Beloved local grocery store JJ&F to stay

With 30-year subsidy from developer, longtime Palo Alto landmark could become part of mixed-use 'College Terrace Centre' development

The sandwiches and smiles will stay. After the College Terrace neighborhood protested new construction that could have forced out local grocery JJ&F Food Store — a family-owned business since 1948 — developers are now offering to subsidize the store's rent for the next 30 years.

The subsidy means JJ&F could remain at 2180 El Camino Real — across from its current site – with rent help from developer Patrick Smailey of Twenty-One Hundred Ventures LLC.

Smailey announced the arrangement at Wednesday's Palo Alto Planning and Transportation Commission meeting.

An outpouring of at least 50 residents came to the meeting to support the grocery — and by extension, the current development that proposes to "save it."

Smailey's proposed College Terrace Centre, a 63,411-square-foot development filling a city block, would replace the site's existing buildings, where JJ&F is currently located, with mix of private housing, commercial space and a community meeting room.

JJ & F would be moved to a lot facing El Camino Real.

JJ&F owners Wednesday called the move to a more visible location — and developers' subsidy — necessary to stay afloat.

"If this isn't approved, we will lose the store," co-owner John Garcia said.

Residents spoke of visiting JJ&F as children, then bringing their own children. Several white-haired women passed the meeting knitting.

"It's a community asset. It's an icon. And the food is fabulous," said Lina Crane, who lived nearby in the 1950s and now drives from acrosstown to shop at the market. Owners really care about neighbors, she said, a sentiment Margaret Mertens Barret echoed.

After 85 years in Palo Alto, Barret has been to every grocery store in town, she said.

"And I don't suppose there's more than one person in the audience that remembers the Piggly-Wiggly," she called out playfully in the public-comment period, triggering a wave of chuckles.

"JJ&F is without a doubt the most pleasant grocer of all," she said, adding the store delivered her groceries free when she was unable to drive.

A chef at neighboring Stanford University, Sandra Coulson, called the grocery not only heart-warming but also highly capable.

"There is no other place where you can walk in and say, 'The fraternity next door just stole my dinner and would you please quarter 25 chickens.'"

Coulson said she isn't generally a fan of change, but if the new complex will keep the grocery store, she's in favor of it.

By the end of the public comments, audience members were applauding one another.

Terms of the subsidy with JJ&F have been privately arranged with the Garcia family, but developers are applying for a zoning agreement that would require that the parcel to be used as a grocery in perpetuity.

The mixed-use center would require the site to be rezoned as a planned community (PC) zone.

For commissioners presiding over the no-vote feedback session, the proposed center raised the question of whether a higher-density zoning change should be approved in order to save the grocery store.

In concept, they supported "rescuing" JJ&F – after verifying with city staff that a zoning change could specify a grocery store rather than a drive-through mini-mart, and that it would be a valid reason to change zoning.

Yet they had mixed feelings about the new-and-improved version of the development. Since a the proposal was presented to the city last spring, the Centre's shape is less massive and it contains more community benefits, according to Smailey.

The promise to support JJ&F, plus the affordable housing, the community room and other features means 28 percent of the project's square footage is now devoted to public benefits, he said.

While commissioners praised the attempt to improve the project and work with the community, they questioned the project's overall composition.

Commissioners Lee Lippert and Arthur Keller urged Smailey to consider adding market-rate housing, which would help subsidize the grocery while lessening the project's overall density by replacing commercial space.

Commissioner Karen Holman said the roughly 37,000-square-feet of proposed office space "breaks the bank."

"It's just too much," she said.

But the zoning change is needed to support a grocery store, she added, and suggested the developers add more retail to serve the neighborhood.

Vice Chair Samir Tuma praised the addition of low-income housing, as well as architect Tony Carrasco's proposal to use Zipcar, the car-sharing service better known for use in San Francisco.

Commissioner Paula Sandas was absent.

In other business, the commission cut short a study session on housing needed for Stanford University's hospitals' and shopping center expansion.

The combined expansions are expected to create 3,200 jobs and the need for 1,856 new households, according to a city-commissioned study by Keyser Marston Associates.

The commission only briefly discussed the figures and how they were obtained before the meeting's start time rolled around.

After viewing the sizeable crowd that turned out to support JJ&F, commission Chair Daniel Garber suggested commissioners e-mail Stanford follow-up questions and comments. The meeting would go too late to resume the study session, he predicted, accurately.

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Like this comment
Posted by Jeannie Meyer
a resident of Stanford
on Oct 2, 2008 at 8:51 am

JJ&F Grocery is a shining example of a successful, friendly, longstanding business with a deep commitment to its customers and to the city of Palo Alto.
The building project has taken on different aspects in order to meet the needs of the city and the business at stake. The bottom line--Palo Alto cannot afford to lose JJ&F. This family owned and run business has been an integral part of the College Terrace, Palo Alto, and Stanford communities. They give back to the community as evidenced by their 2007 Palo Alto "Tall Tree Award" for Best Business.
Would like PA to consider giving PAUSD teachers priority for the housing units. Start the project ASAP!

