News

City takes cautious route on California Avenue chain store ban

Palo Alto wrestles with implications, unintended consequences of proposed ban on 'formula retail'

The goal sounds simple: Protect California Avenue's quirky character and preserve the street's mom-and-pop shops from rising rents and an influx of office development.

The solution, however, is anything but. That became apparent Monday night, when the City Council's conversation about limiting chain stores in Palo Alto's "second downtown" evolved into a broad-ranging, hours-long and, at times, tense debate with no firm resolution.

The council cobbled together a motion that filled an entire page and featured more than a dozen bullet points, underwent a dizzying sequence of amendments and culminated in a fresh batch of research assignments for planning staff and the Planning and Transportation Commission.

When all was said and done, the council voted 8-0, with Councilwoman Liz Kniss not participating, to direct the commission to study a broad range of issues relating to retail preservation on California Avenue. These issues include new limitations on "formula retail" (a term that has yet to be defined), a limitation on restaurants, nail salons and other uses deemed too plentiful, a review of parking requirements for restaurants and a potential expansion of the ground-floor retail requirement beyond California Avenue and to nearby streets, including sections of Cambridge Avenue and Park Boulevard.

The council's action was consistent with its overarching mission to preserve and promote local retail. Over the past month, the council approved two emergency ordinances, one that banned conversions of ground-floor retail to office use in all parts of town and another that instituted a cap on office development at University Avenue, California Avenue and El Camino Real.

Monday's action was more like a series of tiny, surgical strikes than broad directive. No one, however, disputed the notion that the rising rents on California Avenue, the influx of office development around the business district and the recent shuttering of several independent shops, including Bargain Box, Cho's Dim Sum and Avenue Florist, are threatening the street's independent, artsy, neighborhood-serving vibe. Everyone also agreed that the last thing they'd want to see is the arrival of chain stores that would make the street more homogenous and less diverse.

But do you regulate formula retail? Therein lies the puzzle.

While limits on chain stores are common throughout the region, there is no shared recipe. Different cities define formula retail in different ways and, without its own definition, Palo Alto currently has more questions on the topic than answers. Should Benjamin Moore Paints be considered a chain store, for example, because it has three locations? Would California Avenue be better without its Starbucks, The Counter or FedEx?

"We don't know what the formula is to keep Cal Avenue weird," Councilman Eric Filseth said during Monday night's discussion. "Do we really need zero tolerance on chain stores? I'm not sure."

Mayor Karen Holman led off the deliberations by proposing a motion featuring 16 bullet points. Her colleagues then proceeded to add more items, delete others and reword several more so that they would better incorporate their own priorities for California Avenue.

Councilman Greg Scharff stressed the urgent need of expanding the business district's retail zone by requiring ground-floor retail on Cambridge Avenue, where a large office development on the 300 block is in the early stages of the approval process.

Councilman Tom DuBois argued that a stretch of El Camino Real, between Page Mill Road and Stanford Avenue, should also be included in the retail district. The council agreed to include these issues among those to be studied by the planning commission.

DuBois also called for the elimination of an existing rule that allows developers to demolish existing buildings and replace them with larger ones but devote only a portion of the new buildings' ground-floor area to retail.

"If you're redeveloping and you're making a building larger, we want all of it to be retail on the ground floor," said DuBois, whose proposals won the support of all the council members.

Holman proposed including in the list of items to be studied a prohibition on having opaque windows at buildings within the ground-floor retail area. The council went along after agreeing, upon a suggestion from Vice Mayor Greg Schmid, to make allowances for medical offices.

Holman faced some resistance, however, when she proposed requiring new developments to "respect the historical pattern, where it exists, of narrow store fronts" that support smaller, independent businesses. That proposal died after Scharff argued that this would effectively bar "modern storefronts."

"What you want to have is a vibrant retail environment and the way the storefront is designed is for the market at the time," Scharff said.

Ultimately, the storefront idea fizzled when only Councilmen Pat Burt and DuBois voted to support that portion of the motion.

