Opinion - January 27, 2012
Wal-Mart's Neighborhood Market good for Pleasanton
Wal-Mart, the retailing giant that city politicians, unions and business critics love to hate, is seeking an occupancy permit to reopen the long-closed Nob Hill supermarket as a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market, similar to those it now has in operation across the country. Wal-Mart currently operates over 180 Neighborhood Markets that sell only groceries, but none exists yet in California.
Unlike its full-size Wal-Mart at 4501 Rosewood Drive, the Neighborhood Market would be smaller, fitting into the 33,000-square-foot Nob Hill building. It would also be smaller than other supermarkets in Pleasanton. The new Safeway "Lifestyle" store that opened last November is a 55,000-square-foot facility.
The Wal-Mart grocery is a perfect fit for the site. It will sell 24,000 different products, including a wide range of groceries, pharmaceuticals, health and wellness items, and frequently purchased general merchandise consumables. It will provide jobs for 95 employees and will be open from 6 a.m. to midnight. In other words, it will virtually replace Nob Hill in size, product offerings and operating hours.
Yet Wal-Mart is facing opponents, both several on the Pleasanton City Council and others who don't like the company's nonunion policies and what they say is its inadequate health care and other employee benefits programs. In an unsigned letter being circulated to those living in neighborhoods near the old Nob Hill store, neighbors are being asked to let the council hear their protests at upcoming meetings and to urge the city "to immediately adopt a law that allows for public input and discretionary review before any decisions are made about the intensity of the use" of the store by Wal-Mart. "We hope the council hears our concerns and will take action. In the meantime, we still need you to contact the council TODAY."
The protests could hit pay dirt. Mayor Jennifer Hosterman and Councilman Matt Sullivan objected in 2004 when the full-sized Wal-Mart store sought permits to expand its garden shop and add a storage center. Since then, Councilwoman Cheryl Cook-Kallio has been elected to the council. A member of the teachers' union, she also has voiced her opposition to the larger sized Wal-Mart superstores. In fact, the council here in Pleasanton, where Safeway has its corporate headquarters, adopted an ordinance that specifically denies permits to large so-called box stores that have food as their major commodity. Target, which once considered a store in Pleasanton, chose to build its newest superstore across the freeway in Dublin, instead.
By choosing to reopen the Nob Hill store with few outside changes, Wal-Mart may have outfoxed those who want public hearings on its plans. The city code allows businesses to sell their operation to others without public review if the new business is much like the old one. Many restaurants and downtown businesses do this on a regular basis.
Knowing this, Wal-Mart revised its earlier permit application to scuttle plans to paint the old Nob Hill a better color, or reposition the poorly placed front doors and to add more powerful refrigeration units on the Nob Hill building roof, changes that could trigger a design review and possible public hearings. It now says it won't even seek a sign design approval until after it opens the store so that it can receive its occupancy permit quickly. Wal-Mart's Neighborhood Market would be good for the Santa Rita Center where it will be an anchor store, serving not only the neighborhood that has been without a major market for two years but also the retail and service shops at the center that have seen their businesses suffer since Nob Hill closed.
Posted by Tom,
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 27, 2012 at 1:39 pm
As a Pleasanton resident living in a neighborhood near the former Nob Hill site on Santa Rita Road, I strongly oppose the siting there of the proposed Walmart grocery store. There is far more to consider about this project than the simplistic, rosy picture painted by the Pleasanton Weekly. A "by-right" approval of this project by the Pleasanton Planning Department that makes a blatant end-run around public input will make a mockery of the potential impacts this project may have on nearby neighborhoods, streets and on the City over and above the minimal impacts generated by the old, sad sack Nob Hill store.