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 2, 2008 at 9:04 am

No new housing, the schools haven't space.

Like this comment
Posted by Bad project
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 2, 2008 at 9:27 am

This proposed project is way too big. It seems like people are willing to break the rules because it involves JJ&F. Anyway, it will be probably be green lighted since College Terrace gets everything want from the city and more.

Like this comment
Posted by Huh?
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 2, 2008 at 9:43 am

Wait - we are subsidizing a grocery store?? What is that about? We are giving concessions to a developer to put money into a private business's pocket.

It's nice that people like the store, but that seems inappropriate. How are other grocery stores supposed to compete against a guy who has subsidized rent? If College Terrace shoppers like JJF so much, JJF should raise their prices until they can afford the market rent.

Like this comment
Posted by Bad project
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 2, 2008 at 9:47 am

Huh?--Don't you get it--it's about College Terrace. Whatever they want they get from the city. the size rule for PA grocery stores was put in place so that stores like JJ&F could "compete". Now they want to subsidize a grocery store--not fair to other grocery stores?? Too bad--they are not in College Terrace.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 2, 2008 at 10:04 am

I agree a grocery store of some description is needed in Palo Alto west of ElCamino, but I don't think bending the rules is the way to go about it.

Many other areas of Palo Alto would like grocery stores in their neighborhood, particularly large ones. Can we bend the rules too? Or, perhaps the rules should be changed so that full service stores can compete with one another in a fair market. With all the new building and new families, South Palo Alto needs to have better service and Edgewood Plaza needs to have a large store. Alma has been neglected too long and Edgewood is the same way.

We want large subsidized grocery stores, it's only fair.

Like this comment
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 2, 2008 at 10:13 am

PA isn't subsidizing - the developer is. We have enough big chain grocery stores. Big box stores have changed our communities and not necessarily for the better.

Like this comment
Posted by Huh?
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 2, 2008 at 10:28 am

If we give concessions to the developer in exchange for him giving a certain store below market rent, the town is definitely subsidizing the store.

Like this comment
Posted by nologic
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 2, 2008 at 10:33 am

I love JJF but the logic is flawed. 1) If they just require it be a grocery site in perpetuity, regardless of owners, then the owners can only rent for market grocery store rent, which all developers claim is less than full retail or housing market rents. 2) a subsidized 30-year lease adds value to the JJF business (if transferable with the sale of the company-which we don't know because the lease is private), so JJF could sell their business at a handsome price, with lease, to some grocery meanies who won't remember our names and will charge high prices anyhow. 3) The subsidy will be paid by the developer, but only because they are demanding the incredibly-abused PC zoning which allows them to throw floor-area ratios out the window to cram a monstrous amount of office space in there. Remember that jobs housing imbalance that is requiring that we biuld 3000 new units in PA? More office (there is zero square feet now) only worsens the problem. Please build small housing units (1-2 bedroom) that will minimize school overcrowding, but meet ABAG requirements.

Like this comment
Posted by Howard
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 2, 2008 at 11:07 am

What an absurd perversion of the Palo Alto process. A motley group of neighbors use extortion (i.e., the threat to lobby against the developer's plans) to force the developer to subsidize a business that apparently can't make a go of it on its own.

Like this comment
Posted by No rules for them
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 2, 2008 at 11:14 am

Developers and architects do not have any intention of living within the rules. They begin their work by laying out the zoning regs and push every single one. Every one!
Has there been a project in recent memory that was designed to fit within the law? Someone was quoted saying that the ARB handed out Design Exceptions like lollypops. Indeed they do. The architects work for the developers and being on the ARB is great for business.
If they can't push enough to make their million$, they ask for a PC zone so they can break EVERY rule.

Like this comment
Posted by Schrub
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 2, 2008 at 1:11 pm

Yah developers and architects are the real evil of this country. Especially architects with their dam measuring instruments and wasteful use of paper. Please, get rid of those engineers too... their incessant use of calculators and grid pads bores me. No creativity with that crowd. The real creativity is in DC bailing out the country from the even more creative mortgage pushers. Now those people follow the rules!

Like this comment
Posted by John
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 2, 2008 at 5:51 pm

Although I like JJ&F, I fail to see why BMR housing (welfare housing) is included in this deal. I think it is just typical Palo Alto blackmail (include BMRs or else!).

I live in College Terrace, and I shop at JJ&F. However this is not a good deal, from several angles:

1. There is abolutely no need to include welfare housing. Don't be taken in by the notion that it will will be for teachers, firemen, police, etc. That is a complete lie, and it is always teed up to sell the deal. It is WELFARE HOUSING, pure and simple. Our schools and services and property values will suffer for it.

2. The developer's initial proposal included a grocery store, with an open area for outside lunches, etc. This plan was rejected, in order to force BMR housing.

3. There is no guarantee, whatsoever, that the Garcias will continue the legacy.

4. We are being jobbed on this deal. It is bad for CT and for PA.

5. Allow the developer to develop the original plan. It looked like a reasonable deal to me, until the BMR thugs got involved.