The council's discussion underscored the complexity of limiting chain stores, a task that different cities have approached in different ways. Calistoga, for instance, simply bans "formula restaurants," which by the city's definition are required to offer "standardized menus, ingredients, food preparation, decor, uniforms, architecture or similar standardized features." Los Gatos is less stringent, though it requires a chain store to obtain a conditional-use permit before it could open its doors. San Francisco also requires permits for a formula-retail operation, which by the city's definition shares common features such as a "standardized array of merchandize, trademark, architecture and decor" with at least 11 other establishments in the United States.

In Palo Alto, staff is proposing to model the local ordinance loosely after San Francisco. Rather than simply banning chain stores or imposing a limit, staff has suggested requiring them to obtain conditional-use permits and creating a process by which people can appeal the approval of these permits.

Several residents and merchants attended Monday's meeting to voice support for the restriction on chain stores.

"We've all seen the market forces at work, transforming downtowns ... into homogenous collections of chain stores," said resident Cedric de la Beaujardiere. "Whether you're in a quaint little town in France, or on the East Coast or in California – (there's) The Gap, McDonald's, a couple of Starbucks. That's what the market would do, just unfettered."

Holman shared those sentiments and while her colleagues urged caution, she made a case for action.

"The market moves much faster than governments can and we've seen that time and time again," Holman said. "The 'zone-for-what-you-want' motto really does apply in this case. We want to get ahead of what potential impacts can be facing us in the future. We don't want to allow it to happen and then have to react to it, because often times, it's too late."

Comments

8 people like this
Posted by commonsense
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 19, 2015 at 10:29 am

I understand that "The market moves much faster than governments can" but the Palo Alto government pace is embarrassing. They have been talking about/studying how preserve retail for at least a decade. In the meantime places like the Future Society, or whatever it is, at the corner of Hamilton and Emerson, get the ok (with the backing of the city manager???) Then in the last month they discuss and decide to stop allowing retail to be converted to office. What was so difficult about that? It's a political mess that seems impossible to clean up.


20 people like this
Posted by Cal Ave Neighbor
a resident of College Terrace
on May 19, 2015 at 10:55 am

I think the city council should legislate exactly the type of stores and restaurants they want on California Avenue, and then when the market fails to support those establishments, we can all bemoan the empty storefronts and crummy retail on California Avenue, and then when the landlord brings in another tenant that the market doesn't support, then maybe will wonder if Chipotle and the Gap are really all that bad. BTW, haven't we tried this at Alma Plaza? Seriously, what's so bad about having popular restaurants and stores in your neighborhood. Is it that soul crushing to walk down a street with a Lulu Lemon and FootLocker? The Counter's a chain and people love it.


4 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 19, 2015 at 10:56 am

Mine will be an unofficial ninth vote in favor, subbing for Liz Kniss. Tough night at CC. They are taking the right course...of course. Think it through carefully before making any final decision. It sounds like we could learn from what other cities have done and actions taken in similar situations. Has it been successful or is it to early to tell (experimental stage)?

Three or four decades ago many small independent retailers could make it on Cal Ave. I'm not so sure anymore, at least not the variety offered then. I got my first PA haircut at Califonia Barbers on Cal Ave in 1961. With the proliferation of rapid increases in rents it might not be possible. Chain stores have the advantage of a corporate office working on problems, providing advertising, and the power of economy of scale.

The planning staff and PTC need to come up with definitions on a lot of things related to this issue.

I watched most of last night's meeting on Channel 26 and it brought back memories of when I chaired councils and committees years ago. One lady had memorized Robert's Rules of Order and she always called me down when I misstepped. So, you can have an amendment to an amendment, but you can't have an amendment to an amendment to an amendment! Check! I got it!



I watched most of the meeting last night on Channel 26 and it brought back memories of when I chaired councils and committees years ago. One lady had memorized Robert's Rules of Order and she was always calling me down when I misstepped. So, you can have an amendment to an amendment, but you can't have an amendment to an amendment to an
amendment. Check, I got it!


