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City hopes to preserve Palo Alto Square theater

Original post made on Jul 27, 2016

Two efforts -- one relying on grassroots democracy and the other rooted in the zoning code -- have emerged to try to save the CinéArts theater at 3000 El Camino Real in Palo Alto from closing.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, July 27, 2016, 9:25 AM

Comments (42)

14 people like this
Posted by winter
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 27, 2016 at 10:36 am

Here is the petition to support saving Cine'Arts and the Palo Alto Square Theater. Takes 1 minute to complete and send. Do it now!
Web Link

This is what the petition says:

We the undersigned indicate our support for the continued operation of the Palo Alto Square CinéArts Movie Theater.

Palo Alto Square CinéArts Movie Theater provides a critical part of our cultural and entertainment life in Palo Alto. As only one of two first-run theaters in town, this theater provides access to valuable opportunities not otherwise possible in our community, including several prestigious film festivals, such as the United Nations Affiliated Film Festival and San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, and the popular New York Metropolitan Opera (The MET) simulcasts.

We urge Hudson Pacific Properties, the management of Palo Alto Square, to encourage and retain CinéArts as its tenant.

We urge the City of Palo Alto to work with Hudson Properties and CinéArts management in order to continue the tenancy and operation of CinéArts Theater at Palo Alto Square without interruption.


29 people like this
Posted by Hopenchange
a resident of Professorville
on Jul 27, 2016 at 10:38 am

I plead guilty. I'll take the responsibility for the demise of the Palo Alto Square Theater. In the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, I enjoyed watching indie movies there.

But in 2011, I bought a 70" TV and an Apple TV box, and was able to watch via iTunes all the first run indie movies shown at the Palo Alto Square Theater only six weeks later, but for only $4 a pop and in the comfort of my den.

Blame me.


15 people like this
Posted by Julie Armitano
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 27, 2016 at 10:40 am

I love Palo Alto square theater.
The movies you show there are nice.
My mom and I like it.


12 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 27, 2016 at 10:40 am

Great news!

- When one looks at the Square's founding documents, however,
_ this position, while consistent with the city's 2001 determination,
- becomes a matter of debate.

Well, let's hope that the City can debate this good decision as well
as they can debate for the all the new construction we are seeing
and the bad decisions we've had laetly.


14 people like this
Posted by ALZ
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 27, 2016 at 11:14 am

Cinearts is a treasure. Most of the movies shown there appeal to us. Parking is easy and local restaurants make for an enjoyable outing.


17 people like this
Posted by Stew Plock
a resident of Triple El
on Jul 27, 2016 at 11:21 am

Let me start by saying I'm a big fan of movies at Cine'Arts. The reality of the Cine'Arts theater is that other movie venues outside of Palo Alto serve the Mid-Peninsula with the top first run movies. So the paid attendance at Cine'Arts is often miniscule for new release, more niche types of movies, many of which come out on Netflix or other web-based services later. Other than opening night or a few nights after, the theater is mostly empty. There's no way that a for-profit organization can remain profitable in Palo Alto with a service like the Cine'Arts theater without some sort of subsidy on the rent, but that would the whole public subsidizing the small number of Cine'Arts customers. As far as the festivals that many Cine'Arts customers appreciate and enjoy, those could be run at the Aquarius or at the Stanford.


11 people like this
Posted by Jonathan Brown
a resident of Ventura
on Jul 27, 2016 at 11:32 am

Would a non-profit model similar to the Rafael Film Center, Web Link, work here?


7 people like this
Posted by Hulkamania
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 27, 2016 at 12:15 pm

Great theater. We saw Song Remains The Same there. Got in early. scoped out where the surround speakers had been placed and sat in the sweet spot. Incredible experience.


6 people like this
Posted by Market Forces
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 27, 2016 at 12:36 pm

So are all you petition signers going to chip in and fund the ADA upgrades required for this venue?

Maybe someone can start a "Go Fund Me" campaign.


17 people like this
Posted by Inexcusable
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 27, 2016 at 12:47 pm

Inexcusable is a registered user.

Most of what Hollywood produces is mindless fluff.

Hence the appeal of indie movies; they are the anti-Hollywood.

Many of us would not go out to a theater at all if it weren't for the CineArts in PA Square.


5 people like this
Posted by Sylvia
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 27, 2016 at 12:49 pm

Thanks, Winter, for posting the web link. I signed the petition. I hope, hope, hope that these theaters can be preserved.


