Pleasanton Weekly

News - September 9, 2011

Protestors ask council to block Wal-Mart from reopening Nob Hill grocery store

Cite retailer's low pay, inadequate health benefits, high traffic counts

by Jeb Bing

Anti-Wal-Mart protestors urged the Pleasanton City Council on Tuesday night to block efforts by the retailer to open one of its Neighborhood Market grocery stores in the building where the Nob Hill supermarket was located on Santa Rita Road.

Wearing yellow badges objecting to Wal-Mart, more than 40 filled the council chamber after receiving anonymous fliers urging those who object to a Wal-Mart store at that location to voice their opinions. Many did in remarks made during the public comments session at the meeting.

Mayor Jennifer Hosterman, however, said the flier contained information that is factually incorrect, pointing out that Wal-Mart has no plans to build "a big box store" at the site or to redevelop the Nob Hill store.

City Manager Nelson Fialho acknowledged that Wal-Mart has submitted plans to occupy the Nob Hill store based on Nob Hill's approval 27 years ago of a planned unit development that allows grocery stores. If Wal-Mart or any other grocer wants to reopen the store and abides by the same operating procedures, a permit would be given.

"So far, however, the applicant has not submitted a project application that would show those operating plans," Nelson said. "Until then, city planners have not moved forward on the permit requests."

If Wal-Mart would adhere to the same operating procedures that Nob Hill followed, permits could be issued without any review by the Planning Commission or the City Council. If, Fialho said, Wal-Mart would want to be open for 24 hours a day, which was not allowed in the Nob Hill permit, that alone would trigger a full review and likely public hearings on Wal-Mart's application.

But even if Wal-Mart's operation would be consistent with Nob Hill's, Councilman Matt Sullivan said he would still want the council to consider the impact of the Wal-Mart store. Councilwoman Cheryl Cook-Kallio agreed, citing the city's recent approval of rezoning changes that will allow for more high density housing throughout Pleasanton.

"I think we have to look at neighborhood retail centers such as this one to see if they meet the needs of a larger population that is coming," she said.

After hearing more than an hour of public protests against Wal-Mart, Councilwoman Cindy McGovern questioned that if the applicant to reopen the Nob Hill store was a Fresh & Easy or Trader Joe's, if there would be such negativity.

"I have received many emails from people who live near the old Nob Hill store and they want a grocery store there," she said.

Wal-Mart has been building smaller grocery stores, which it calls Neighborhood Market, across the country. These stores usually are 40,000 square feet and include a pharmacy. The Nob Hill building has less space. Nob Hill also did not have a pharmacy.

Objectors to the Wal-Mart plan cited the non-union retailer's low wages compared to other unionized stores and what they said is the company's failure to provide adequate health care coverage for its employees.

They also complained about increasingly heavy traffic at the Stoneridge Drive-Santa Rita Road intersection, where the Nob Hill retail center is located. They called for an environmental impact report before Wal-Mart is issued operating permits to determine if traffic, pollution and air quality would be adversely affected by reopening the Nob Hill store.

Tom Foley, who manages the retail center, said other businesses in the shopping center have lost customers since Nob Hill was closed last year by its owner, Raley's Inc. The grocery store provided an economic anchor for those businesses, which, he said, want the supermarket reopened.

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