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Luring grocery stores problematic for Palo Alto

Original post made on Aug 14, 2008

Palo Alto could support existing grocery stores, and attract new ones, by making it easier for the stores to expand and offering incentives, such as helping a store finance solar panels.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, August 14, 2008, 3:41 PM

Comments (29)

Posted by you people find joy in nothing
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 14, 2008 at 4:41 pm

Hmmm, thats funny. I cant understand why Palo Alto would have a hard time attracting anything.

I mean, Palo Alto is so darn good at attracting criminals and crazy homeless people. It also excels in attracting self loathing prius drivers as well as many bad restaurants to to it's glamorous university avenue.

Oh well, at least everyone has a million dollar home in P.A., just be careful not to leave its safety at night. And be sure to use it's kitchen to cook because god knows there isn't a chef in this city worth their dull knife that will make anything better.

Thats all for now, and with a tip of my cap I bid you a good day!

Posted by solar panels are the answer?!? yeah right
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 14, 2008 at 4:50 pm

"Palo Alto could support existing grocery stores, and attract new ones, by making it easier for the stores to expand and offering incentives, such as helping a store finance solar panels."

In light of rising transportation costs, soaring food prices,and decreasing sales I'm sure grocery stores are thrilled that Palo Alto will now offer them a rebate for solar panels! Solar panels sure will attract new grocery stores and store expansions!

Posted by sally
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 14, 2008 at 5:36 pm

Didn't Palo Alto essentially kick Albertson's out of the Alma Plaza a few years ago? Albertson's really wanted to improve their store, but Palo Alto told them to take a hike. Now Palo Alto wants to encourage grocery stores? If I were a grocery store, I wouldn't believe it.

Posted by a long time resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 14, 2008 at 6:29 pm

Albertsons owned the land of all of Alma Plaza. With them owning the site the Palo Alto Developers and their elected friends couldn't make millions of $$.

Lucky and albertsons tried to expand and rebuild for over 10 years finally gave up and sure enough the person/group who was supposto be helping them in their efforts bought the land with the condition no large grocery could be built there.
This was fine with the new owners. They could justify building housing there and make tens of millions of $$ on the new housing.

The idea that Palo Alto wants a walkable city is a joke. Shut down a neighborhood shopping center so the 1000's of people in S Palo Alto will have to drive to Mt.View to find good, large shopping stores.
Now it's happening at the shopping center at Embarcadero and 101. How suprising.

These are just the tip of the iceburg showing how hostile our great leaders are towards South Palo Alto and lands that aren't owned by the "Club" of developers who live behind the curtain.

Posted by Peter
a resident of another community
on Aug 14, 2008 at 8:47 pm

Long time, Albertson's put that no large grocery provision in the sales agreement in a fit of pique at not getting a variance for a store larger than 20,000 sq.ft., the limit in Palo Alto. The troubles at Alma Plaza stem largely from the neighborhood associations holding things up for more housing, then less housing, retail, then no retail -- an ever changing list of demands.

Posted by Need Bigger Stores in PA
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 14, 2008 at 9:36 pm

I love Palo Alto, but hate it that these neighborhood groups keep blocking the store expansions. I live near Alma Plaza, and when Albertson's was there I didn't use it much because they never had what I wanted. I needed a bigger store with more selection. Many Palo Alto people seem to not want the stores near them because of increased traffic, but does it not occur to them that MANY people are travelling THROUGH Palo Alto to get to Mountain View and Redwood City where the shoping is more convenient??? I support the smaller stores such as Piazza's, but want bigger stores in Palo Alto as well.

Plus, it's better to pey sales tax in our home city...

Posted by a long time risident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 14, 2008 at 10:05 pm

The 20,000 sq ft limit did not apply to Albertsons as they had a , I cant think of the name now., but were exempt from that limit (conditional use permit?? or special zoning??) I think they did get some kind of approval for a 35,000 sq ft store.

The so called neighborhood group was about 20 to 30 people and were probably mostly friends of the developer and the other little stores.

There was as I recall a petition from about 900 people in the surrounding area supporting a bigger store.

The council delayed approving a bigger store while the Charleston road traffic study was going on. BOGUS excuse to delay a neighborhood store.
Alma Plaza is on what is really the Alma St Expressway a long ways from Charleston Rd.
The JCC project on Charleston Rd, wasn't delayed years because of a traffic study.

We should petition for a "WINCO" store somewhere in S Palo Alto or N.Mt View.
We should also get free bus service to the Mt View shopping center on San Antonio, Like the free busses to the downtown business district that was put in place as a subsidy to the wealthy business people downtown. Probably a million $$ a year of our tax money.

Posted by What is done is done
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 15, 2008 at 2:37 am

Albertson's first proposed a 36,000 sq. ft. store on the Alma Plaza site, however, the local residents said it was too big and would create too much traffic!!!! Albertson's then offered to build a 29,000 sq. ft. store. The City then imposed the building moritorium, and Albertsons sold the Alma Plaza site to a developer

Albertson's included a clause in the sales agreement that no store could be built on the Alma Plaza site bigger than 17,000 sq. ft. And, since the developer really wanted to build housing anyway, he agreed to this.