6 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 27, 2016 at 2:27 pm

The closing of PA Square is particularly painful because, for me, the remodeling of Aquarius makes it no longer an option. The last time I was there I sat with an elderly friend on aisle seats; since there is no center aisle, perhaps 9 people squeezed in front of us to reach their seats to our left. Far worse is that seats seem tilted backward;
had I allowed my back to rest on the seat, my eyes would have been trained on the ceiling instead of the screen.
I could have forced myself to forgo any backrest, but I positioned my purse behind me for a bit of support. Whoever okayed the Aquarius remodel should be forced to endure a screening in the theater to understand its complete disregard for human factors.

But I will not submit myself to such an unpleasant experience again. Given the Palo Alto population of cinephiles,
it seems ridiculous that our community not support a single viable theater booking art and foreign films.


5 people like this
Posted by Rose
a resident of Mayfield
on Jul 27, 2016 at 3:23 pm

Tell Hudson that they don't need to pay a fortune to upgrade such as the Aquarias has done. Just keep it simple and we will come!


3 people like this
Posted by anon evergreen park
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 27, 2016 at 4:59 pm

anon evergreen park is a registered user.

@Market Forces:

I had not heard that any ADA upgrades were required. Wouldnt bringing the theatre up to ADA code be required only if there was a substantial remodel?

It's a very nice clean comfortable theatre.


6 people like this
Posted by Me
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 27, 2016 at 5:39 pm

"Wouldnt bringing the theatre up to ADA code be required only if there was a substantial remodel?"

Nope. ADA compliance, if that really is the issue, requires remediation immediately.

There are sharks like this guy always lurking:

Web Link

The world moves on, while old people in Palo Alto dream of 1985.


Like this comment
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Jul 27, 2016 at 11:24 pm

The 10-screen upscale theater being built at San Antonio makes the economics of this old 2-screen theatre shakier.

It may take a non-profit endowment to keep it open.


4 people like this
Posted by Jean
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jul 28, 2016 at 1:15 pm

The theatre is scheduled for closure on August 5. I'm hoping the signatures, at the very least, will immediately get our City Council members' attention while they are on their summer break which doesn't end until mid-August. The City Council may be able to put the closure on hold so that a discussion regarding this theatre can take place.


8 people like this
Posted by Free market in action
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 28, 2016 at 1:56 pm

I am sorry, jean, buy how is the city council going to put the closure on hold? This is an event involving 2 private entities. The city council has no say in the closing. I am sure cinemark dies not care what filséth Dubois abs Holman et al have to say.


Like this comment
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 28, 2016 at 2:04 pm

Marie is a registered user.

Thanks once again to PA Weekly and Gennady Shayner for digging into the details and reporting the true issues surrounding the PA Square Cinema controversy.

My only disagreement would be that I believe that including the movie theatre did indeed encourage the city council to approve Palo Alto Square. It was very controversial at the time and I have no doubt that the theatres were a way for the developers to make the construction of those huge ugly out-of-scale buildings acceptable to the city council and city residents.

Since including the theatre was part of the approval of a planned community, it is the job of Palo Alto Square to subsidize the theatres, not the citizens of Palo Alto. The owners of PA Square reap the benefits of the office space, not us. If the rent is low enough, there will be companies ready to use the theatre.

The appropriate rent for those theatres is what a willing buyer is willing to pay PA Square to rent theatres at that location with the existing zoning. It is always amusing when companies want the free market to operate when it helps but not when they can manipulate regulations (ie zoning) to make more profit. There is a long history in Palo Alto of developers weaseling out of benefits provided to get properties upzoned, once time has passed and the city has lost its collective memory. Again, thank you PA Weekly for being a repository of institutional memory that the planning department was unwilling to research.


5 people like this
Posted by Apple
a resident of another community
on Jul 28, 2016 at 2:22 pm

If people want to keep this theater open, they have to solve its economic problem. Using political means to solve an economic problem merely delays the inevitable. The problem will persist.

As Cinemark is leaving and no other theater operator wants to sign a new lease, it's likely the theater runs at an operational loss and/or requires major upgrades to make it profitable.

The question for Cinemark fans is how to solve this financial problem. No company is going to run a theater only to lose money year after year. Palo Alto can't force them to keep the theater open. The city can certainly put up roadblocks that limit redevelopment, but this is a lose-lose for everyone.


4 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 28, 2016 at 2:37 pm

Not everything is about money, and the people who try to reduce everything
down to a family budget don't really know as much about economics or life
as they try to let on.

Whatever needs to happen to keep this place in business needs to happen.
It is the perfect theater for an older more mature audience, and it is not in the
middle of the City or a Mall, parking is easy and free.

The full truth of the situation and history clearly has not come out yet despite
the normal posts by people who act like they know everything or like to play
lawyer or economist.

