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One solution to Palo Alto's budget problems.

Original post made by Resident on Dec 30, 2011

What really, really, really bugs me is that Palo Alto residents spend so much money outside Palo Alto and that sales tax dollars is going to improve infrastructure in Mountain View or Menlo Park. Our city council doesn't seem to notice or care that they are doing nothing to help PA residents from using PA retail because they don't promote useful retail in Palo Alto.

They have a slogan "shop Palo Alto", but we don't have the type of retail that most of us shop all the time. Why won't they allow decent retail in the right areas of Palo Alto? Frys will probably move because of all the aggro they are getting and instead we will have housing with more residents with nowhere to shop in Palo Alto. The area around SanAntonio/Charleston is prime for zoning for useful retail like full service supermarket or another big box store, but instead they want a hotel there! We have Alma Plaza moving ahead, but Edgewood is still stuck.

When I see the money my family have spent outside Palo Alto this past month and then multiply that by the number of residents of Palo Alto, we can see how much sales tax has gone elsewhere which we could have used if it had been spent in town.

Costco, Target, WalMart, Kohls, BestBuy, Bed BB, OSH, Sports Authority,Sears are all the type of stores we need, and spend money in all the time, not boutiques. I know that some of these stores are nearby and we aren't likely to get duplicates, but we do need this type of big box store to generate sales tax for our coffers.

When will the city council start looking at generating sales tax by promoting useful everyday retail? That is their number 1 biggest mistake, imo.

Comments (20)

Posted by Outside Observer, a resident of another community
on Dec 30, 2011 at 8:30 pm

Those big-box stores you describe. Well, they attract "common" people. That's why they will never be allowed in Palo Alto.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on Dec 30, 2011 at 9:03 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

For example, try buying gasoline in Palo Alto.

Twenty years ago there where lots of gas stations and today there are 3?.


Posted by PA Neighbor, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 30, 2011 at 10:11 pm

Don't blame the City Council or past City Councils for people not shopping in Palo Alto; it was the residents of Palo Alto who voted not to allow big box stores, or stores bigger than 20,000 sq. ft. into Palo Alto.

I would like this issue to go back on the ballot because I think times have changed and the residents of Palo Alto would probably vote to increase the square footage of stores so big box stores could be built in Palo Alto now. I would certainly like bigger grocery stores.

Have you noticed how many of these stores are built in Mountain View right on Palo Alto's border and we will soon have a 65,000 sq. ft. Safeway where Sears used to be on San Antonio - can't wait!!!


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 31, 2011 at 4:49 pm

I strongly suggest that we make this an issue for future city council candidates and if it is the case that this item needs to go on the ballot, then let's do it. Does anyone know how to go about this?


Posted by WilliamR, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 31, 2011 at 5:33 pm

@ PA Neighbor--

Are you sure the limits on stores was the subject of a past election? I don't remember ever seeing a ballot measure regarding that type of zoning. Do you have a date when this was done? I've always understood it to be just a city or council policy.


Posted by Shop outside of palo alto, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 31, 2011 at 6:50 pm

Big stores are not welcome in palo alto. They may provide too much competition for out boutique shops. We do not want the downtown book and bike shop owners whining like they do about Amazon. Plus big stores will bring in too much traffic. That is true because we had a former member of the council spend 8 years whining about that "problem" with a sour expression on her pinched face. Anyway the big sites know not to bother dealing with palo alto-they just build on the border.


Posted by Marrol, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 2, 2012 at 2:54 pm

There is enough room in the retail industry to allow a few large chains without compromising the smaller stores. If planned properly, there is no reason why Palo Alto should not have a greater balance and choice when it comes to shopping options, as well as take advantage of the increased revenue.


Posted by local parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 3, 2012 at 10:04 am

Why don't we allow some zones for larger commercial, like Fabian Way which borders all the large commercial in Mtn View?


Posted by Marrol, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 3, 2012 at 11:41 am

In addition to increasing revenue by these means, the greatest single step the city can make toward a more stable financial future is to decrease or cut spending on non-essential, niche projects. Until that is accomplished, the city needs to focus on essential infrastructure needs and public safety. Projects such as the golf course redesign and bike bridge have to be scaled back significantly. The construction of playgrounds and park upgrades have to be suspended altogether. This is also the time to evaluate why we are spending public dollars on art projects, funding the Children's Theater, and allocating over $100,000 annually to help support the Opportunity Center and other homeless programs. Until these tough decisions are made, we will continue to be mired with financial difficulty and budget deficits.


Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 3, 2012 at 12:09 pm

For every dollar you spend outside Palo Alto at Costco, Target, Walmart, Best Buy or OSH – visitors are spending multiple dollars at Apple, Tiffany, Coach, lululemon and other specialty retailers. A 10,000 square foot Apple store generates three times as much sales tax revenue as a 60,000 square foot Safeway. Apple produces a stunning twenty times more revenue per square foot than a Kohl's.

Many of us think we have the best of both worlds: small, high tax-revenue stores in town drawing regional shoppers. Big box Costco, Super Safeway, Walmart, Target, Ikea and Best Buy all within a convenient five minute drive.


Posted by svatoid, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 3, 2012 at 12:26 pm

But how much more revenue would the city make if it had shopping for the local people that they need on a daily basis, Anonymous??
Also, based on your comment, it seems that the city is more interested in catering to visitors than it's own residents.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 3, 2012 at 12:41 pm

I am not disputing any of the tax dollars coming in from visitors, it is their choice to come to shop in Palo Alto and I am pleased they make that choice.