13 people like this
Posted by Allen
a resident of Community Center
on May 19, 2015 at 11:23 am

Some people love chains, others hate them. A restrictive law is guaranteed to be unfair to some people. This is a democracy we live in. A highly vocal minority should not dictate the laws.
Just vote with your wallet. Patronize the stores you want to stay on California Avenue, and shun the others. If "local" is important to you, talk it up. Focus on swaying public opinion, not that of our council members.


2 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 19, 2015 at 12:31 pm

The new Council is grappling with the huge problems,imbalances,and loss
of character,aesthetic values and quality of life in Palo Alto over the
last more than ten years. Planning, zoning, design review all were
a facade with no substance and no foresight, no concern as to where we heading. Now we have arrived and the destination is not pretty. San Francisco was talking about "formula" retail more than ten years ago. But that is a complicated and peripheral issue, more of a nuance for Palo Alto at this point considering the massive change underway. The City needs to address the much more fundamental issues of over-zoning, excessive FAR's and too narrow setbacks in commercial and residential areas, and a design review process which has completely failed in its purpose. In Palo Alto
we need to get back to basics.


5 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 19, 2015 at 12:33 pm

"The goal sounds simple: Protect California Avenue's quirky character"

There is nothing left to protect. The "quirky" character of California Avenue was completely destroyed by the government funded gentrification project which replaced California Avenue's unique retail experience with a generic experience you can find in any Sunnyvale strip mall.

If California avenue is to be "saved" the City Council needs to stop talking about preserving California Avenue, and start talking about restoring it.

Step one... a 100% ban on new chain stores. Existing chain stores should be given generous financial incentives to leave. The city needs to spend as much money restoring California Avenue, as they spent destroying it. Restoration funds must be channeled directly to the small business owners, who are the true innovators, and victims of this real-estate developer driven, government funded, program to destroy independent businesses.


13 people like this
Posted by JIm H
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 19, 2015 at 12:59 pm

One of the main reasons Cal Ave is now successful is because of some of the chains that have been added. Starbucks attracts people. That's just a fact. I love Palo Alto Pizza and Palo Alto Sol, izzys, etc... I also like The Counter and Pizza Studio. And i encoroage everyone to visit the little toy store on the east end of the street. The city need to eliminate the conversion to office buildings. Or, as some said, make the entire ground floor retail. That will give you workers to visit the stores and also add to the retail.


9 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 19, 2015 at 1:53 pm

re Mayor Holman's comment..."The market moves much faster than governments can and we've seen that time and time again". Very true, but understated. I like her and she is a very aware and astute person. And I'm serious when I say that and that I like her. She's a good mayor, friendly, but resolved and direct in guiding that herd of cats on CC...that is a tough assignment sometimes.

Yes, we have seen that time and time again. I believe there will also be another Ice Age. We'll all be covered over by glaciers so the great tree canopy plan won't have been implemented and won't matter anymore. And, as far as getting ahead of all potential impacts (getting back to Cal Ave), well, I think we're at least 20 years too late. The horse got out of the barn long ago and no amount of oats will lure it back. Actually, that one is dead by now since it's been so long ago.

Us old timers can only reminisce about how good it was long ago. We enjoyed it then, but it will never be the same. I could search my brain and probably come up with a long list of small businesses from way back then that we enjoyed and patronized, but that are now gone. I bought a lot of clothes at Harryman's, a clothing store on the Bank of The West side of the street...went to movies at the Fine Arts theater, bought drugs and other things at Stan Bishop's Rexall Drug store, and on and on. Oh, and the Winery at the end at El Camino...I gave them lots of business. Not the finest wine in the world, but cheap wine starts tasting pretty good after a while, that extra 15 minutes of aging in your 3rd glass does the trick. I miss Kirks's...best burger ever...sorry Counter...but it would have been so much better with fries rather than potato chips.

I like Jon Carroll in the Chron and I always liked Will Rogers poking fun at politicians. If that's coming out in me, well okay, just deal with it, and that's the way I'm intending it to.

