News


Palo Alto eyes emergency law to protect retail

City looks to extend ground-floor requirement in commercial areas

With several longtime retail establishments recently shutting down to make way for offices in downtown Palo Alto, city officials are looking to adopt an emergency law to halt the practice.

The City Council will consider on April 6 an interim ordinance that would ban retail conversion to office space in the city's main commercial areas, including University Avenue and California Avenue. If approved, the "urgency" ordinance would take effect for about 45 days, though the council would have the option of extending it up to two years if the conditions that necessitated it persist.

The interim law was sparked by widespread concern among the council about retail establishments getting priced out of their locations and getting replaced by offices. In downtown, Jungle Copy, Rudy's Pub and Zibbibo are some of the notable retailers that have recently left to make way for offices. City officials are also concerned that a similar pattern will take place around California Avenue, which has already lost several retail establishments, including Bargain Box and Avenue Florist.

The council has also been increasingly concerned about the overall loss of retail, a subject that Mayor Karen Holman highlighted in her "State of the City" speech in February.

According to a report from planning staff, the city had a net loss of about 37,500 square feet of retail space between 2001 and 2015. The problem appears to have gotten worse in the past seven years, with the city losing about 70,500 square feet of retail between 2008 and 2015.

If the council moves ahead with the interim ordinance, it will become the city's second stop-gap law aimed at the recent office boom. Earlier this month, the council directed staff to craft an interim ordinance that would cap new office construction around University Avenue, California Avenue and El Camino Real at 50,000 square feet, annually.

A new staff report points to the recent numbers around retail loss and notes that "existing ground-floor retail protections may not be sufficient where they exist, and may be needed where they do not."

The core area around University Avenue already has a "ground-floor retail" requirement and in recent years, several council members have proposed spreading this requirement to some of downtown's peripheral blocks.

Holman, Vice Mayor Greg Schmid and Councilman Greg Scharff have been pushing for increased protection for retail space since November 2012, when they released a memo urging the council to expand the requirement.

The new proposal resulted in the council ultimately agreeing in 2013 to protect a vibrant block of Emerson Street, between Hamilton and Forest avenues.

At the time, the move to shield retail space had plenty of critics. Several developers argued against the proposal, noting that some sections of downtown aren't well-suited for retail. The Emerson Street regulation passed by a 6-3 vote, with former council members Nancy Shepherd, Larry Klein and Gail Price all dissenting.

Today's political climate suggests that the new proposal will sail through with little opposition. During the council's March 2 discussion, the council was split on the subject of capping new office development (members ultimately adopted a revised proposal on March 23), but every council member voted to move ahead with a law to protect retail from office conversion.

Scharff said during the March 2 discussion that he felt bad that the prior proposal to protect retail was not passed and noted that the council members who voted against it are no longer on the council.

"It should be a no-brainer to go back and expand ground-floor retail throughout the city," said Scharff, who then proceeded to add the interim ordinance to staff's work list.

"I want to have an emergency ordinance as soon as possible to stop retail conversion," he said.

The issue of retail being displaced is far from new. The council had previously grappled with it in 2001, when the city adopted several interim ordinances that ultimately made way for a permanent one. The 2001 law required certain commercial areas to have ground-floor retail, though it also allowed certain "conditional" uses (including financial services, day care and trade schools) subject to a permit.

In the current effort, staff is proposing that the council adopt an interim ordinance based on the prior laws but with broader applicability. This could either mean "all commercial zones" or designated zones where the problem of retail conversion has been most acute.

Permanent policies, meanwhile, should each be tailored to specific districts "after consultation with property owners, merchants and restaurants in the vicinity." The long-term effort, the report notes, would prioritize the rapidly changing California Avenue, with downtown as the second priority.

Comments

32 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 28, 2015 at 9:52 am

Great News! I'm so happy to hear this. Thank you City Council.


4 people like this
Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 28, 2015 at 10:08 am

SteveU is a registered user.

An ordinance is so inflexible that I hesitate to support such drastic measures.

Office? What kinds? Insurance? Dentist? Venture Capitalist?

By Criteria? General Public access? What ratio of the space will be accessed by the Public (showroom/services)?

Office needs can be easily accommodated on a upper level? ADA compliance exception required (because no elevator)?

I really would like to see a voluntary system that applies to ALL commercial buildings.
2 food service businesses in the same building closed almost at the same time on a El Camino corner?? Office conversion wishful thinking?


30 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 28, 2015 at 10:27 am

Any year now. With University Art gone as well as the former antique store and Waterworks now an office, the most visible damage has been done.

Park Motors has been forced out after decades in business to make way for more offices because the city has declared that area "blighted"! I guess anything that provides services to residents in a blight. Like CAAA (Triple AAA).