Like this comment
Posted by food4thought
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 2, 2008 at 10:04 pm

Actually two elder Garcias repeatedly said they were not sure of return because of their ages. Therefore even if JJ&F returns after the re-development it will not be the same JJ&F.

Do not forget a new Trader Joe store will be open in the T&C next year.
We do not need so many grocery stores in this area.

Like this comment
Posted by Teddie
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 3, 2008 at 7:51 am

John have you ever meet somebody living in other BMR housing in Palo Alto? If you did you know that hard working families who respect this city and add to it's diversity represent many of the tenants of BMR housing. Where do you think the employees of JJF or any other service business that you use every day should live? Not in Palo Alto according to your uninformed and narrow minded view.

Like this comment
Posted by John
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 3, 2008 at 9:04 am


I know several BMR residents, and they either do not work, or they work outside Palo Alto. How many JJ&F workers would agree, ahead of time, to live in the BMRs on their future site? Police and firemen and teaches refuse to live in them, despite the fact that they always get sold to us with those people in mind. It is a complete hoax.

BMR units are a tax on the citizens of Palo Alto, and they do not contribute equal to their costs. Each 600 sf unit is allowed to hold as many people who agree to cram into them, yet they are sold to us as "not meant for families", but families are not excluded. Police and firemen and teachers get no priority.

BMR is welfare housing. It does not serve our essential service workers in Palo Alto, becasue those workers do not want to live in those things. Our essential service workers make their own free choice of where to live, according to their means.

Like this comment
Posted by Me Too
a resident of Meadow Park
on Oct 3, 2008 at 10:04 am

BMR housing is a head-scratcher to me. I've asked many times for the rationale that supports it - never gotten an answer. It is not unique to Palo Alto, of course, but just because "everyone does it" does not make it right or right for us.

Is the rationale simply economic diversity ("low-income housing")? If so, we can examine what we think of that. It isn't obvious why Palo Alto residents wants to subsidize low-income housing, though it can be debated. As the poster above points out, the idea that local service or other workers/families will live there seems bogus - since there is no test or requirement for it, it seems very unlikely it would be the case.

Like this comment
Posted by friend-of-JJ&F
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 3, 2008 at 12:21 pm

I am surprised by the number of comments that seem nasty to me.

A neighborhood grocery store is an invaluable asset, even more
so for people who don't drive. When all "american market" closed in
Barron Park (many years ago), this was the end for some older residents who tried to manage independantly.
At a time when so many people lament they don't have enough food stores in Palo Alto, it is not right to criticize efforts to keep
those in existence. Those mom and pop places are not a threat to
big stores like Safeway. So the Safeway clients can still go there
if they wish, or petition to have new ones at other places.
Details of "deals" can/will certainly be adjusted, but don't try to
kill the main idea of having a store.

I personnally like very much to shop at JJ&F, they can tell me how to match wine, they can prepared special orders, and I like the Thanksgiving turkey they roast on the premises...

Like this comment
Posted by Concerned about health
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 3, 2008 at 2:48 pm

One of the measures of a healthy neighborhood is if a parent can send their 12-year-old child to the store to buy a quart of milk and some apples. This means that there is safe access to a grocery store close enough to walk or ride a bike to. Having adequate grocery stores close to a neighborhood should be a priority. I wish we could close one of the liquor stores in Barron Park on El Camino and replace it with a grocery store like JJ & F.

Like this comment
Posted by Bad project
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 3, 2008 at 2:53 pm

There already is a small grocery store in Barron Park. I'll admit that it is smaller than JJ&F, but in that case the new JJ&F should be required to be the same size as the Barron Park store, that way it will be able to compete locally
Bottom line, the rules should not be bent or broken to appease College Terrace even though they are used to getting what they want from the city.

Like this comment
Posted by No sense
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 3, 2008 at 6:08 pm

Concerned, by that measure the vast majority of neighborhoods I have every lived in were unhealthy, since there were no such stores. Sure, it is nice to have a grocery store. But we can't be in the business of "picking the winners" in commerce. Giving the developer a big concession (i.e., putting profit in his pocket) in exchange for a below market lease for a specific store - that is like giving a monopoly to that store. Shall we pick the pizza, retail, drug, coffee, and other stores we like and make sure they get below market deals too? That sounds like central planning to me.

Like this comment
Posted by food4thought
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 3, 2008 at 10:42 pm

The big mess around JJ&F's redevelopment project is caused by greedy developer who wants to squeeze more buildings in the small block to subside JJ&F.

Like this comment
Posted by Duane and Mary Bay
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 4, 2008 at 7:05 am

J.J.&F. We strongly support the proposed project. It will help meet the Palo Alto's goals of creating: walkable neighborhoods, reducing traffic and providing housing for those who provide service to the community such as teachers and many others who can NOT afford to buy or rent at MARKET RATES.

Like this comment
Posted by A. Bredo
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 8, 2008 at 5:10 am

I like a neighborhood market, but not a 3-story office complex. I think it would destroy the current residential feel of College Terrace. Some more (modest) housing OK, some small retail stores OK, but why office space at all? This adds nothing to the walkable- and bikeable appeal of College Terrace, which has been one of its main draws for me over the years. NO on the current project.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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