I know I've overextended my time online. Good luck CC. You are underpaid, even after that raise you got recently, for what you do. I know you have different constituencies you have to support, and that's understandable, but looking out for the better good of all of PA's future is more important. Just do it.


8 people like this
Posted by Ronna Devincenzi
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 19, 2015 at 2:34 pm

If someone has an answer to this, please share it with me?

Many years ago, I'm guessing between 12 and 15 years, the owner of a ground floor building at Palo Alto Central (businesses across the street from Mollie Stones, the one with all the condos, address is 101 California Avenue) came to our California Avenue Area Development Association board meeting, several times, begging for the board's support to be able to use her large space as offices.

Her problem was that over the years, restaurant after restaurant went in, each failing, after not too long. I think the longest any tenant was there was two years; it was a constant turnover of restaurants. It is a space hidden from the street, just beyond the front courtyard.

Each time she came to ask for the CAADA Board's help, as a group, she was denied. [NOTE: I personally supported her request, believing in this one instance, after all of her efforts to make it work, she should have been shown mercy.]

The majority of the CAADA board, however, wanted to keep all of California Avenue ground floor retail, with no exceptions. The city would not allow this owner to rent for office use, without CAADA support.

So can someone please tell me if a "ground floor retail" ordinance is still in place? Or has it been in place all this time & just not enforced?

I understand what happened at last night's meeting would limit nail/hair salons, possibly the number of restaurants, banks, and include other areas outside of the specific boundaries of California Avenue, per say, and it is in conjunction with an "emergency" ordinance passed not long ago.

I know it would exclude those businesses that are grandfathered in, being in place prior to the legislation that (I thought) was in effect 12-15 years ago, and before this most recent council action.

But I've not been following this too closely. My understanding was that there has always been "ground floor retail" protection for any ground floor business space on California Avenue.

If anything I wrote is in error, please correct me. In advance, thank you.


8 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 19, 2015 at 3:00 pm

Sounds to me that people will make exclusions for any chains they happen to like and only complain about the chains they don't like.


4 people like this
Posted by Jane
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 19, 2015 at 4:27 pm

@ Commonsense.
Yes, it is embarrassing that previous council majorities did not follow through with the city manager and his planning staff on the area plan for the California Avenue business district as directed some 7 years ago. But please don't castignize the current council for previous councils' failings.


As a result of last fall's elections, residents' concerns are being prioritised by the new majority of competent, knowledgeable, and thoughtful council members. And a new extremely experienced mayor who is putting on the council agenda the issues the majority of citizens responded to when they voted on the candidates' platforms last fall.

Over many decades the council has been dominated by those who did not on the whole prioritise residents' concerns when they conflicted with influential developers, related professions, and powerful big business community who held sway. What is sometimes called the Palo Alto 500, though may be living in towns like Woodside and Atherton. There's been an imbalance, and finally voters sat up and took notice of what has been happening. Unfortunately a bit late because previous councils' directions can't be undone, but better late than never.









2 people like this
Posted by Casa de Cerveza
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 19, 2015 at 4:29 pm

Casa de Cerveza is a registered user.

"Rather than simply banning chain stores or imposing a limit, staff has suggested requiring them to obtain conditional-use permits and creating a process by which people can appeal the approval of these permits."

Preparing a conditional use permit is no big deal. Chain stores retain armies of attorneys who could prepare a templated document they've used in similar circumstances elsewhere. Then, we have a discussion. Go for it!


2 people like this
Posted by jane
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 19, 2015 at 4:33 pm

@ahem:

You refer to an $8+ million dollar government handout to private property owners. Which you have also brought up on previous posts recently.

I'm mystified as to what you are referring to. Can you explain what this government handout was for, who it went to, and when. I've lived here for over 40 years and have closely followed what has happened in the California Avenue business district and have no idea what you are talking about.


15 people like this
Posted by Gail
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 19, 2015 at 4:53 pm

Mayor Holman is the best mayor we have had in many years. She understands Palo Alto, studies the issues, is prepared, is polite but firm, responds to people who email her, and is generally on top of things. She is smart.
Two of our three new city council members, Filseth and DuBois are doing a good job too. But, sadly, downtown Palo Alto is gone. Our prior city council let the downtown slip away, due to their incompetence.