I dread when the city finally does in my own wonderful mechanic.


10 people like this
Posted by Todd
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 28, 2015 at 10:41 am

It seems like they're pretty much grasping at straws at this point, trying to placate a few elderly residents, even though, despite their best efforts, the world keeps changing.


60 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 28, 2015 at 10:57 am

mauricio is a registered user.

Todd, I'm not elderly, but the kind of nightmarish town/world you seem to want gives me nightmares. Fortunately, the majority of voters rejected your vision in the last city council elections.


24 people like this
Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Mar 28, 2015 at 10:57 am

Retail or community office should be protected. Community office being dentists, AAA, or insurance agents and etx. The sad thing once the retailers are gone like University Art, Bargain Box and etc chances are it will be hard to reopen. The cost of rent, ouffing a store and larbor only to watch the whole office thing repeat itself.


34 people like this
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 28, 2015 at 10:58 am

@Todd - so you kids like to shop in office parks? I can give you directions to some nice ones in San Jose.


23 people like this
Posted by AdamH
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 28, 2015 at 11:18 am

This is such a manufactured problem by NIMBYS who haven't realized downtown Palo Alto is not a quiet bedroom community. Sure we have very nice residential areas of town but for more than four decades the population of PA always grows during the business day as workers arrive to their jobs and shrinks at night as they go back to their quiet towns. Downtown Palo Alto should be an example of a vibrant urban center. We come up grand master plans for growth, ideas to improve transportation, etc., but then it seems no one has the guts to stick with them. Knee-jerk reactions to a "favorite" store closing is not good governance. At this point we have a simple supply and demand equation. Limiting new office construction drives up rents which drives out the stores we have grown fond of when they realize it is no longer practical to sell moderately priced food or vintage clothes. I realize it is not quite fair to compare downtown PA to downtown Redwood City due to their developmental histories, but when you look at RWC and see multiple cranes in the sky, a booming urban downtown that has grown apartment space, office space, parking and retail in the last several years, you can't help but think how draconian and limiting PA's policies are becoming and what that will do to limit the future viability of this community.


10 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 28, 2015 at 12:13 pm

Retail in Palo Alto, at least affordable useful retail, doesn't exist and hasn't since I have lived here.

We don't have a full service grocery store. We don't have affordable household or children's clothing options. The majority of people I know in Palo Alto buy online and out of town.


45 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 28, 2015 at 12:15 pm

AdamH - completely disagree with you. It's called having a balance. The balance has tipped way too far in accommodating office space and tech and is not showing the diversity of needs of ALL residents in this community who desire different things in their downtown area.

and BTW AdamH, this is not a knee-jerk reaction. This has been happening for a long time and many residents are fed up. Years of seeing our retail leave Palo Alto. Shady Lane and University Art were the last straw for me.




42 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 28, 2015 at 12:17 pm

Replacing retail with offices simply drives up our already ridiculous utility rates as our city tries to offset declining sales tax revenues.

You may have heard there's a drought? Are you claiming that the huge number of workers and new residents you want will never flush toilets or wash their hands?

We're totally built out and gridlocked. Enough. You can't build enough new housing to make even a dent in the escalating rents and housing prices so stop pretending you can. You'd have to ban every foreign investor.


24 people like this
Posted by Big picture
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 28, 2015 at 12:18 pm

Just a reminder to everyone who thought it was possible to have restricted areas of big development or high density - when you bring in the densified and urban, you bring in people who have no trouble pushing to change everything else to densified and urban and will call you a NIMBY for trying to put brakes on it. Plus they will make you pay for their crappified changes.

Trying to be just a little more urbanized is like aiming to be just a little pregnant. Now we must live with the consequences.


3 people like this
Posted by Todd
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 28, 2015 at 12:48 pm

And mauricio, when the wrong kind of retail or too "high end" starts filling those spaces then we simply have to ban them, and when the kind you want can't afford the spaces the city council can force those greedy landlords to lower their rents, and so on and so on...


3 people like this
Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Mar 28, 2015 at 12:58 pm

If the demand is for more offices you build more office space. The office market will eventually level out and companies will look at subleasing or gettind rid of space when the booms become busts.

Every boom we get pushed to the limits. Yes lots of greed here but right now it is good.

Retail needs protection but capping office buildings will not help.


8 people like this
Posted by anneke
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 28, 2015 at 1:38 pm

Kudos to the present City Council for "taking some time out." Remember when you were a kid and you were told by your parents to take some time out to calm down and do some thinking? There was nothing wrong with that.

As a long time citizen of Palo Alto, I want to be able to shop at a variety of retail stores on University Avenue in order to boost the local economy, and I appreciate that the City Council members recognize this.