This is a classic case of: "Be careful for what you may ask, you may get it." In this case it is a little grocery store because the local residents initially lobbied long and hard against a 36,000 sq. ft. store. As for their change of heart and later petitioning for a bigger grocery store, that was done after the sale of the site to the developer with the restrictive clause included.

Posted by Short sighted
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 15, 2008 at 2:57 am

What Palo Alto needs desperately are larger grocery stores. With Menlo Park Safeway at 65,000 sq. ft. and a possible new Whole Foods at 58,000 sq. ft. Meanwhile Mountain View has a much larger Safeway and Whole Foods Store than Palo Alto.

Palo Alto simply cannot compete with their pathetically small 20,000 sq. ft. stores, as we all drive to neighboring cities for one stop shopping.

I hope the City Council sees the error of it's ways keeping this ridiculously small 20,000 sq. ft zoning code for grocery stores. They should moves quickly to increase the size of grocery stores to a maximum of at least 50,000 sq. ft.

Posted by Al
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Aug 15, 2008 at 3:51 am

The City's continued pursuit of Fiber to the Home and its claim of "innovation" has to mean more people using home shopping via the Internet. Why else become involved? So--why go to a retail store in Palo Alto when you can shop all over the world. If Safeway can put a home shopping center in Menlo Park, or EPA--why bother to patronize a store in Palo Alto?

It won't be long before many of the retail stores will be somewhere else. The Planning&Transportation Commission can't be that daft--or can they?

Posted by Not so fast
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 15, 2008 at 6:24 am

Well to paraphrase others "It's the size, stupid". No grocery chain is going to want to build a small (20K square foot) store in PA and I bet you no chain is going to want to have to deal with neighborhood associations ("it will bring too much traffic") and a do-nothing city council to try to build a larger store. Companies know what it is like to deal with PA when it comes to building something and most will say "no thanks".
Our city council and certain members in particular love to talk about "walkable neighborhoods"--well, that is what it is--all talk. They have done nothing to really promote this idea. During their tenure they let a neighborhood activist from Charleston Meadows (i.e. Charleston Road building moratorium) and a small, vocal neighborhood group (let's play the "grocery store is too big, the grocery store is too small" game with Alma Plaza) drive out a nice sized store from Alma Plaza. the same will happen with Edgewood Plaza.
Our council is primarily to blame for this--they refuse to take definitive action for fear of upsetting certain vocal members of our community and thereby causing conflict.
Now the Planning and Transportation Committee will meet and talk and make jokes, but they will accomplish little.
Isn;t it about time that all of our city "leaders" that have been talking about walkable neighborhoods, step up and actually do something about it?

Posted by Local Neighbor who'd love a big store
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 15, 2008 at 8:21 am

"Be careful for what you ask, you may get it" is obviously coming true at Edgewood Plaza. One or two local residents originally lobbied to retain the original Eickler grocery store, and made a big deal of it being Eickler's only retail store.

The developer heard these people and apparently has designed the whole residential/retail Edgewood Plaza site in the Eickler style, probably because it is a very cheap form of construction. Well, I hope the Edgewood Plaza neighbors like it because imitation Eicklers are going to be boxy and not very attractive.

Edgewood Plaza would be a great place to put a 40,000 - 50,000 sq. ft. grocery store but it won't happen because the plans have already been drawn up and you can't change the rules in the middle of the game!! Anyway, the local NIMBYS will start screaming "too much traffic"!!!

Posted by Miriam Palm
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 15, 2008 at 10:12 am

I recently visited San Diego and was very impressed with a grocery chain called Fresh & Easy. It's a British company with a different type of business model (pre-packaged food delivered from a central warehouse, minimal staff, self check-out), and most of their stores are 10K sf or fewer. I believe several are planned in the Bay Area for 2009. From what I saw, I think it would be a good choice for Alma Plaza, among other sites. My friends in Spring Valley love their store in Casa de Oro. The prices were amazing.
Web Link

Posted by Walter E. Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 15, 2008 at 10:19 am

I remember the lust to shut down that little grocer on Homer[?] because it was a non-complying usage - forget its convenience to the neighborhood. Planning usually is dedicated to erase last year's planning mistakes.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 15, 2008 at 2:04 pm

I do 75+% of my grocery shopping outside Palo Alto because the supermarkets here are too small and do not have the selection I want. If I can get a better selection then I will drive further for my larger shopping trips so that I can get what I want. I just use the small PA shops for quick shopping trips for something needed urgently or quickly.

Please can we get some decent reasonably priced supermarkets like the new Safeway in Menlo Park and Redwood City.

I also do not necessarily want a store in walking distance, because I do not want my teenagers going there everyday to buy soda or other unhealthy stuff. I would rather have them eating the food I buy for home rather than being able to have easy access to what they like when they like it.

Posted by trudy
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 15, 2008 at 4:31 pm

So there are 9 grocery stores already in Palo Alto, and Whole Foods is certainly within walking distance of Crescent Park where I used to live, I did that a lot, so what is the big deal? There is no need for more grocery stores. You can drive to several grocery stores in five minutes from anywhere in Palo Alto.