Like this comment
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on May 19, 2015 at 5:14 pm

"The new Council is grappling with the huge problems,imbalances,and loss
of character,aesthetic values and quality of life in Palo Alto over the
last more than ten years. Planning, zoning, design review all were
a facade with no substance and no foresight, no concern as to where we heading. Now we have arrived and the destination is not pretty."

The starting gun was fired when the 800 High referendum lost. Developers and their politicians took the clue and ran amok with it.


1 person likes this
Posted by Johnny
a resident of Midtown
on May 19, 2015 at 7:31 pm

"Grappling" to preserve a "retail experience". Oh no! Where will i go to spend my money??? There are no words to express how frivolous... nevermind, its unbelievable how marshmallows soft all these people are. I think Cal Ave needs a rodeo or a gladiatorial arena. I'm dying for some actual entertainment in Palo Alto.

Message to city council & government: sounds like you're get nothing done, so would you kindly stop siphoning money out of my paycheck?


16 people like this
Posted by PAmoderate
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 19, 2015 at 10:28 pm

PAmoderate is a registered user.

Of course we need to protect the boutiques run by bored spouses of well-to-do Palo Altans. Or the dinosaurs that hold on in the age of buying online.

Leave it to government to make central planning decisions. That worked well in the Soviet Union and Communist China. Great Leap Forward indeed.


2 people like this
Posted by Alice Schaffer Smith
a resident of Green Acres
on May 20, 2015 at 9:36 am

Having just returned from Chicago where very few quirky non chain stores remain, keep up the good work. One of the chain stores, Corner Bakery, could not have been more different from the one on ECR. It was dirty, understaffed, chaotic, disorganized, and I am sure the staff underpaid and overworked. I was not aware it was a "chain". Keep up the good work on minimum wage reform, too.


2 people like this
Posted by Don
a resident of Los Altos
on May 20, 2015 at 11:35 am


"Of course we need to protect the boutiques run by bored spouses of well-to-do Palo Altans"

To which boutiques are you referring?


Like this comment
Posted by Don
a resident of Los Altos
on May 20, 2015 at 11:40 am

Regarding The Corner Bakery... the place is clean, I'll give it that. However, it's also devoid of customers. My prediction is it'll be gone before the end of the year.


3 people like this
Posted by Mystified
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 20, 2015 at 1:25 pm

As someone who works downtown and lives within biking distance, I find the bellyaching about University Ave on these forums somewhat mystifying.

University Ave is full of shoppers. There are so many people on the streets, going to restaurants, shopping at stores, drinking coffee, talking and laughing. The evenings are crowded with couples in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s having a nice time. There are a few chains, but less than a third of the stores. And, as someone who doesn't usually patronize them, there are so many options that are not chains that I never have difficulty finding something I like.

Fifteen years ago, University Ave was like Cal Ave is today - a place with a few shops and restaurants, but also a place that closed down at 8pm. There were maybe fewer chains (no Cheesecake Factory), but there were fewer non-chain restaurants overall - or at least, that's the ways it's seemed to me.

True, there's probably fewer clothing stores, but that's easy to find a mile away at the Stanford Mall or Town and Country.

Downtown today seems like the picture of success. What is it that people on this thread are objecting to? What is it you wish you had? I'm not arguing with you, just mystified as to what you are looking for in a downtown shopping district.


2 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 20, 2015 at 5:45 pm

@Mystified and others

I'm not all that mystified and here's why. Most of the complainers are senior citizens like me, living in the past, and believe me, it was a good past. I'm 78, a recent widower, and I would be scared to go downtown alone now, especially after dark. I would be spotted in a minute and there are bad people out there lurking, just looking for easy targets like me. So I don't go down town much anymore except rarely during the daylight hours.