I am not against (office) development, but the fact that in the past developers got away with special privileges to not provide adequate parking or no parking at all is totally out of line. The past City Council members made some grave mistakes in only looking at "theIr" present situation and not at the future of our city. Many citizens have long expressed serious concerns about these decisions.

Parking is part of doing business, as we are a car-driven population. Parking a car significantly increases the cost of office development, and so it should. Think of the size of a parking space versus the size of a present employee spot where employees are crammed in at long tables. It is nearly one for one. Including parking cost in the cost of office development maintains a healthy balance, and automatically slows down the unabated office growth at the cost of retail and surrounding neighborhoods we have seen so far.






13 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 28, 2015 at 1:50 pm

Thinking further about this, it is not only University Avenue or even Cal Avenue but also Stanford that is no longer interesting when walking aimlessly, window shopping, etc.

I remember the pet shop on Cal Ave and our kids used to love that if we were passing for some reason.

I remember in Stanford, the Sesame Street Store, the Disney Store, the Imaginarium toy shop and even McDonalds with its ball pit and piano, as being reasons for making a shopping trip into a family outing. All these things are gone. My kids used to love going to Stanford to spend Christmas or birthday money and we could make it fun for all. I would never take small children to these places any more, firstly because of all the traffic and bikes as well as the homeless, and also because there is a lack of kid friendly destinations. Where in downtown can you take a child for a sit down meal without having to pay adult style prices? A family of four would probably have to pay big bucks for a simple burger or grilled cheese sandwich for a 4 year old and a 6 year old as well as two adults.


36 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 28, 2015 at 2:06 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

Todd, 'The market will regulate itself' mantra never happened and never will. It exists only in the imagination of teenagers reading Ayn Rand. Why shouldn't residents of a town have the right to protect their chosen way of life and quality of life by limiting endless growth without being called NIMBY? I don't know of one Palo Alto resident that thought this town would become an industrial and office park, which it is rapidly becoming.


20 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 28, 2015 at 3:29 pm

You know where retail's improved? Los Altos. I go there and see a nice variety of independent, locally owned stores, including several that used to be in Palo Alto. All managed not through new construction, but by reasonable rents.

Not sure where AdamH gets the notion that everyone leaves Palo Alto at night. It's a pain-in-the-ass to find evening parking in the downtown. Someone's eating at all those restaurants.


8 people like this
Posted by AdamH
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 28, 2015 at 4:33 pm

Palo Alto has a "daytime population" of approximately 125k people (per PAFD 2014) compared to a residential population of only around 70k people. Trying to fit an image of Palo Alto (in particular University and Cal Ave) as part of a sleepy bedroom community is crazy when it is the opposite.


21 people like this
Posted by Duveneck Resident
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 28, 2015 at 4:59 pm

The 2014 National Citizen Survey comprehensively surveyed all of Palo Alto and found the majority of residents were unhappy with parking, traffic, land use management and quality of development. This compares with many other areas where the residents rated the city very highly. Furthermore the majority of residents voted for council members who would address this issue in November of 2014. Office buildings are a net loss to in terms of the cost of services vs. the tax revenue they provide, which is continuing to drop. With the huge housing to jobs imbalance, the number one issue facing the most successful companies in the valley is where to house their growing workforces. Housing is actually better overall for local taxes, supporting our Palo Alto local businesses and for supporting the tech industry. In other words, free market will give us the exact opposite of what is best for Palo Alto. We have zoning rules, there are just too many loopholes and exemptions. It's time to tighten them up.


27 people like this
Posted by Jack
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 28, 2015 at 8:36 pm

Ground floor retail is what makes University Ave and Cal Ave interesting, exciting, vibrant destinations for a lot of people. No one goes anywhere, not even Palo Alto, to see office hipsters behind glass while walking down the street.


13 people like this
Posted by anneke
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 28, 2015 at 9:27 pm

I wonder if one of our major future issues may be the lack of adequate water supply.


21 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 28, 2015 at 11:54 pm

Opar, re your comment about Los Altos retail improving with "a nice variety of independent, locally owned stores, including several that used to be in Palo Alto. All managed not through new construction, but by reasonable rents."

I totally agree. Reasonable rents plus larger square footage that lets the Palo Alto refugees carry more unique merchandise at lower prices. They'll do better since the interesting retail mix will attract other interested shoppers/browsers who want to avoid the chain stores and malls and are likely to buy more than office workers running out for a quick lunch.

Same thing in Menlo Park although they're about to lose Naks, the wonderful Asian grocer due to high rents.


12 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 29, 2015 at 5:42 pm

If that's how you feel about it, Todd, don't let the door hit you (or your car) on the way out.

Hee, hee, hee.


13 people like this
Posted by eileen
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 29, 2015 at 7:47 pm

So what happens when all the downtown restaurants that the technorati flocked to are displaced by offices?


