
BMR units on a small chunk of the 4.2 acres (about 5 % of it). Supply needed utilities to these
apartments.

Then, elevate them one-story, enclose the space with 4 walls, hook up the utilities
already there, and there it is. A very low-cost, boxed-in, open-interior space for a grocery
store.


Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 19, 2007 at 12:22 pm

Bill, how long will McNellis have to bear the burden of a vacant retail space? Your many analyses of this issue show a gross ignorance of the realities of opening and operating retail in Palo Alto. Have you ever owned and/or operated a retail establishment - here, or anywhere else?

Here's hoping we have seen the last of "concerned residents" medding in this development. btw, I'm taking bets that most of those "concerned citizens" will be driving by whatever retail goes in AP, as they drive to their next comunity meeting to oppose some other beleaguered developer's plans. After the meeting, they will no doubt pass by those shops again, on their way to COSTCO or Target or Whole Foods or TJ's, thinking about their next day's meeting. It's been my experience that those who shout the loudest about "local retail" are those who tend to suppport it least, with their dollars. IN fact, it's mostly this "concerned citizens" group that can take credit for PA not having any big box retail, due to their past activities. What an ironic and unfortunate heritage.


Posted by Bill, a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 19, 2007 at 1:27 pm

Mike, the answer is that he will bear it only as long as HE HIMSELF wants to.

I would like to remind you he said IT'S THE BEST NEIGHBORHOOD CENTER I'VE EVER BEEN
ASSOCIATED WITH. Then it became, after he had purchased it, NON-VIABLE.

Sounds non-credible to me.

And yes, we'll drive by Alma Plaza in the future, without stolpping, unlike in the past,
because now there will be nothing of importance there. Alma Plaza will be gone.

Only the McNELLIS HOUSING DEVELOPMENT will remain. Plus odds and ends.


Posted by Not so fast, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 19, 2007 at 2:12 pm

So, a person can never change their mind in Palo Alto?
I suggest you read the following story (though I am sure many will not buy it since it is written by the developer):

Web Link

It has a good history of Alma Plaza and how certain events, combined with a lack of leadership by our council, led us to the state we are no win.

Of interest is a portion of a post from Bill contained earlier in this thread:
"3. As to the effect on other grocery stores, that seems beside the point of having a proper Alma Plaza. Alma Plaza was designed as a local neighborhood center, not as a location of housing to make OTHER REMOTE grocery stores more profitable."

According to the story I just posted members of the Midtown Neighborhood Association, together with Alma Plaza neighbors, insisted that the grocery at Alma Plaza be kept at 20000 square feet in order to protect the since defunct Co-op market in Midtown.
Which based on Bill's definition is a REMOTE grocery store.


Posted by Forum Reader, a resident of Stanford
on Apr 19, 2007 at 3:35 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Not so fast, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 19, 2007 at 4:04 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 19, 2007 at 6:02 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Bill, a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 19, 2007 at 6:06 pm

NSF,

1. the neighbors HAVE NOT CHANGED THEIR MINDS, just because you interpret it that way.
They have always wanted a medium-sized grocery (14K = TJ's in MV, 20K = Midtown
Safeway, 17K Piazza's.......something like that). They have been CONSISTENT. Thery have not changed. NSF, it's like having a wealthy wife offer either a Hummer or a Motorcycle,
when what you want is a Prius, or a Honda, or a std-size family auto. Would that generous
wife get petulant if you said No to the Lincoln and the Motorcycle? Would she get your
drift if you explained it to her in detail? Surely no such wife would say You've changed
your mind!

2. But when Mr McNellis says AP is the best, they buys it and with a straight face and
sincere voice says Nope, it's the worst, being a shoebox shape (as it always has been),
then you have to question his credibility.

It's vastly different than saying if citizens can change their minds, why can't he? Don't
you really think so? One situation is a flip-flop, the other isn't.


Posted by Not so fast, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 20, 2007 at 7:59 am

Bill

I think the neighbors are partially responsible for them ending up with what they are getting now--at best a very small specialty grocery store. As another poster pointed out--what are the limits for "what the neighbors want"? And when you speak of the "neighbors" do they all want that "medium sized" grocery store or is it the usual PA thing--where a vocal group claim to speak for everyone. Don;t we have to look at the benefits for the whole city?
Unfortunately for the "neighbors" the times have changed--there are more specialty markets that have opened up in PA and on it's borders (TJ's in T&C soon and in San Antonio Center, Whole Foods in Los Altos to name a few). There is only a finite number of shopping dollars out there.