I do understand the enjoyment you're getting from the vibrant night life and all those restaurants available. If I was your age and had a sweetie I'd be right out there with you. You must be no older then 60, just a guess, right? Sorry, probably a lot younger than that and I apologize if you are. I remember so many good restaurants that are gone. We loved eating el fresco at the Empire Room outdoor tables under the heat lamps. Is Rose and Crown still in business? I threw darts there, ate their bangers, and remember the 'black and tan' beer. I remember Rapp's shoe store and Wideman's, a high end men's clothing store, but I digress. I'm remembering too much. Well, maybe not. I remember walking downtown on University with my wife on warm summer evenings, meeting friends there, musical groups from South America performing at Lytton Plaza, street musicians, guitar cases open for our contribution, and other kinda weird but unthreatening people. Good times!

We have to make way for this new generation, however they choose to evolve, emerge, and replace us. Good luck on your endeavors. But at least I have my memories and am recording them for my Life Stories class at Avenidas...some day you'll get your chance to relate yours to your kids and grandkids. Your story will be a lot different than mine I know, but they'll love it, I'm sure, just the same. Then they'll get their crack at it after you're gone. PA will look so much different by then.

But, back to Cal Ave. I've tried, in my mind, to create or recreate the perfect ideal store frontage on that short avenue to include small independently owned retail businesses like I remember them from years ago. Not having much luck. Wow, I wish CC would take that same challenge. Unfortunately I get lost in the past that is gone forever. This is going to take time for me and I might get my assignment in late...but no worries. I remember how CC works...no urgency.

I think it's a mixed bag of issues. There might be some stores there that are protected by long term leases. When those leases are up it might be 'goodbye' time. Some stores might be operated by the property owners themselves. Don't take away FedEx, one is enough tho. I'm giving myself an assignment. Go down and count the number of restaurants. Has staff provided that information already, or will I be wasting my time? Does anyone on CC have a clue? I think we have enough and a big variety. Just a gut feel. Miss 'The Plantation' tho.

Would Liz Kniss please explain her conflict of interest. We public citizens and voters should know about it.


7 people like this
Posted by Agenda
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 20, 2015 at 5:57 pm

What I would like to,know from our " knows-what's-best-for-everyone" mayor and her acolytes on the council and PASZ who exactly are these "local" retailers that will fill all the shopping space once the evil chain stores have been eradicated. Has this actually been thought through r is this another one of holmans pipe dreams-- chain stores will leave and the spaces will be filled with local retail that will fulfill all our shopping needs. I hate to tell Holman et al, but that ship sailed a long time go, given palo altos reputation as being impossible to get anything done in a. Real time frame.
And we have a perfect sample of that with the rapid closing of chez frank-- a local establishment shutting down in a matter of months. Of course the place was a year late in opening. One has to wonder if the onerous palo,alto,approval process played a role in this.
[Portion removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on May 20, 2015 at 7:18 pm

There seems to be some confusion. This potential ordinance would not ban new chain stores or eradicate existing ones.

The proposal, which has yet to evolve, would require prospective chain stores to apply for a conditional use permit. City staff would evaluate the fit of the aspiring business and there would be a process for people to appeal their decision.

In my opinion, the discussion about keeping California Ave funky is just a distraction. You can't legislate funky, even if the people want it, and at least in theory, a chain could be funky.

It seems to me this is about giving the entrepreneur a chance to compete with the big guys.


9 people like this
Posted by carmel
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 21, 2015 at 8:10 am

I really like all the independent shops in Carmel - lots of galleries, jewelers, nick-nack stories. I love going there for that. But I go there for that as part of a vacation. If that's all I had on Cal Ave that would be a bit problematic as those aren't exactly everyday purchases.

I really wish that the focus was less on "chains v. independent shops" and more on 1) what are everyday needs of residents and 2) how do we put needs close to people so that they are easily in reach (i.e. you can just walk over, you don't necessarily have to drive).

This chain proposal, if not for grandfathering, would have prevented Mollie Stone's from being built. That's really problematic - it's probably the number one place I go to on Cal Ave to grab some groceries.