18 people like this
Posted by Eric Rosenblum
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 29, 2015 at 9:35 pm

Eric Rosenblum is a registered user.

I feel good about protecting ground floor retail. It is a significant component of a vibrant city. Kudos to Council for doing this.

Now, I hope that Council takes the rest of the problem seriously. If retail is going to be treated as a "below market" floor (which is the impact of a ground floor protection), then the economics of development will have to be understood on the other floors. We also have to figure out how a variety of retailers can not only exist, but can thrive-- their employees will have to be able to get to work conveniently, and their customers will have to be numerous. I suspect that the customer mix of a downtown retail area is pretty different from the customer mix at a mall-- there are likely a higher proportion of customers who live and work in close proximity.

I'm looking forward to seeing the rest of the "fix retail" proposal in the near future. It's a worthy topic.


19 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 30, 2015 at 1:46 am

Eric, you write: I suspect that the customer mix of a downtown retail area is pretty different from the customer mix at a mall-- there are likely a higher proportion of customers who live and work in close proximity.

However, many of us Palo Alto residents are traveling to Los Altos and Menlo Park because they've got an interesting mix of retail that we can't find in close proximity to our PA homes or workplaces.

Also, many of us dislike shopping at malls that are increasingly the same, have no local retailers and could be "Anywhere, USA" or increasingly "Anywhere, World" and "Anywhere, Net."


Like this comment
Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 30, 2015 at 6:39 am

SteveU is a registered user.

As it stands now, only High end or High profit retail can support the current Rents and over-(government)regulation.
Palo Alto used to have Ford and Datsun Dealers (cars that us common folk could afford). Can you even buy a Car sold in Palo Alto for less than $30K? McLaren? Tesla? Lexus? nope: Go to Gilroy if you want those kind of brands.
Note: Cars are a special case in the USE TAX laws. Regular goods, the tax is where delivered. Cars is where USED (registered)


Like this comment
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 30, 2015 at 8:40 am

I would disagree in using the auto dealer argument as part of the downtown retail issue. The selling model has changed drastically over the last 3 decades. Auto dealerships are no longer one brand with a local store. Today dealerships are multi-brand, even beyond just the GM brands...for example, the Boardwalk dealership (Redwood City near 101 and Woodside/Seaport) features Chevrolet, Lotus, VW and Nissan...and these superstores are almost exclusively placed next to a freeway for high visibility.

Paddleford Oldsmobile is long gone because of the location (and low volume of customers), not because of the high rents.

Honda and Audi on East Embarcadero...but I wonder how much longer those stores will stay open.


6 people like this
Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Mar 30, 2015 at 11:00 am

The lost of retail space is but so is the variety of shops and services that once called Palo Alto home. Art, music, shoe repair, family owned florists, dry cleaners, jewelry stores and book stores thatco existed with upper level offices.

As the rents and the costs of doing business in Palo Alto causing many old merchants to call it quits. The sad thing is the need for office space is killing retail and many other small office operations out. Think all non tech offices that might become the next target.


8 people like this
Posted by South Palo Alto
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 30, 2015 at 11:20 am

When we moved here 20 years ago I remember a lot of jokes about the "People's Republic of Palo Alto". The city was seen as an implementation of regulation, by the hands of the voters, gone wild. It more or less stole the title from Berkeley.

This new law will make sure the city regains the crown as the weirdest, oppressive government in the Bay Area.

Can you tell I disagree with it? 😄

If the property is zoned for a business, the business should be allowed to exist. If the city council wishes to change it, they should follow the laws for changing the zoning classifications for each property.


Crazy times here..


14 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 30, 2015 at 11:32 am

mauricio is a registered user.

@South Palo Alto-Are you kidding? Protecting the very core, heritage, life style and quality of life of this town is crazy?
Would israelis be crazy opposing some developer's plans to turn the Western Wall into a McDonald's or Florence residents if they opposed turning the Ufizzi into a Starbucks or real estate offices? Palo Alto citizens are trying to protect themselves from the oppressive, greedy developers who are turning downtown and other parts into office park. Nothing could be more sane.


17 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 30, 2015 at 12:10 pm

Thank you, Mauricio who "is not elderly" for your comments. More and more often it seems that anyone who takes exception to the new urbanism or who expresses dismay with Palo Alto's density-related problems gets labeled old or NIMBY or something else derogatory. How about this label: REALISTIC? Just b/c one doesn't favor turning Palo Alto into a dense, grid-locked urban/industrial center doesn't mean one is old and the concerns are therefore not valid. That's rather intolerant thinking. Vice Mayor Schmid made an excellent point when he commented that the City's geography is not well suited to sprawling or dense development. As alluring as the ROI is, at some point we have to acknowledge that we're over saturated.