The owners of Palo Alto Square are on the hook here to forgive rent for a while
or lower costs in order to do what Cinemark thinks it must do to bring the theater
up to snuff. Palo Alto Square doesn't care because if they can use the building
for offices they make more so they have every incentive to drag their feet and
do nothing - so it is up to the City to bring pressure to bear in whatever way
necessary to get PAS to hop to it.

Our City can play real hardball when it does the bidding of corporations and
developers, so it is about time that they do something for the people and the
culture of Palo Alto.

The City has been totally ineffective at incentivizing a new Grocery Store at the
Fresh Market site ... why?

We keep having these election and electing the same people who do the same
kind of job, just caring about the profits of some but not the overall character
and and life of the residents.

Step on it Palo Alto City Council, you can get this done if you want to.


9 people like this
Posted by Modern Times
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 28, 2016 at 3:46 pm

Long ago, my parents used to own a buggy whip factory. Those pesky cars came along and as we said good bye to the horses, we also said good bye to the factory. Then my brother owned a Movie Rental store. He made the transition from VHS tapes to DVDs seamlessly, but once Netflix and streaming came into the picture, we said good bye to the Movie Rental store. My sister used to own a bookstore, and then Borders came into the market, and put an end to her, only to suffer the same fate at the hands of Amazon. And now Hopenchange is trying to gently explain to our fellow readers, that unless you can find a David Packard who is willing to absorb the economic losses that the Stanford Theatre suffers every single day, Cinearts will pass into memory. I hope we can find a better use for the space for our community. This movie theater's time has come, because we have voted with our feet, not to go there.


4 people like this
Posted by Me
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 28, 2016 at 5:49 pm

"The City has been totally ineffective at incentivizing a new Grocery Store at the Fresh Market site ... why?"

Because when something is economic lunacy, no amount of government intervention can solve for fantasies. All you need to do is look at how successful Venezuela is today to see the end result.


3 people like this
Posted by Don
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jul 28, 2016 at 6:08 pm

Modern Times wrote:

"And now Hopenchange is trying to gently explain to our fellow readers, that unless you can find a David Packard who is willing to absorb the economic losses that the Stanford Theatre suffers every single day, Cinearts will pass into memory. I hope we can find a better use for the space for our community. This movie theater's time has come, because we have voted with our feet, not to go there."

Well said.


4 people like this
Posted by cow in
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 28, 2016 at 11:34 pm

Just like in the Buena Vista mobile park travesty, the City wants to change public law to force its whim on a transaction between private individuals already complying with existing laws.


2 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 29, 2016 at 12:16 am

The stupidity and dishonestly of comparing saving a City resource is
only match by the dishonesty of blaming what is happening to Venezuela
on anything but a collapse of oil prices on an economy that is under-diversified.
The same kind of crisis happened under multiple governments in Venezuela
and no good solid economic analysis was used to diversify the economy ...
mostly because the peolpe were under-invested in and under-educated.
Again, not everything is about money, and not every economic argument is
valid ... in fact these days most of them are on the order of too big to fail,
and too big to jail ... slogans produced to justify screwing up communities,
cities, states and whole countries so that people like Donald Trump can
rule over us.

The establishment of a theater was a decision that apparently was made,
a commitment to put a community resources there, and now they are trying
to weasel out of it. Sure they made up a good cover story and
probably people logging in here to support it just for the cash.


2 people like this
Posted by Me
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 29, 2016 at 7:40 am

It is about money and economics when you're expecting the private sector to provide services that that don't have a big enough market to service. What part of that do you not get?


2 people like this
Posted by Apple
a resident of another community
on Jul 29, 2016 at 11:29 am

@CPAnon
The point I was making is that any solution to maintain the theater needs to solve the financial equation. Not everything is about money, but the primary decision maker is the property owner. It cares most about the money.

The city may be able to stop the owner from switching the theater to another use, but it can't stop shutting down the theater. An owner is allowed to go out of business (unless you happen to run a trailer park in Palo Alto, but that's a special case related to the housing business).

If Palo Alto can up the political pressure such that the property owner loses more money in its related Palo Alto businesses by not keeping the theater operating, the owner may agree to keep the theater open a few more years.

Otherwise, the owner may just close the theater and wait it out until it becomes somewhat blighted and fades from people's mind. This is what happened to Menlo Park's old Park Theater.
Web Link

The owner closed that theater. Nine years later, he finally got approval for demolition after enough people gave up the fight and the property became a blight.


2 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 1, 2016 at 1:25 pm

> @CPAnon
> The point I was making is that any solution to maintain the theater needs to solve the financial equation.