Posted by Bill, a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 20, 2007 at 8:25 am

NSF, the dollars are finite BUT INCREASING WEEK BY WEEK AND NEW DEVELOPMENT BY
NEW DEVELOPMENT. PLUS, MANY DOLLARS SPENT BY S. PALO ALTO RESIDENTS IN MOUNTAIN VIEW NOW AND IN THE FUTURE COULD BE SPENT AT ALMA PLAZA, WERE IT TO EXIST, PLUS, IN A WELL-CRAFTED ALMA PLAZA, SOME STORES THERE WOULD DRAW FROM MOUNTAIN VIEW AND OTHER TOWNS. Otherwise, you could just as well speculate that
other, existing P.A. neighborhood Centers are non-viable now, for the same reason.

Sure, the neighbors are partly responsible for the mess and AP dissolution. Maybe 10 %
responsible. The other 90 % can be put on the shoulders of Lucky's, Albertson"s, and
especially the current owner.


Posted by Not so fast, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 20, 2007 at 9:32 am

I believe that Edgewood Center is non-viable now for some of the same reasons. Charleston Plaza seems to be doing okay, thanks to the Piazza's (did you expect people to stop shopping at Piazza's and start at the new Alma Plaza). What other neighborhood centers are you referring to?
Anyway the S. Palo Alto area (if you consider Oregon Expressway, the cutoff) has plenty of grocery stores--there is Mollie Stones, JJ&F, Country Sun, Midtown Safeway, Piazza's and Crossroad market on San Antonio).
But as I said and I think everyone now realizes the days of Alma Plaza being retained as retail only are long gone--the Planning Commission realizes it, the City Council realize it, the neighbors realize it.
Blaming the current owner for the problems with Alma Plaza are wrong--he has owned for a little over a year--the problems with re-development have been going on for years before that.
I know that in Palo Alto some people like to case the developers as greedy evildoers who do not think of anything but their profits.
As for Luckys/Albertsons, the bottom line with grocery chains is that small does not work these days--even Whole Foods which is a small chain biult a big new store in Los Altos. The days of Alma Plaza-like Albertson's (i.e less than 20K sq. ft) are long gone as well.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 20, 2007 at 9:42 am

A suggestion

One of the things that may be a good idea for Edgewood, although I am not sure if it would fit in with zoning, is to aim it as a highway service area. This could mean that a grocery store, restaurants, gas station, restroom facilities, with signs on the highway, could be a good idea. One thing that Palo Alto does need is to improve its gas stations particularly as midtown no longer has a gas station and many residents have to go out of their way to get to a gas station before getting on to the highway. This would also bring in out of towners with as little impact on cross town traffic as the highway is right next door to the plaza.

Just a suggestion.


Posted by eric, a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 20, 2007 at 9:52 am

Bill, show me a grocery store that would be acceptable to Palo Altans under 30,000 feet outside of a core downtown spot that has opened anywhere in the area in the last 5 years. Shoot, even 10 years. Two of the Safeways in Mt View have expanded significantly in that time. Nob Hill, too. New Whole Foods is at least 40,000 feet. Multiple smaller grocery sites have closed, and more to come (do you expect Safeway to keep that Midtown spot for long? I dont)

There is no demand from grocery store tenants at Alma Plaza. Period


Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 20, 2007 at 10:16 am

Eric is correct.

Also, go talk to the small, independent grocers here about local support, about how time-and-time again they see someone's car stuffed with Costco groceries as they pull up to said grocer's store to pick up the special mustard that "only you carry".

Retail life in Palo Alto is a marginal thing, at best - especially for small mom and pop stores. Palo Alto is migrating, ever-so-slowly, to boutique retail, started up by operators who can afford long-term losses before profit sets in, or run their enterprise as a hobby. That's neither good, nor bad - it just is.


Posted by Not so fast, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 20, 2007 at 1:00 pm

Whoops, correction. I just realized that Mollie Stones, Country sun and JJ&F are a block or two north of the Oregon Expressway.


Posted by Bill, a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 20, 2007 at 3:42 pm

NSF, ...... and JJF is the one oft mentioned as a transfer candidate for AP. Also, if AP were
a proper Neighborhood Center, and the rents were appropriate (not sky-high to scare
away tenants), then I can visualize circumstances under which Country Sun (with a different
slant to its groceries) might also want to move there. Etc. Presto a BEST I'VE EVER SEEN
NEIGHBORHOOD CENTER (McNellis) in the making. But he fooled us, and it's too late now.