I also love going to Village Stationers but that's also a chain store. And yet, having a stationary store seems like a huge boon to me and apparently many others as that place always has customers.

And I'll add that there are some chains that I'd really like to see on Cal Ave. I bet most people would be thrilled if Philz moved in. I'm a big fan of Five Guys and would love to see them come, too.

And then there's the "boutiques" on Cal Ave. That one store next to Brioche - with its $500 summer dresses - is not of any use to me or anyone I know. Sorry, but I'd totally trade it for a Five Guys.


2 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of College Terrace
on May 21, 2015 at 1:09 pm

This is just to pacify very vocal and well off. The rest of us...


Like this comment
Posted by Mystified
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 21, 2015 at 1:10 pm

I totally agree with carmel. I like Cal Ave and go there frequently, but I would be happy with a Blue Bottle or a Philz. Something like a Five Guys would be good, and would still be "eclectic", IMO.

It sounds like Agenda and Abitarian are really talking about the same thing - how do we make it possible for an entrepreneur to succeed with a great idea? And, to Gale Johnson's point, that's a much better way to think about this than trying to preserve the shops that were there 20 years ago. With the Internet, it's not clear that all of those shops meet peoples' needs today. And back in the 90s, shops probably turned over when generations and tastes changed, too.

Do we know what it is that is keeping people from opening small businesses? Would a ban on chain stores really help? I think Agenda's point that long approval processes get in the way of great new retail ideas sounds just as likely. Chains have the capital to wait it out, individuals don't.

It would be great to see the staff and city council gathering some evidence on what's wrong here. The chain store ban sounds like jumping to a solution before you understand what the problem is.


2 people like this
Posted by Deep Throat
a resident of another community
on May 21, 2015 at 2:29 pm

Gale Johnson: "Would Liz Kniss please explain her conflict of interest. We public citizens and voters should know about it."

Liz Kniss purchased a six-unit apartment complex at 260 College Avenue on December 12, 2013, that is less than 500 feet from the rear property line of the closest commercial property on California Avenue.

Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) regulation 18702.2(a)(11) says "any decision affecting real property value located within 500 feet of the property line of the official's real property" has a material foreseeable financial effect that requires the government official to recuse herself from participating in the decision unless the FPPC provides "written advice allowing an official to participate under these circumstances if the Commission determines that there are sufficient facts to indicate that there will be no reasonably foreseeable measurable impact on the official's property."

Liz Kniss recused herself pending a determination about whether she does indeed have a conflict. If she can participate, I trust that she will obtain written advice from the FPPC that is a public record rather than just relying on phone conversations between the FPPC and City Attorney Molly Stump.


13 people like this
Posted by donate early and often
a resident of Community Center
on May 21, 2015 at 3:50 pm

Agenda, you should know by now that you cannot criticize Bill Johnson s good buddy Karen Holman. Only comments like gails (best mayor etc) are allowed. Remember, Bill has helped promote her career by not reporting on her misdeeds (i.e finders fees etc). So next time, just praise Holman and make a donation to the weekly.


1 person likes this
Posted by Gale johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 21, 2015 at 6:07 pm

@Mystified and Deep Thoat

Thanks! We lost three good stores that served California Ave well in their day: a music store, a hardware store, and a florist. I'm guessing it was a combination of things that drove them out. Rent increases and competition, and maybe to a lesser extent Internet online buying. Home Depot and OSH were too tough to compete with, although Gary at Peninsula Hardware is hanging on. Safeway and Piazza's offer wonderful flowers, although not the big floral arrangements for weddings and memorial services. I don't know about the music store. Online buying might have had something to do with it. I now go to West Valley Music on Castro in Mt. View.

I hope staff and CC will do some research on this. Why did those stores, and others, leave and what makes anyone think they will be coming back? How many floral arrangements would it take to just pay for one month's rent, e.g.?


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Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 21, 2015 at 7:29 pm

Is Palo Alto brain-dead?

No one seems to be able to articulate a unique vision for California Avenue beyond it should have their own personal favorite chain-store, or that it should look like some other place... University Avenue, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, or Carmel.

