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About this blog: I am a native of Alameda County, grew up in Pleasanton and currently live in the house I grew up in that is more than 100 years old. I spent 39 years in the daily newspaper business and wrote a column for more than 25 years in add...  (More)

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What are the 'right' business downtown?

Uploaded: Apr 9, 2012
Curious how policies evolve with time.
Once upon a time, before the Pleasanton Downtown Association existed, the city of Pleasanton required any financial institution locating in town to have a branch downtown.
That's right—downtown as on Main Street and then later, after Peters Street was built, it counted as well.
When Stoneridge Mall and its surrounding office buildings and Hacienda Business Park were developed in the early 1980s, the policy was reviewed and modified to allow banks to come to town without having branches in the downtown.
Now, the downtown association and the city have been actively pressuring banks or other financial institutions from locating on Main Street.
Thanks to the timely intervention of Councilman Jerry Thorne, the City Council delayed a decision on a hastily drafted ordinance that would have erected a special hurdle for a financial institution to locate downtown.
After the city invested millions in restoring the downtown infrastructure, policymakers have been tempted to limit the tenants in the Main Street area. The goal has been to get more retailers to locate there to drive more traffic to help both the abundance of restaurants and the city's sales tax coffers.
Missing in the equitation were the landlords who owned the buildings and, in some cases, had monthly mortgage payments to make—or, in others, were counting on rental income. Government trying to manipulate markets rarely works.
The latest flap centered on the Past Time Pool hall which a bank had targeted for a branch on a prime corner lot. Removing the last bar of Pleasanton's historic legacy of having the most bars along Main Street seems like something the city and its residents would welcome.
The buzz centered on another restaurant—yet that remains (aside from wineries) one of the best ways to turn a large pile of cash into a tiny pile. And, by any government planner's viewpoint, downtown Pleasanton has plenty of restaurants.
As one who routinely has met clients and customers for breakfast for more than a decade, Pleasanton stands alone with its independently owned restaurants (Vic's, Dean's, Jim's, Rising Loafer, Café on Main) that serve breakfast and lunch to nothing about my former second office at Sweet and Savory in Hacienda Business Park. You can find no similar cluster in San Ramon, Livermore or Dublin or even small-business friendly Danville.
The market has worked in Pleasanton. Heavy-handed government intervention—despite its backing from the downtown association—will do nothing to solve the core issue. For retail to work downtown, it will take establishments that attract customers and build loyal clienteles.
That has nothing to do with banning tenants—it has everything to do with serving folks well with products that that they're willing to purchase.
Look no farther than Apple—selling premium priced products that devotees line up to buy.

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