You may see it that way, but there are many ways to solve financial equations,
[Portion removed.]
For example, do you know how many stadiums are funded by solving the problems
of cost by dumping it all on local cities by groups of politically organized and powerful
investors. Some of David Cay Johnson's books go into this in detail. The same is true
of WalMarts and many other businesses.

There are many ways to solve financial equations, and why should all of them be about
solving it just for the 0.1% of financial interests. [Portion removed.] It seems like not only are you neutral to public resources, you are actively against them. So, just say that instead of trying to cover it by invoking an incomplete financial context?


Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 1, 2016 at 1:50 pm

The theater should wise up and start selling 10-ticket books for $100 or so. If they sell enough to make the theater profitable, then keep it open. If not, then the problem is Palo Alto residents that whine more than they spend.


2 people like this
Posted by Apple
a resident of another community
on Aug 1, 2016 at 3:21 pm

[Post removed.]


1 person likes this
Posted by Call it a community enhancement
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 1, 2016 at 3:39 pm

>As Cinemark is leaving and no other theater operator wants to sign a new lease,<

That's the same excuse they use for not finding a grocery for Edgewood Plaza. Some have suggested lower the rent, among other ideas. Most likely the developer makes more money keeping it empty.

Cities subsidize ball parks and all kinds of developments when they want to. Like giving "design enhancements"- don't laugh, that is what architects call the permission to build bigger. This ome could be a "community enhancement."


Like this comment
Posted by Me
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 1, 2016 at 3:52 pm

[Post removed.]


1 person likes this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 1, 2016 at 4:10 pm

[Post removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 1, 2016 at 4:11 pm

Marie is a registered user.

It is up to Palo Alto Square Management to make their property attractive to a movie operator, not the City of Palo Alto. They have made plenty of money from upzoning the property at very little cost to them other than a few amenities, including the theatres. Why. when office rents are higher than ever, should they get to dump the theatres to make even more money?

I suggest that the City of Palo Alto not approve any permits from the owners of this property and the Edgewood shopping center until they are in compliance with their original agreements with the City of Palo Alto.

These are legal agreements. I hope Palo Alto has learned its lesson and make sure future community benefits in exchange for upzoning are required to continue and will be legally enforced. Small or no fines for noncompliance is not enough. Better yet, don't allow any upzoning. Zone property based on responsible urban planning and do not give exceptions. Do not build until the infrastructure is in place to support the new buildings. Let the city decide the best use for property (that is what zoning is all about), not developers whose only motivation is greed.


Like this comment
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 1, 2016 at 4:12 pm

Marie is a registered user.

And anyone who thinks zoning is unAmerican is welcome to move to Houston, which doesn't have zoning.


Like this comment
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 1, 2016 at 4:19 pm

[Post removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by Me
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 1, 2016 at 7:17 pm

[Portion removed.]

The last thing we need in Palo Alto is the reenactment of the Pagoda Theater fiasco in North Beach. I'm disappointed that Peskin-style ossification from SF has come full force to Palo Alto. I hope you all enjoy an empty shell of a space for a long time.

(in case you have no idea what I'm talking about: Web Link)


4 people like this
Posted by GoodNews
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 1, 2016 at 10:56 pm

Ushers were telling folks tonight that the theater will stay open a bit longer, with no definite closing date known. Sounds like good news!! Hopefully a business deal is being worked out. So theater supporters now is the time to get out and show your support. Go see a movie at CineArts!


Like this comment
Posted by Sarah
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 2, 2016 at 5:57 am

This is a change in the right direction. Sunday the ushers etc were saying closing this Thursday!
Yes, let's all support them as much as possible.


Like this comment
Posted by Mary
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 2, 2016 at 10:13 am

"And anyone who thinks zoning is unAmerican is welcome to move to Houston, which doesn't have zoning."

A bit off topic, but an interesting, if uninformed remark. Actually, I lived in Houston for a few years. Way too hot for me and too many Texans. But I have to say that the no zoning issue that one hears about is pretty much a non-factor. Houston looks pretty much identical to any other large spread out city - including Los Angeles which has some of the most strict and comprehensive zoning codes in the US. To me, Houston looks like San Jose. The horror fantasies you hear about 7-11's opening up next to single family houses don't happen. Part of this is that people do what's economical and it normally doesn't make sense to open businesses in single family neighborhoods. And part of it is that deed covenants are taken seriously and are structured with the knowledge that there is no zoning. I saw a study once that estimated Houston housing was 10-20% less expensive than it otherwise would be because of the lack of the expensive process of dealing with zoning codes.


Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Nixon School

on Sep 26, 2017 at 7:02 am

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


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

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