Posted by Need Bigger Stores in PA
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 15, 2008 at 4:56 pm

Last time we voted for council members, I looked for candidates who supported bigger stores in Palo Alto. I didn't find any. I'll look again this time.

Posted by George
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 15, 2008 at 5:35 pm

I've lived here since 1954. All I can say is: typical Palo Alto NIMBY attitude. We believe this is "the best of all possible worlds" and cling to the past as it rots around us. There is no tolerance here for the long range vision needed for planning. We are all so smart so everyone else must be wrong.

Posted by Former Los Altos Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 16, 2008 at 12:37 pm

So, the P & T Commission is recommending giving grocery stores credit for solar panels presumably on the roof. How about recommending what the Safeway store in Los Altos is doing.

They plan to enlarge their store and build over the parking lot. They plan to put parking spaces on the roof of their store.

Please P & T Commission look ahead it's time to greatly expand the Safeway store in Midtown and provide for parking on the roof of the store. If Los Altos is forward looking enough to agree to parking on the roof, it's high time Palo Alto did the same thing. Then, we can have a decent sized Safeway store in Palo Alto.

Posted by Too Many People
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 16, 2008 at 4:18 pm

There are too many people living in this general area, while other areas of California have seen a decrease in population and drop in housing price.

Our schools are over crowded, and we have run out of space to build stores to meet the demands of this increasing population.

We have been told to cut back our water, and decrease our waste.

There is a serious problem here.

Posted by mom
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 16, 2008 at 6:29 pm

There is a new produce store on El Camino called Barron Park Produce, but I haven't yet tried it. It is the closest store for Greenacres residents.

Posted by shops outside Palo Alto
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 17, 2008 at 10:26 am

The grocery store issue comes down to economics. There are only a few grocery chains left, and they need a minimum retail size to make the store site economically feasible, or they won't waste time going into that location. I know someone who personally worked on the Alma Plaza issue, and the HOAs and city wouldn't back down on the fight re the grocery store footage issue, so no grocer will go in now. And the other chains are intimidated by the prospect of fighting Palo Alto politics to place one of their stores here; they can go where stores are needed.
So you made your bed now, have fun shopping for produce at gas stations.

Posted by aroma
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Aug 17, 2008 at 12:18 pm

mmmm... the smell of fresh produce mixed with the fumes of car exhaust and gasoline

Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 17, 2008 at 2:27 pm

Earlier today, shops outside Palo Alto wrote:

"I know someone who personally worked on the Alma Plaza issue, and the HOAs and city wouldn't back down on the fight re the grocery store footage issue, so no grocer will go in now."

If so, there will also be no housing, as the approved Planned Community District for the site requires a lease agreement or other legally binding commitment from a grocer to occupy 15,000 square feet of space prior to the city's granting of any residential building permits. We'll see.

Posted by ARF
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Aug 19, 2008 at 1:24 pm

I do not know the zoning laws.
Could anything be done with empty site at Arastradero and El Camino Real?
Trader's Joe is a small grocery store but complete. Is there no place we could place a store that size in South Palo Alto?
I have to do +90% of my grocery shopping outside of Palo Alto.

Posted by Huh?
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 19, 2008 at 3:39 pm

There's a TJ's in the San Antonio shopping center, just a couple miles down the road. Why not shop there?

As others have pointed out before, groceries are largely sales tax exempt, so not big revenue generators for the town. Though our ban on bigger stores is a head scratcher to me.

Developing El Camino in South PA is another kettle of fish. It very challenging without eminent domain to put together meaningful sized parcels with parking. My guess is that in 20 years things will pick up as housing density and values increase in that part of town (more purchasing power) but it will take a while.

Posted by Customer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 20, 2008 at 9:32 am

Huh? Grocery stores today sell much more than food, they sell taxable items too, which is a very good reason to make them larger so customers can buy taxable item with one stop shopping.

Posted by ARF
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Aug 20, 2008 at 1:11 pm

Dear Huh?, I bicycle, or walk to the San Antonio shopping center. I was only hoping for some place to get more food variety than Walgreens. And I wondered if the old Volvo Auto dealer ship had enough space for a TJ's

Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 20, 2008 at 3:23 pm

Earlier today, ARF wrote:
"I do not know the zoning laws.
Could anything be done with empty site at Arastradero and El Camino Real?"

The zoning there is Service Commercial ("CS") with an Auto Dealership ("AD") combining district. This AD overlay zoning was established in 2004 to serve as as an incentive to help attract and retain auto dealerships in certain sites and was applied to the Carlsen Volvo (Arastradeo and El Camino) site as well as others.

The underlying CS zoning, as with a related (CN) zoning in College Terrace near El Camino Real, allows but does not require a grocery store.

If it is true that some or all grocery stores can not bring in the return for landowners that other commercial entities do, and if we want to retain and encourage grocery stores, then incentives for a G (for Grocery) combining district is a good avenue for the city to pursue.

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