Posted by Not so fast, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 20, 2007 at 3:45 pm

I think the developer mentioned that he had contacted JJ&F and they were not interested in moving to Alma Plaza.
Also I think that would open a whole new can of worms considering JJ&F's loyal customer base in College Terrace (see the Save JJ&F thread on this forum from a long time ago)


Posted by Bill, a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 20, 2007 at 5:25 pm

NSF, maybe you are right, but Mr McNellis and his legal friend discussed them as
possibilities, and I thought JJF was planning a move anyway. I don't place much
weight on his "contacting" someone and getting a "negative" response. That's
the story he hopes we will believe. I place far more weight on what he said BEFORE
HE BOUGHT A.P., and was a more objective observer, and on what my eyes tell me
as I look around and see Town & Country thriving, Midtown thriving, Charleston Center
thriving, etc.

Don't you really think the non-viable view is just a rationalization ?

But, NSF, what do you and others think of his BMR units ? About 600-700 sq ft. One
or two Bedrooms. Over a grocery store. With no pretense to be anything other than
segregated and in a different world than the stand-alone houses there. Hopefully
targeted at PAUSD school teachers. 1. Do you think that will be a magnet for new
teachers to move here? 2. Do you think it agrees with whatever you have heard about
the philosophy of BMR units in P.A. housing developments ?


Posted by eric, a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 20, 2007 at 5:35 pm

bill, you can fantasize about prospective tenants all you want, but none of them have stepped up, have they?

I ask again, name one grocery store that has opened in that size in recent memory in the area


Posted by Bill, a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 20, 2007 at 6:09 pm

Eric, which size do you mean? The abt to open TJ in T&C will be 12k.


Posted by Peter, a resident of Southgate
on Apr 20, 2007 at 9:30 pm

Etiquette on the Web, views phrases and sentences typed in all capital letters as the equivalent of shouting.


Posted by Rick, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 20, 2007 at 10:40 pm

This issue deserves a election/vote. Hopefully enough South Palo Alto Residents will get together to put it on a ballot.

This has been the site of retail since South Palo Alto was developed. By all appearences/actions the plan all along was to have housing be built here by the city council/developers.

They drove Albertsons out with the long delays. If Albertsons had built a large store the building would be there and taken over by someone else. An election was held on the 800 High St project so lets do it here!!!!


Posted by eric, a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 20, 2007 at 11:08 pm

I believe tj will be 20k, but even if I'm wrong that's still not a great example- t&c is not a strip center with a conventional anchor. more in common with a downtown or even a stanford shopping center then a neighborhood center (and recall that I excluded downtowns from my premise)


Posted by Bill, a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 20, 2007 at 11:38 pm

Eric, when I was at TJ's in Mtn View about 2 wks ago, I asked their mgmt about store sizes.
It was 14K sq ft for the MV store and 12K for the one coming to P,A.'s Town and Country.

Do you have contrary info? TJ is clearly smaller than the 20K Midtown Safeway. And I
think Piazza's is 17K sq ft.

So that's the best I can come up with. You asked earlier for the name of one grocery
store that has opened "in that size" in recent memory in the area. Were you thinking
of smaller sizes? Bigger? I don't know yet what size you want an example of, nor do
I know very clearly what "the area" includes.

BTW, the 2006 closing of a large Albertson's on California in MV may provide an example
of how mega-stores may not always do well, if that's relevant.


Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South
on Apr 21, 2007 at 9:41 am

I agree with the people who feel this is not a great retail site, but my question is "so what".

Suppose there could be a 20,000 market feasible on the site. Why is the owner obligated to do exactly what neighbors want? Why does it make any difference what the owner paid for the land or what the cost of development is?

Two points--1) public benefits are different from "neighbor benefits". In many cases the City does have the right to negotitate for public benefits in return for land use authority.

But it seems to me that the site is being used as approved for activities that are priorities in Palo Alto--housing, below-market rate housing and community retail. I understand that the mix of uses as approved is not to everyone's satisfaction but this will almost always be true. All of a sudden as with 800 High if you don't get exactly what you want it is legitimate to go to the ballot. What if neighbors didn't like what a particular homeowner was doing on his/her site, do they have the right to sue if nothing is illegal?