But, I have spent very little at Apple and other expensive stores but I have spent money in neighboring towns. I am giving Mountain View and Menlo Park and EPA my tax dollars for them to improve the facilities they have for their residents. I would like my tax dollars to go to improve the facilities for my use here in my town.

These towns are raking in money from us which we should have. We have no choice if we want to use Target, etc. but to go out of town. My choice is either to spend on expensive items at expensive stores in my own town or shop for affordable items at affordable stores out of town. This is what seems poor husbandry.


Posted by Jo Ann, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 3, 2012 at 12:45 pm

I routinely shop the Trader Joe's in Menlo Park to avoid the traffic problems and grid-lock in and around Town & Country and the backups heading down Embarcadero to El Camino.

The traffic light timing is ridiculous. The redesign of Town & Country creates gridlock where cars can't backout of spaces or get into turn lanes.

The Traffic Dept. geniuses want to create the same nonsense on Cal. Avenue.

The Planning Dept. wants to bring an "auto mall" to Palo Alto but they obviously haven't ventured 2 miles north to see all the empty auto dealers on El Camino in Menlo Park.

Idiocy. They'll keep spending money on expensive surveys about what color the traffic crossings should be when they could use the resources to FIX things that need fixing.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 4, 2012 at 6:44 pm

It is true that grocery stores do not produce much tax revenue, but the larger supermarket the grocery store is, the more taxable items will be offered and the more likely that our residents will be able to do one stop shopping.

If grocery stores were able to carry a more comprehensive selection of paper goods, toiletries, school/office supplies, cleaning supplies, as well as their food selections, it would encourage more of us to use Palo Alto for our everyday needs. We need to be able to stock up on items as well as quick stops for items needed for tonight's dinner.

I attempted to use Midtown Safeway on Monday afternoon, but it was a zoo in the parking lot and a tailback of traffic trying to enter the parking lot from Middlefield. I actually gave up and went to California Ave Safeway in Mountain View which was busy but geared up for a busy day. Once again, Palo Alto missed out on my tax dollars and Mountain View benefitted.


Posted by Phil, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 4, 2012 at 10:00 pm

I don't think there was ever any vote for a 20000 sq ft limit, but it was part of zoning laws for "neighborhood" centers, and I presume passed by the city council. At one time, when Lucky (later Albertsons) was hoping to put a 30000+ sq ft store at Alma (about half the size of new stores in neighboring communities), Piazzas, JJ&F and Co-op were pushing a petition to "hold the line" at 20000 sq ft. Ultimately they were successful (getting the city council to impose a moratorium that resulted in Albertsons giving up and selling the Plaza for mostly housing). The eventual store at Alma will be small--I think 17 or 18k sq ft. My wife was shopping at Piazzas a few weeks ago, and one of the managers was commenting on how they are worried about the competition from Berkeley Bowl (the new Alma tenant). I think Piazzas would have been better off with a larger Albertsons that would not have competed so directly for shoppers favoring small, upscale stores. A larger Lucky/Albertsons would have appealed more to shoppers who now drive to Mt View than to Piazzas' customers. So it is ironic that they would now complain about getting what they pushed for, unless their real goal was to completely eliminate any competition from Alma.

As for the redesign of Town and Country creating gridlock, that isn't really the city's fault, although the traffic light timing on Embarcadero may be. But neither have little in common with the plans for California Ave. (there are no traffic lights along that section of California Ave., which is not a through street like Embarcadero). Actually California Ave. would be very lucky to have the same kind of business that Town and Country now seems to have, so maybe a bit of redesign is called for there.


Posted by Joe, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 5, 2012 at 2:52 pm

> I don't think there was ever any vote for a 20000 sq ft limit,

That's correct. This 20,000 limit has been mis-reported for years by people and newspapers alike.


Posted by Random Resident, a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 5, 2012 at 8:51 pm

Instead of courting big-box retail to expand the tax base, I would instead support a complete teardown and rebuild of Stanford Shopping Mall. It is dated in design with limited dining options. Of course a rebuild of the mall requires change (unlikely to find support among a certain demographic of palo altoan). Even worse, there is the risk of sucess (the horrors) and the unknown new visitors, traffic and stakeholders that would bring. We can't have that.


Posted by svatoid, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 6, 2012 at 7:02 am

Regarding the whole grocery store issue--the 20K sq. foot limit was never voted on--it was a cap that has been maintained in Palo alto in order that JJ&F, for example, would not face too much competition.
ANyway, according to the Daily Post a Sunflower Farmers Market will be opening at the old Tower Record location (San Antonio and El camino) right on our border and (gasp) they want to make the store greater than 22K square feet. Plus a Fresh and Easy will be opening in Mountain View at Rengsdorf and Middlefield. And a new, giant Safeway at the old Sears site in the PA border.
I am sure many people in PA will not be too happy--too much competition--we do not need a free market in Palo Alto. Maybe Palo Alto officials can step in and make demands of Mountain View regarding their unfair policy of allowing stores to actually open in their city they may draw Palo Alto customers.


Posted by Hot Button, a resident of another community
on Jan 6, 2012 at 12:29 pm

Where are all the usual firebrands like pat, Common Sense, etc.? Why no posts on this hot button topic? Its the new year, people, lets crank up the heat on the posts, OK?


Posted by svatoid, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 6, 2012 at 12:34 pm

Hot Button--why don't you give it a rest. If have any comments on the subject, then please, post them.


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