Editor's note: Happy April Fools' Day!
With residents raving mad about new developments transforming a once vibrant downtown into a bland "monoculture," Palo Alto officials on Monday night imposed a moratorium on acai restaurants in the city's main commercial corridors.
"We're in danger of a monoculture in zoning," Councilman Tom DuBois said during Monday's long discussion. "The status quo is driving us toward an environment dominated by a single Brazilian berry."
Mayor Karen Holman concurred and argued that it's important to promote a diversity of retail establishments in Palo Alto.
"This whole city is transforming into an acai grotto," Holman said.
The proposed moratorium was sparked by a recent proliferation of acai restaurants near University Avenue and California Avenue in recent months. In some cases, the acai shops have replaced venerable and long-standing businesses, including Cho's Dim Sum, Jungle Copy, Varsity Theatre, University Art, Shady Lane and Bargain Box.
The trend began in late 2014, with Vitalities Berry moving to California Avenue and Bare Berries setting up shop on University. With local buzz building around acai -- a purple berry that often gets blended into a smooth puree and topped with other fruits in a dish known as the "acai bowl" -- new shops have since popped up at Town & Country, Stanford Shopping Center, the Midtown Shopping Center and Alma Village.
Roberto De Silva, whose acai shop Berry Bliss opened its doors in January, was one of about a dozen proprietors who attended the Monday meeting to argue against the moratorium. He and others argued that the council is being unfair and short-sighted in defying the open market and targeting his industry.
"It's the frozen-yogurt people I know they put you up to this," De Silva said. "I know they still think they're the 'next big thing,' like it's 2009, but it's important to remind everyone that we do live in a free-market economy. We're giving the people what they want today!"
On the other side of the debate were the land-use watchdogs, the neighborhood leaders and the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce, which released a statement Tuesday arguing that the spread of acai is pricing out local banks, startups and venture-capital firms.
"I get it. They're delicious. But enough is enough," Chamber CEO Judy Kleinberg said in the statement.