Point 2--Palo Alto does lose opportunities to negotitate becasue our "process" takes so long, in part, becasue neighbors complain and the Council tries to make everyone happy. We would be in a much better position to ask developers for more public benefits if we could give them speedy approval of uses that are legal and in the broad public interst.


Posted by Forum Reader, a resident of Stanford
on Apr 21, 2007 at 1:17 pm

Housing WAS a priority in Palo Alto.
I think very few people consider it a priority any more. In fact, it is a problem, and a growing problem for schools, libraries, traffic, storm drains and probably more. The assumption that continuing to build housing will ever satisfy the demand is false.


Posted by eric, a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 21, 2007 at 1:24 pm

fine, bill- perhaps you're right. tj does not fit the standard grocery model, and wouldn't likely look at any conventional grocery location, and have rejected edgewood and alma plaza numerous times. non- stater.

albertsons- I don't believe that location was a "mega-store" (not certain- never went in there)m but its closure was about albertsons business failures (partly because of poor locations), not market forces


Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South
on Apr 21, 2007 at 2:08 pm

If I am wrong that housing is a priority in Palo Alto, that can be simply resolved by having a majority of the Council make a public statement that housing is no longer a priority for them.

If anyone has seen such a public statement send it along. Otherwise I think Forum Reader is stating a personal view, not City policy


Posted by Forum Reader, a resident of Stanford
on Apr 21, 2007 at 2:40 pm

Here is a statement
Web Link

Kleinber is quoted
"They're going to go on, they're important, but we don't have to make them a priority," Kleinberg said.

She noted that affordable housing was a council priority for three years, but last year the council felt comfortable removing it from the list because of the success it had generating affordable projects.


Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South
on Apr 21, 2007 at 4:19 pm

I was using the word priority to mean something of importance to the Council, not in the sense of what is on the current list of top 4 or 5 "priorities".

On your logic you could say public safety is not a priority except for a new building because it is not on the list or that improving public services are not a priority because they are not on the list or that improving the city's attraction for business is not a priority becasue it isn't on the list.

In any event the actions of the Council on Alma Plaza seem to support my reading that housing and BMR housing are important to Council. How else can you explain their decision given how you report what the neighbors wanted?

Forum Reader, this would be more interesting also if you were to sign your real name. Maybe all the in group know your name but I don't as yet.


Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 21, 2007 at 5:39 pm

Forum Reader: If you don't think that housing will continue to be buuilt in Palo Alto, just stick around for the next 20 years, then get back to us. Palo Alto and surrounding cities _are_ going to get more dense. There is no stopping that.


Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Apr 21, 2007 at 6:30 pm

In a built out community, denser and higher housing become the only way to add housing. There are some financial incentives and penalties from the State to do this that get the attention from City governments around adding more housing, especially BMR housing. There also are some urban planning experts who point out that such housing gets more people closer to their places of work, reduces long commutes, inter alia--IN THEORY.

I think what we are epxeriencing here is that we are not used to building this way, the way urban and built out enviroments on the East Coast and other countries are. Here in the West, building has historically been a greenfields endeavor, not an infill effort. We still fall woefully short in understanding the full consequences of this new type of housing development, and we thereby stretch our schools' resources, our streets and other infratructure. Even those who move into this denser housing frequently are still working elsewhere--they don't move here because of their job any more than people quit their high paying job and take something else in Tracy when they buy a place there. Shopping still is found in shopping centers, not neighborhoods, necessitating more trips from the added populace. So the change/benefits in traffic patterns does not get better, even though that is one of the supposed benefits of these initiatives.

So, I think that we may be getting the worst of all worlds--more people cramming into the same space, with none of the intended benefits of same. The current property tax structure we have had since Propostion 13 makes it difficult to attract small commercial/retail, as developers make more money building dense housing, and putting shopping centers on previously empty land. This in turn erodes the sales tax base for cities already built out, which still are under pressure to build more infill dense housing to meet the State and ABAG requirements from on high.

AP has been a local debacle the last 10 years, but in many ways it is the canary in the coal mine for a host of larger problems that come from a State and regional government which legislates a one size fits all housing solution that is simply untenable for a place like Palo Alto.