2 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 30, 2015 at 12:37 pm

Has anyone ever been to Houston? Poster child of how a city can look like #$%^ due to its lack of zoning and ordinances.


2 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 30, 2015 at 12:41 pm

I've been watching from the sidelines and finally decided to hop in and offer my thoughts.

I've lived here since 1961 so I've seen so many changes, too many in most cases. Some I like but others I don't. I remember doing most of our shopping either on California Avenue or University Avenue or Midtown. I'll write a story about my memories of those days for my Life Stories class at Avenidas. So many stores of all kinds. I don't have any recollection of a parking problem, although maybe my memory is failing a little bit.

We bought a lot of clothes at Bergman's, a family owned store in Midtown. They had a great lunch counter and offered free gift wrapping. I don't remember the circumstances of why they went out of business.

And I remember a shoe store on University Avenue that has been gone a long time. I miss it and stores like it. I will always remember Roxy Rapp for his store, not for his developer's business.


7 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 30, 2015 at 12:46 pm

If there's already a rule in place protecting ground-floor retail around University Ave., how come Zibibo and CPK are getting replaced by offices? Is this due to an exemption for "financial services" that this article mentions? Financial services are a pretty broad category and seem to include VCs as well as fin tech startups (e.g. Wealthfront). Seems like it's time to remove this exception because clearly these are the kinds of things that are eating into the retail and attractiveness of University Ave.


3 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 30, 2015 at 1:14 pm

The usual people saying usual things. All of them to some extend hypocritical. Nothing will preserve retail in overpriced area except rent control. The rest is all half measures that will work no better than "public benefit".


21 people like this
Posted by Downtown resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 30, 2015 at 1:28 pm

It happened gradually, so sometimes you don't notice until you stop and reflect. Here's a partial list of the retail space converted to cubicles over the past 5 years while we have been sleeping...

-Waterworks
-Zibbibo
-Darshana Yoga
-Diddams
-Jungle Copy (two locations)
-University Art (two locations)
-Mango Cafe and adjacent Stanford Florist
-Shell Gas Station
-California Yoga Center (oldest yoga studio in California -- circa 1970’s - RIP)
-Plan Toys & adjacent modern furniture store & rug store
-House of Bagels
-Fraiche Yogurt's original Emerson St location
-Vacuum repair shop at Florence & Lytton
-Habiture home design
-Vintage clothing store on Waverley
-Rudy's
-Borders FKA Varsity Theater
-Shell Gas Station
-Kurt and Dorn’s Garage
-Oly’s Garage
-Shokolaat Restaurant next to Plan Toys
-Blue Chalk Bar and Restaurant
-Laundromat next to 7-11

...and this is just a partial list. One may quibble about one or two of these, but the extent of this list should be alarming.


3 people like this
Posted by Stu Berman
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 30, 2015 at 2:11 pm

Here is a quote from the article:

"According to a report from planning staff, the city had a net loss of about 37,500 square feet of retail space between 2001 and 2015. The problem appears to have gotten worse in the past seven years, with the city losing about 70,500 square feet of retail between 2008 and 2015."

Am I missing something here? If not, why hasn't any other reader caught it?


Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 30, 2015 at 2:40 pm

@Stu, I saw that and figured maybe we had a 33,000 gain between 2001 and 2007.


Like this comment
Posted by Is-Palo-Alto-a-good-place-for-retail?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 30, 2015 at 3:05 pm

> We bought a lot of clothes at Bergman's, a family owned store in Midtown.
> They had a great lunch counter and offered free gift wrapping.
> I don't remember the circumstances of why they went out of business.

Retail has been on peoples' minds for a long time, because it has been slowly disappearing from Palo Alto. The following three articles, from twenty years ago, speak to the problems of retail in Midtown ..

Page 4: Memories of Midtown
Web Link

BUSINESS: Retail trends a mixed bag
Web Link

COMMUNITY: A plan for preserving Midtown
Web Link


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Posted by A real taxpayer
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 30, 2015 at 3:16 pm

[Post removed.]


6 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 30, 2015 at 3:33 pm

I was downtown recently and some out of town tourists stopped me on the street to ask, "aren't there any shops downtown?" They actually thought that Palo Alto had a friendly downtown shopping district. Sadly, that is no longer the case. Now all we have downtown is fake retail stores, lousy restaurants, offices, and filthy streets. One day people will wake up and realize Palo Alto isn't such a great place to raise a family anymore. Unless of course, you like living in an office park. [Portion removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 30, 2015 at 3:58 pm

re: list of lost retail.

Yes, House of Bagels had to move out as that building will be torn down. But the new building *will* have retail (facing University) on the ground floor.