There is more at stake here, than what's your personal favorite overpriced coffee.

Do you want to live in Palo Alto? Or, would you be perfectly happy living in a place called Palo Alto, but that looks just like Sunnyvale?

The barbarians are at the gate. Palo Alto looks more and more like Sunnyvale every day. You can see it advancing up El Camino from the south, like a gigantic five-story tall glacier of strip-mall architecture, crushing everything unique in its path.

(glacier: Web Link)


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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 21, 2015 at 8:50 pm

Love that analogy, Ahem. Whatever happened to the fine art of political cartooning?


2 people like this
Posted by Sparty
a resident of another community
on May 22, 2015 at 1:12 am

Sparty is a registered user.

What happens to malls when an "anchor store" leaves?

anyone?


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Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on May 22, 2015 at 7:49 am

SteveU is a registered user.

"What happens to malls when an "anchor store" leaves?"

Sunnyvale Town Center (the Mall)

It took a decade+ to add the 3rd Anchor: JCP to Macys and Wards
It took another decade+ to tear the then whole mostly vacant mess down
Why did these once thriving Malls fail? Greed (higher rents)? Lousy cost containment (Higher Expenses, passed on to tenants )?

I remember shopping in the area BEFORE they built the Mall. It was an area similar to the older Cal Ave, shops for everyday needs as well as special occasions. Simply put: A Mix of businesses, Local and National


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Posted by Mystified
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 22, 2015 at 9:15 am

Ahem, can you say a little more about how Cal Ave is turning into Sunnyvale?

Is it just the look and feel of the buildings? (Literally, height?). From my perspective, a downtown with tall buildings is what differentiates PA from most other cities in the Peninsula. I'd love to see some taller buildings in Meno Park.

To me, what's interesting about a city is its people, not the physical shape of its buildings. Since I've lived and worked in the area, Palo Alto has stood for innovation, and it's been a unique place where people in the coffee shops talk about ideas that can change the world and then actually do them!

But I've only lived in the area for 15 years, so I may be missing something, if Gale Johnson's interpretation is correct.


4 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 22, 2015 at 12:59 pm

Mystified said:

"To me, what's interesting about a city is its people, not the physical shape of its buildings"

So, to you, there is no difference between LA and Paris except the people?

The built physical environment plays a role in shaping culture. While Palo Alto has a long standing (but diminishing) reputations for innovation in technology, that reputation for innovation is not shared by Palo Alto's real-estate development community, who look to Sunnyvale for inspiration.

Outside of a few areas of technology, Palo Alto is becoming a cultural wasteland. Stanford disbanded its architecture department in the 1970s. Local real-estates developers do not hire the best and brightest, but instead prefer compliant hacks, that are happy to ape the strip mall architecture of their vision-less client's dreams.


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Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 22, 2015 at 1:54 pm

@Mystified

I always enjoy your comments and glad you're on board and here among us, but yes, as a relative new resident, and a newbie to our political discussion and process, I think you don't understand many of the things I say and talk about, having lived hers so long, and I understand that.

Sometimes I think I have it all figured out, but maybe not totally. Big box stores weren't even heard of back then and have taken their toll. Now you can buy a grand piano at Costco's for cripes sake. I was gonna use much different and stronger language there but refrained. Our world marketplace has changed. No more agoras...except thank goodness for our two wonderful local farmers' markets. But our ideas of a locally owned small retail business on Cal Ave just stray all over the map and into our old lingering memories. I don't think staff or the CC have a clue how to proceed on this other than kicking the can down the road.

And believe me, I don't either. I think the marketplace will decide where businesses will be successful or not. Unfortunately, I think the little independently owned mom and pop stores will only make it in small town America, take your pick, farm towns in Montana, Iowa, Kansas, et al. I remember when we had a Coast To Coast store up in our Charleston Center. I bought a lot of stuff there.

We need help, not long CC meetings, to move ahead on this. The sooner we all get on board and understand what's possible and what's not the better off we'll be.


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