Posted by J.L., a resident of Ventura
on Apr 22, 2007 at 1:04 pm

Paul, Some of what both of us positing is correct - IN THEORY. :)

What gets overlooked and under-acted-upon here - and in the region generally - are multi-municipal solutions to housing and transportation. Our region is weak in this kind of problem solving. Unless we wake up and start _very_ aggressive efforts to change this, we are going to lose opportunity. I see no municipal leadership in this area, from anyone non the Peninsula. Of course, there are one or another initiatives, but none with the sense of urgency - and comprehensive enough - to tackle our coming problems [e.g fiscal restraint, transport, environmental sustainability, water [a HUGE, looming problem] economic development, etc.). There are many, many opportunities that don't get put on the table because every municipality is competing for a slice of the old pie, instead of workig together to make a bigger pie.

We're talking about a sea-change in political thinking to make this happen. Of course, sea-changes don't happen novernight, but who do we hear talking about these things, in this way. ABAG? JVSV? These are baby steps toward what must be accomplished if this region is to have a viable future 20-30 years out.

So, when we choose to leave everything else as it is (as you appear to do, in your explication, above), but then add housing as the only dynamic variable, we will end up with the scenario you predict above. It doesn't have to turn out that way.

There are many, many models for infill development in America, and elsewhere. There are also many successful (fully deployed) mass transport models. There are many long-standing innovations in housing (from shared mortgages, to co-housing, and so on).

When John Muir crossed the Sierras he wrote that California didn't have enough water to be built out. He was right - then. We have found ways to innovate around constraint in the water supply (and we're going to have to do it again, soon [S. Californian developers and residents are light years ahead of us northerners, in this regard).

Europe is full of infill housing. Most Europeans don't own their own homes. Yet, Europeans appear to be pretty happy, relative to Americans.

In short, we have a few things to learn from people in places (American and otherwise) who have learned to SUCCESSFULLY ADAPT to increased density. We will not - nor should we - wall off our city to future residential development. the strength of populations lies in diversity - even populations as discrete as those bondaried by a small municipality such as ours. We do ourselves a disservice if we project forward based on current behaviors and values, without consideration for innovation.


Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Apr 22, 2007 at 2:14 pm

JL--

I think we are on the same page. I fully agree with you that much of what we face are problems that are regional in nature. As a member of the City of Palo Alto Parks and Recreation Commission, I am aware of some things that each and every city around us is trying to address with little success, but could lend themselves to a regional solution. Housing is an excellent example of the need for more regional cooperation--and boy oh boy it is not easy.

I also agree with you that we need to look at models far beyond the Bay Area to learn how to approach some of these things. As I mentioned above, the culture of the US West is to develop greenfields to solve problems, and land is still pretty abundant to take such an approach. But, in a built out area, constricted by water and other natural barriers, we cannot follow such an approach. As you correctly point out, this is found more in other countries, Europe and Japan being two obvious examples. but also on the US East coast--I am fascinate when I talk to my friends who live along the Atlantic corridor how similar our problems are here with theirs.

Figuirng out how to do this is very difficult, indeed, but more of us need to be thinking about it this way. Thanks for your insights and comments to my earlier write-up.


Posted by steve levy, a resident of University South
on Apr 22, 2007 at 3:00 pm

Paul and JL,

I wonder if we can agree on any of the following points.

1. There is a demand for infill housing. People want to and are buying the units when given a chance. That is not the only factor in determining city policy but it is one legitimate factor. What is called "cramming" could as easily be called allowing people a chance to live where they want to. Both perspectives can be legitimate. Obviously from neighbors' comments, it feels like cramming to some of them.

2. The center of the region's economic base is staying within the built up area mostly. A look at the locations of new venture capital funded companies gives locations mostly in built up communities. Google has not decided to move major facilities to Tracy or Los Banos.

3. So, on balance having more housing here rather than on the periphery must reduce regioanl traffic even though not every newly located family in Palo Alto will reduce their travel. Unless you are arguing for not building housing to meet the region's job growth, we are only talking about where the housing should be built.

4. The ABAG plans are an attmept to craft a regional solution. Palo Alto has more housing allocated this time around becasue more weight was given to a) the existing job base and 2) not forcing BMR units into existing poorer communities. While this may be inconventient to PA residents, it is hard for me to see how it is unfair or "one size fits all". As Paul has very eloquently said, we are all in a situation of learning to live with alternate cultures and one of these is the difference between more and less affluent communities in the region.

5. Local sales tax competition stinks--I think the technical term is "it's a bitch". The "expert's" solution is to share sales tax so that housing and sales tax generating land uses can be determined on land use and not fiscal criteria. People have been trying to sort out regional fiscal bad incentives for a long time without much success (because all change can create winners and losers) but how to do it is not hard.