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Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Mar 30, 2015 at 4:58 pm

I wonder how retail places were lost to shopping habitz from price to generational tastes. Many businesses moved to better locations to shopping centers or malls but. Competition from stores found in malls and centers or in neighboring communities.

Rent, lack of parking, the need for space, lousy space could play a part in the downfall. Wal Mart, Target, and Online took customers away so did the demand of choice.

Large 24 hour drugs caused many small drug stores to close.
Number of grocery stores chains have shrunk.
Large pet stores
Huge under one roof hardware, garden and lumber yards.
Large electronic stores that sell everything from computers to tvs.
Buying new shoes is cheaper then repairing.
We don't dry cleaners, laundries as much.
A large number chain retailers that have merged into other chain retailers.
Store owners who have reached retirement age with no family members willing to take over.


1 person likes this
Posted by R Wray
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 30, 2015 at 5:17 pm

You progressive/liberal PA residents are sounding like conservatives. You want to conserve/preserve the past. But you want to do it at the point of a gun (government regs). It's not going to work. Oly's garage and the vacuum cleaner repair store are not coming back. Times are a changing.

Taking the 70,500 sq ft net loss over the last 7 years as a correct figure, and taking the average retail at 60 x 150 sq ft, that's 1.1 retail stores net loss per year. That's an emergency requiring bringing out the government guns?


13 people like this
Posted by gone & glad
a resident of another community
on Mar 30, 2015 at 6:11 pm

So true, Resident. The changes in Palo Alto these last 30 years are disheartening. We faced the reality that the P.A. we loved has changed immeasurably and permanently. We decided not to be unhappy and moved to another nearby community. We LOVE it! Guess you could say we "voted with our feet".


1 person likes this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 30, 2015 at 7:51 pm

Thanks for comments from 'Is-Palo -Alto- a - good- place-for-retail?' and 'Resident'. I read the links and it registered memories from the past. I will probably still live here for the rest of my life, but I would never have moved here knowing what my town would become. We really loved it the way it was in 1961.


3 people like this
Posted by csf
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 30, 2015 at 8:53 pm

Permanent policies, meanwhile, should each be tailored to specific districts "after consultation with property owners, merchants and restaurants in the vicinity."

Of course no one would consider asking residents what they need or want in the way of retail...


6 people like this
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Mar 30, 2015 at 9:36 pm

When the AAA building is torn down, will AAA find another smaller location in Palo Alto or will be completely gone?


Like this comment
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Mar 30, 2015 at 9:45 pm

Keeping ground floor University and California Avenues for retail business has some merit.

However, to the people who complain about not enough retail, I have trouble thinking about the retail that is missing from Palo Alto. From what I know and what I have heard, the main retail that Palo Alto does not have are big box stores (except Fry's), Asian supermarkets, and LARGE American supermarkets. Hardly anybody would welcome these types of stores on University or California.

What are the other needs for which you have to leave Palo Alto?


5 people like this
Posted by ChrisC
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 31, 2015 at 12:14 am

ChrisC is a registered user.

The trend started with Printer's Inc leaving Cal Ave. Menlo park city worked with keeplrrs in a similar situation to help then stay, because the city considered it a valuable resource to the community. This thought has never entered city of Palo alto's mind, and now most of the simple seevices are gone. This is a case of closing the barn door after the horses have gone. And for the poster who wondered where young folk shop, it's online with no sales tax coming to Palo alto. And it's ironic that a shopping bag in Oalo Alto costs 10 cents, but my neighbors online shopping shipping boxes must have felled an entire forest, while he furnished his apt (I assume) with at least 10 boxes a week at the door.


3 people like this
Posted by Bru
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 31, 2015 at 12:36 am

Bru is a registered user.

I think the same thing is happening with restaurants, but we don't see it because what is happening is the that service is missing the ingredients are so cheap now. There is no service any more, you order at a counter, pick up & dress your own food, find your own table - and often have to clean it, then clean up after yourself.

Those places that cater to people who do not care about money are so far doing fine, but even they are not at the level that fine-dining used to be, they are the new norm of eating out.

Rents are so high that many places simply cannot make it working only for their landlords. I don't know what the solution is, heavy-handed and usually clueless government regulation or a laissez-faire money is the only important thing? Where would the government even begin to step in or understand the effects it might have? Our city government cannot even keep up to speed on how to manage cars and parking.

It's a cinch that no one from Stanford is working in the area of public policy.


2 people like this
Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 31, 2015 at 7:22 am

SteveU is a registered user.

Some Retail (tenant) turnover is normal. Auto repair shops with grease pits declined with improved car parts. Gas stations went away because MPG got better and cars got more reliable (the Repair Bay, not the Pump, paid the bills).
Palo Alto HAD a H&J Lumber Yard that went away long before Home Depot.
Palo Alto HAD manufacturing (not just electronics)
Palo Alto HAD variety when I moved here in 64
Palo Alto HAD many Single wage earner families, (many with just 1 car)
Palo Alto HAD Greyhound Bus service.

