San Ramon's magic wand | The Observer | Roz Rogoff | |

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By Roz Rogoff

San Ramon's magic wand

Uploaded: Feb 23, 2012

We want this, we don't want that. Ah if it were only that simple. San Ramon residents, or at least those who post in online blogs on the Express, seem to believe that the City should do whatever THEY want.

They must believe the City Council is all powerful and can wave a magic wand over the old Ralphs Supermarket building and banish Walmart forever while plopping a Trader Joes in.

Some of these bloggers make it sound as if our city leaders are willfully allowing a Walmart into our fair city. How crass! They must be doing it for the money. After all Walmart isn't "our kind of store."

Well it's not my kind of store as I have said, but as I have also said our City government cannot keep a business from operating in a building already approved for that kind of business. Walmart has a grocery store it wants to put into a building approved for a grocery store.

Do we prefer Trader Joes? Yes, but Trader Joes management does not prefer San Ramon. Our status has dropped to the level of Walmart, I suppose.

Do people really believe our City government can demand a private business open in a specific location and another one cannot. There's a name for a political system that dictates where businesses can locate, which businesses can locate there, and how businesses are run. It's called Communism.

America is based on free trade, or so the Republicans tell us. Free trade means a business can operate and sell its products where it wants and how it wants. City governments can set some restrictions, like zoning regulations, safety ordinances, and architectural review. These can limit the height, size, colors, signage, noise levels, hours of operation, and parking for the business; but there are no laws in San Ramon that can force Trader Joes to put a store where we want it or force Walmart not to open store where we don't. Or are there?

I asked that question at the Public Hearing on the new North Camino Ramon Specific Plan at the Joint City Council-Planning Commission Meeting last Tuesday night. This plan proposes 5,070,000 sq. ft. of non-residential uses, which is an increase of 1,675,000 sq. ft. more than what is there now. Non-residential could mean office or parking or retail or open space. In fact a large swath of space is proposed for a promenade.

But if the whole area is zoned mixed use, and the City wants to encourage more retail to "stop the leakage" of sales to Dublin, Pleasanton, and Walnut Creek, then what kind of big, box retail stores could be zoned to move into the rest of this non-residential space? Can someone spell "Wal-Mart, boys and girls?"

When I asked that at the Public Hearing last Tuesday, I was assured that Wal-Mart could be kept out the same way a prior City Council kept out Costco. Yes you may not realize it, but Costco is NOT in San Ramon. Residents of San Ramon didn't want the Costco, so it located across the street in Danville. Now San Ramon gets the traffic and Danville gets the sales taxes. Sometimes keeping something out can blow up in your face.

I have been arguing in favor of the NCRSP for the last couple of years, so why change my tune now? The answer is simple, Wal-Mart. It wasn't on my radar until I linked how big the big boxes could be in NCRSP with the "threat" of Wal-Mart Superstoredom.

If the NCRSP is zoned for big box, mixed use, and one or two property owners sell their land to Wal-Mart to build a Superstore on Norris Canyon Road, what's to stop them? Councilmember Scott Perkins says they can be stopped. Councilmember Dave Hudson says they were stopped from putting a Superstore where the Home Depot is now.

The NCRSP is planned for 20 years in the future. Perkins and Hudson probably won't still be on the City Council in 2032 and I'll be turning 90 if I'm still alive. So it probably won't matter to me if there's a Wal-Mart moving in downtown or not.

But let's make sure now that whatever is in the NCRSP leaves us prepared for all of the possibilities. That's what these meeting are about – considering all the possibilities of what should vs. what could be built San Ramon.