6. The infill housing sites in PA are unlikely candidates for major regional retail centers so that is not really a choice. I am not sure it makes a difference in this conversation but the recent trend is for "infill" or redeveloped major shopping areas like Santana Row or The Grove in LA or the new major center on Market in SF--not on greenfield sites. Stanford Shopping Center is competing in this new world of urban area multiple purpose destination centers.

Can we agree on any of these points and, if so, what do you see as Palo Alto's role in a) helping to develop better regional policy and b) being a good regional partner.


Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Apr 22, 2007 at 5:46 pm

Stephen,

I believe I have it right that you follow this stuff for a living, so I defer to your deeper understanding of the issues at hand. What you say largely makes sense and seems factually sound, from what I know and follow of the situation.

I have nothing against infill housing per se, what concerns me is that the multiplier effect of the consequences is either not adequately planned for, or if it is, it becomes nearly impossible to actually implement the indicated plans due to various forms of inertia and resistance that come into play. Schools and normal human activities, such as shopping trips, are prominent examples.

One wrinkle that is perhaps more noticeable in Palo Alto is that many people who work in the area (but not in Palo Alto) want to live in Palo Alto because of the quality of the public school system.

At the end of the day, a new Google employee working at Moffett Field is probably better to have living in an infill unit in Palo Alto than driving in from Hollister every day. Unfortunately, that Google employee most likely still drives to work, as the transit systems to get to the office are not very convenient, and she has to drop the kids off at school or day care before heading to work. And her husband's job in San Jose still requires a drive, although he is taking a different route than when they moved from Hollister. I think this hypthetical example points out that merely adding the housing does not sufficiently address the full scope of the policy objective of getting housing closer to employment.

To your question, we need new, better stronger regional models, I see this even as a volunteer commissoner for this City. I have attended many meetings where so many different agencies and governments have a legitimate stake on a matter (e.g. Baylands) it is hard to know where to start. Some of the rules of engagement we have operated under for the last number of years may be in need of updating in order to keep open government effective in light of these looming regional issues.


Posted by steve levy, a resident of University South
on Apr 22, 2007 at 6:06 pm

Paul,

I do consuting work for regional planning agencies (not ABAG) about long-term economic and demographic trends but am also just a citizen as far as Palo Alto is concerned. I appreciated your comments on the Town Square and wanted to start a conmversation.

I was particularly taken by your comments re appreciating other cultures and in a way think of "coming together as a region" as folks in Palo Alto, Oakland, San Jose and the like appreciating each others' lives so we could possibly find compromises and act regionally.

Could you expand on your "rules of engagement comment"? It sounds important.


Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Apr 22, 2007 at 7:44 pm

Stephen--

I prefer to elaborate on some of my comments off line, as a courtesy to the general audience and because some of it does not have a place on a public forum. Feel free to contact me if you would like to meet for coffee some time and discuss further.


Posted by J.L., a resident of Ventura
on Apr 23, 2007 at 12:13 am

Stephen, Paul,

We're agreed that regional solutions are needed, but structural and political constraints keep those solutions from happening. Policy innovation cannot thrive in the current environment. Leadership with vision is called for. This is easy to say, but hard to make real.

My sense is that as we continue (for a time) to bump our respective heads against the wall (using "we" to describe the collective "we" of our region) by traveling the same old narrow pathways, our collective wisdom will demand more and better regional solutions. We need to keep talking about this, and pressing the point in order to keep the meme alive.


Posted by Not so fast, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 15, 2007 at 10:28 am

Alma Plaza moves a step closer to finally being re-developed:

Web Link

Though I find this part of the article odd:

Councilwoman LaDoris Cordell was among the four council members -- including Klein, Mayor Yoriko Kishimoto and Councilman Bern Beecham -- who switched to approve the project this time around.
Yet she admonished McNellis for a late compromise proposal at last month's meeting -- to exchange another home for a retail building -- as "not appropriate."
"I regret that I did not object strenuously," Cordell said of McNellis' proposal that did not provide advance notice to the public.


According to on of council leaders a compromise proposal by the developer was wrong. However Ms Cordell did not think it was wrong at the time. Could it be that she heard the grumbling from the "never-to-be-satisfied" few and felt that they needed to be appeased ( a common reaction by city council members to vocal members of the public)?
Thank goodness Ms Cordell is not running for re-election this year!!!


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