We still have the same roads as we did then. But the density of cars as Tripled? Quadrupled?
Is ABAG being used as the excuse for irresponsible growth? How can the EIR ignore traffic caused environmental impacts?


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Posted by resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 31, 2015 at 11:02 am

"I wish I had" isn't going to work. You can't order the retail, people have to make a living.


4 people like this
Posted by jeff@jkeller.com
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 31, 2015 at 12:16 pm

As anneke pointed out parking is a part of the issue. An office worker has no problem walking 10 minutes from a residential area when they leave their car parked there for 8+ hours. Someone wanting to spend 60 minutes shopping is going to find parking a much higher percentage of the "cost" (find a parking space, walk 10 minutes from it, walk 10 minutes back to it).

The "give-aways" to office developers are helping drive retail out. Tax underparked commercial buildings. Let them pay for the problems they've taken been a big part in creating.


4 people like this
Posted by J A R
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 31, 2015 at 1:53 pm

J A R is a registered user.

"Emergency Law" rings of a reaction due to a lack of planning (not from a lack of discourse). What is lost on me is, Why are there not zoning laws that reflect the wishes our the PA constituency? I have to assume such laws exist so it would seem that the city council is ruling by exception?

Qualifier: We are new to the area and I am very new to this debate in particular. We did move here and buy a home near downtown because of the mix of retail options, office based services and office space. Oh yeah, for the schools as well. When I go downtown, I walk or bike because I have no expectation to find parking.


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Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Mar 31, 2015 at 2:28 pm

Protecting retail space from being gobbled up by office space demands is the idea and its a good use of zoning. The idea of the law is to protect the space not so much the businesses but the actual space. Over time new kindsof goods and services for the common public is needed.

Certain kinds of office space on the ground floor if they serve the common public and if they don't well the 2nd floor for you or off (main street) space for you.


2 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 31, 2015 at 2:50 pm

Our "enlightened" city officials have declared the area around Fry's "blighted" and are replacing car mechanics who've been there for decades like Park Avenue Motors with more office space. And the poor guy got only a month's notice after decades of loyalty to his landlord so he can't even sell his business.

And isn't Fry's -- one of our biggest retailers -- also scheduled to be replaced by more office buildings?

No problem, though. They'll keep raising our utility rates and selling up compost pails to make up for the loss of sales tax revenues.


1 person likes this
Posted by DowntownGuy
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 31, 2015 at 3:59 pm

The law to implement is pretty simple: create a downtown zone around University and Cal aves. Require all street level buildings in this zone to have space for customer facing businesses [restaurants, retail, etc.]. No office space at all. Allow small shops [sandwiches/pizza/ice cream] without seating. All office space is 2nd floor and above.


2 people like this
Posted by Another PA Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 31, 2015 at 6:57 pm

Yay! Correct change of direction. Palo Alto is in the process of being destroyed by total failure of city planning. Individual parcel owners and developers are inevitably going to try to maximize their profit, but cannot be expected to act in the greatest interest of the community. The community interest does not _emerge_ by some magic through the aggregation of self-interested, but collectively destructive choices by developers. That's why the Town Council is completely correct to interject much-needed restraint on the wholesale destruction of the downtown retail scene. Developers are like ants at a sugar mill - they will eat and eat and eat until they explode. It's called mindless overbuilding, and that's where PA is headed unless some restraining mechanism is enacted. Left to their own devices the developers will convert the entire downtown into an office-park ghost town. We say NO to that. It's our town, and we like having a selection of useful and interesting retail shops. It's what makes the town livable. Thank you City Council. It's why we voted you in.


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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 31, 2015 at 6:59 pm

@Online Name -- Park Avenue Motors is alive and well.


3 people like this
Posted by "curious"
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 31, 2015 at 9:53 pm

When you drive by 611 Cowper under construction a sign asks "Are you curious
about what is happening here?" I guess this is the City's planning outreach-
it's all one way, backward looking after the fact, just like the last 15 years here in a nutshell. It's a four story Ken Hayes mixed use (office and one residential unit)building wedged in there 28000 sq ft office space with a residential penthouse 6500 sq ft. on top. With TDR's and bonuses and grandfathered conditions it is more than 50 spaces underparked and sits outside the Downtown parking assessment district. Access to the garage is off 10 ft wide Lane 39. It is going to use parking lifts. Just "curious", are the lifts at 537 Hamilton across the street being used? Only once have I ever seen a car enter or exit that garage. Anybody know? If the mechanical lifts are impractical and not used then effectively the parking deficit becomes even greater. The questions, the problems, the issues just
keep piling up in a nightmarish scenario created by our City government which is not even close to fully playing out.