I do not need to remind folks of Walmart's contempt for the planning process in other locales throughout the nation. Walmart has no hesitation to throw its weight, money and consultants around to get what it wants over the objection of residents. Thus, the long hiding of its true identity in the project's previous submissions to the City Planning Department, just recently revealed, does not surprise me, and should give us concern. Good neighbors don't hide who they are, or what they are about. Even though it will affect us, Walmart obviously wants Pleasanton residents and our City Council to have no say whatsoever in this project's approval process.
Despite its clever marketing tag, this Walmart is NOT simply a replacement "neighborhood" store with just a few changed tenant improvements. Walmart's core ethic and business model is to use predatory pricing to attract the highest number of customers possible, regardless of where they live. Near, far, wherever. Dirt cheap prices, high volume. This reportedly will be Walmart's first attempt at this stand alone, deep discount type of grocery operation in California. So, Walmart is using Pleasanton and the proposed Nob Hill site as a guinea pig for this concept in our state. Walmart will no doubt poach customers from our local, truly "neighborhood" Pleasanton grocery and specialty stores and pharmacies, but will also work hard to draw customers to the Nob Hill site from all over the East Bay, including Dublin's mega-sized residential projects planned for the next decade.
Nob Hill met its demise before "Fresh and Easy" and Ranch 99 and the new Bernal Safeway came to be added to the already high number of grocery alternatives in Pleasanton and in Dublin. So, with its high-volume business model and that increased level of grocery competition already operating in the Pleasanton area, it's preposterous to think this Walmart will be content to attract just a low number of "neighborhood" local customers like Nob Hill did. So, this proposed Walmart necessarily will attract far, far more traffic and related problems to this area than the former sad sack Nob Hill store. To what exact extent, we won't know, can't know, can't even ask under the secret planning process trumpeted by the Pleasanton Weekly.
Do you like Santa Rita Road traffic now? How large an increase in traffic count will this Walmart bring to an already overly-congested Santa Rita from the hordes of out-of-towners to whom it will advertise to come here? How will these drivers access the site from Santa Rita Road and Stoneridge Drive, particularly at already-overloaded peak hours? How far will they back up the protected left turn from southbound Santa Rita onto Las Positas? How far will they back up the small, unprotected left turn cut on southbound Santa Rita at Navajo Ct. to cross Santa Rita's oncoming northbound traffic into the site? Will a stoplight be needed there to prevent broadside crashes resulting from the spiked number of unprotected left turns? Will Walmart customers clog the Santa Rita / Stoneridge intersection by making illegal U-turns to go back northbound on Santa Rita to access the Walmart from the curb cuts on the east side of Santa Rita? These are the types of issues that residents should be able to consider and discuss in a public planning process. Walmart says no, can't do that.
Walmart has a standing policy to allow RV and other vehicles to overnight camp in its parking lots. Will that be allowed at the Nob Hill site? Why hasn't the Borders Books building sitting vacant across the parking lot from the existing Hacienda Walmart superstore been considered? That seems a far better site, virtually at the I-580 freeway for easy non-local customer access, not a mile into the City. It has plenty of square footage in a more modern building than the Nob Hill store, lots of parking, no needed additional street infrastructure, and in an already developed commercial area that won't impact surrounding residential areas.
From our local businesses, shops and pharmacies, how many local, good jobs will be lost and how many sales dollars will be siphoned to this megacorporation? Profits will be shipped non-stop to Walmart headquarters in Arkansas, not re-circulated here in Pleasanton. When all is said and done, if this project is approved will the City have a net sales tax loss or gain, and what will be the overall cost/benefit to Pleasanton?
The Pleasanton Weekly agrees with Walmart that we Pleasanton residents and our City Council members should all just roll over and keep our mouths shut until yet another Walmart opens in our midst. Then, deal later with any ensuing problems it drops in our laps. I don't think so. All concerned Pleasanton residents need to contact the Mayor and all City Council members NOW. Voice your demand that this project be vetted in the light of day under the Conditional Use Permit process. We need full public review and comment, not an approval ramrodded through City Hall behind a curtain of secrecy.