Pleasanton Weekly

Column - July 15, 2011

Wal-Mart eyeing old Nob Hill for new 'Market'

by Jeb Bing

Wal-Mart, the country's largest retailer, is seeking a Pleasanton city permit to open one of its new "Neighborhood Market" grocery stores in the vacant 33,000-square-foot supermarket space once occupied by Nob Hill. And already opponents are out in force.

Actually, nothing in the schematics submitted to city planners identifies the applicant as Wal-Mart (although one planner said a small section of the multi-page submittal once did), but it's rather an ambiguous Roseville firm specifying changes that could take place to existing water, sewer and electrical lines and fixtures still in place.

Nob Hill, a unit of Raley's, Inc., closed its doors in February 2010 at 3112 Santa Rita Road, located in the Santa Rita Square shopping center at the southeast corner of Santa Rita and West Las Positas Boulevard. Since then, 99 Ranch, an Asian market, and British-owned Fresh & Easy have opened grocery stores in the nearby Rose Pavilion.

Nob Hill was granted an operating permit in 1980. It had no pharmacy and was open 16 hours a day. Any grocer would need only a business license to reopen the store with the same operating provisions without seeking new costly, time-consuming and -- in Wal-Mart's case -- likely controversial permit approvals from the Pleasanton Planning Commission or City Council. Those restrictions might meet Wal-Mart's conditions. It has longer operating hours at its regular store about a mile away at 4501 Rosewood Drive, where it has a pharmacy. Its new Neighborhood Market concept focuses on low-cost groceries and household products, although most include a pharmacy.

Bypassing the structured city approval process could help Wal-Mart open a Neighborhood Market here. Two on the City Council -- Mayor Jennifer Hosterman and Councilman Matt Sullivan -- have been outspoken critics of Wal-Mart's non-union business plan and opposed the Rosewood Drive Wal-Mart's application to enlarge its garden shop and add a storage facility. Councilwoman Cheryl Cook-Kallio, a member of the teachers' union, no doubt has similar views. By simply resuming business in the former Nob Hill building with no changes requiring a review of Nob Hill's already approved operating license, Wal-Mart could get started and wait to see if a more favorable political climate surfaces at City Hall. Both Hosterman and Sullivan are termed out in November 2012(along with Councilwoman Cindy McGovern), opening three seats on the council that will be installed in December.

But an outside organization has sent email messages to residents in the Santa Rita Square marketing area warning that "A Wal-Mart Store is coming...and you don't have a say about it!" It urges the public to demand an environmental impact review (EIR) to force a public hearing on the basis that a Wal-Mart grocery could increase traffic.

"Tell our council that you want a say when a big box store wants to open next to our homes!" the message continues.

Using the URL, the website might just as easily carry the name "Providence," since that is where it's located. When the site is accessed, the link automatically goes to Citizens Speak, an email advocacy service for grassroots organizations based in Providence, R.I. It apparently is effective. Serving community and labor advocacy groups for one-time issue-oriented actions and described as "the for the rest of us," Citizens Speak won the Webby Award in 2006 for its "vision" and "superior quality."

Introduced in 1998, Wal-Mart Neighborhood Markets range from about 40,000 square feet or less, which would make the Nob Hill site one of its smaller markets. By comparison, Safeway's new Lifestyle Supermarket under construction at Bernal and Valley avenues across from the Fairgrounds will have 58,000 square feet of operating space.

These smaller markets, according to Wal-Mart, are meant to attract customers with easier parking, less crowded aisles and quicker checkout. They offer a variety of products, including a full line of groceries, including a bakery, dairy, deli, frozen foods, meat and seafood, produce and snacks.


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