4 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 31, 2015 at 10:17 pm

Musical, if you say Park Ave. Motors is alive and well, ok. Hope so. The Palo Alto Post article said otherwise.


4 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 31, 2015 at 11:15 pm

Now I do vaguely recall a swan-song story interviewing the long-time owner of Park Automotive Service, a small shop up the road from the much larger Park Avenue Motors, on the other side of Fry's. Easy to mix up the similar names.

Park Avenue Motors is a busy AutoNation affiliate Mercedes dealership and service center, expensive but where I've gone for the last 40 years when I need work done right instead of turning my own wrench. Palo Alto would be absolutely unimaginable without a local Mercedes dealer.


6 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 1, 2015 at 7:38 am

mauricio is a registered user.

Let's be clear. Without a decisive city council intervention, downtown will turn into a nightmarish office park in just a few years. This would also mean the end of Palo Alto as a unique suburban college town with a small town quality of life and character. Only the residents, through their elected officials, can stop the developers and land owners greed. Since the elected officials have caused this mess in the first place by giving in to the developers practically without a fight, and sometime enthusiastically, citing "vibrancy" as their motive, demonstrating shocking shortsightedness, it would be ironic if they begin to atone for their own, and their predecessors terrible mistakes.


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Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Apr 1, 2015 at 10:01 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

This post by Neilson Buchanan to Todd and Adam H was accidentally posted on my blog instead of here where they posted. I moved his post unedited here so Todd and Adam H could see it and respond--Steve

Comments to Todd and Adam H.. Your comments about Univ Ave Commercial Core are conflicting with physical reality and require clarification. I simply dont understand how you can achieve what you want. Help me and other citizens understand your vision. Palo Alto is not comparable to Redwood City... RWC Downtown is not surrounded by premium homes owned by a lot of non-old owners Yes, University South and DTN have major multi-unit housing inventory but it is expensive housing that will remaining housing for the foreseeable future. Housing density and type will adapt and increase census adjacent to commercial cores; those residents require walkable, everyday retail. Years ago powerful development interests had a vision of eliminating most housing and erecting very high rise office and housing. This concept died a difficult, but merciful death and is unlikely to rise again in my lifetime...17 more years according to my grandson. Bottom Line: University Ave and California Ave have nearly impossible vehicular access. Public transportation potential is limited. Leap and Chariot have great potential. Why not demand these proven private sector services now? Calif Ave is a box canyon, aka deadend. CalTrain will never have capacity to serve the office growth up and down its corridor. So train solutions are pipedreams, just conduits to more office capacity and NYC subway crowding ... show Palo Alto voters data that train capacity will ever serve the office capacity on the drawing board now. I accept this demand fact and it is a necessity, but it is no reason to dismiss viable retail to serve Palo Alto resident and voters. University Ave, as configured, is a two lane, gridlocked expressway unlikely to be opened up as 4 lane. Even so, 4 lanes would dump into the Commercial Core...hardly systems engineering. I encourage you to express your aspirations for Univ Ave to be a locus for regional office park and destination restaurants, but submit how it would actually work. You can reach me at cnsbuchanan@gmail.com. Thanks for concept but PA need city planning that works both physically and politically.
by Neilson Buchanan


4 people like this
Posted by Phil
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Mar 28, 2017 at 4:13 pm

It is ironic that the changes in the lanes on California Ave were a windfall to all the restaurants which quickly filled the new space with tables. But for the retailers who badly need short term parking close to their business , it was another nail in the coffin. A retail prospective customer is not going to circle the block several times to find a reasonably close parking spot, but rather leave in frustration.
If the city is really serious about saving the retail businesses, the new parking plan would include ample short term parking close to the businesses. Otherwise, by-by retail.


4 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 28, 2017 at 4:34 pm

We need 30 minute parking outside retail. Two hour parking means that at lunch time there is no parking for quick errands within a block or two of a business for dropping something off, or picking up a sandwich.


6 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 28, 2017 at 4:36 pm

Phil, you're absolutely right about the demise of retail on Cal Ave. My favorite eye glasses left because she was tired of getting ticketed and now I have to waste my time searching for a someone new I can trust.

As for the restaurants there, they're great for the new office workers but forget about lunching there for anyone else, esp. if you're meeting time-constrained friends from out of town because you'll all spend half your time looking for parking.

Re retail, I chose to get my car smogged near Cal Ave, figuring I could kill the 45 minutes browsing the stores but there weren't enough stores left to browse and those that were there had stock that was pretty depleted.

And the same thing's happening downtown around University Ave. where retail and medical / professional services are equally threatened.


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

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