http://pleasantonweekly.com/print/story/print/2012/01/27/outlook-2012


Pleasanton Weekly

Cover Story - January 27, 2012

Outlook 2012

Year looking better as Pleasanton economy picks up

by Jeb Bing

By all accounts, the year 2012 will be better economically for Pleasanton. Not great, but better.

For starters, the city's sales taxes are projected to total $19,475 by the end of this fiscal year on June 30, higher than any year since 2008 but still short of the record $21,956 received by the city in fiscal 2007. Property taxes, projected at just over $48 million, will be about the same as last year but below the $50 million reported in fiscal 2009. Hotel/motel taxes and business license fees also are up, leading to total revenue for fiscal 2011/2012 of $73,934,890.

Again, that would be higher than for the last three years, but still short of the record high year of fiscal 2008 when city revenues totaled a whopping $75,493,115.

"That's welcome news and shows the trend line is definitely up, although we will still be nearly $2 million under what we received in fiscal year 2008," said Emily Wagner, Pleasanton's finance director.

Without the recession and based on upward trend lines that abruptly ended in 2008, Pleasanton's receipts from taxes and fees probably would be $88 million or higher this year, Wagner added.

Still, business and the city's overall economy is improving, and analysts from the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce to the Pleasanton Downtown Association (PDA) to representatives of Hacienda Business Park and the city's economic development group are cautiously optimistic that 2012 will mark a significant turning point for the better.

Laura Olson, executive director of the PDA, noted that the vacancy rate this month for the downtown district is 5%, one of the lowest ever. Shops are filling with new tenants almost as soon as someone moves out, and new stores, such as Main Street Properties' restored building at the south end of Main Street, are adding to the sizzle of downtown.

In fact, "Sizzling Saturdays" proved so popular in attracting shoppers to downtown stores and restaurants that the PDA will start them again in April, providing late-night activities for diners and shoppers.

"We are extremely busy downtown so far this year," Olson said. "That's why we are sponsoring 48 events in 2012, up from 39 last year and 33 the year before. We're working to make our downtown as vibrant and accessible as we possibly can so that not only those who live here but also everyone in the region will want to come and enjoy our beautiful downtown."

Pamela Ott, the city's Economic Development Director, agrees.

"There's long been retail demand in Pleasanton and the Tri-Valley, and that's now regaining momentum," she said. "Pleasanton Gateway, where Safeway just opened its new Lifestyle supermarket, is a prime attraction as are downtown Pleasanton and Stoneridge Shopping Center.

"Restaurants, and in particular fast casual eateries, are actively looking for space so residents will have more dining choices new to Pleasanton, such as the new Buckhorn Grill in the mall and Habit Burger near Safeway. And a much-desired market should finally open in the Vintage Hills Shopping Center as New Leaf Community Market has formally signed a lease there."

Ott said that Pleasanton remains an ideal location for business, offering desirable commercial space suitable for a variety of industry sectors, excellent transportation, a highly educated and skilled workforce and the necessary infrastructure for turnkey business opportunities.

Even so, she also reminds us that the overall national economy remains somewhat uncertain, and that affects Pleasanton and the Tri-Valley, too.

"While not all economists agree on what exactly will happen, all do agree we are in a period of transition. Many say that we will likely sustain steady growth of 2%-3%. Although this is slower than we want, it would be welcome."

Scott Raty, president of the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce, said that while the first quarters of 2010 and 2011 saw spurts in the economy here, the brakes came on quickly. This year looks better with predicted sustained growth.

"I'm the eternal optimist and I believe we will see continued economic progress in 2012," Raty said. "Hotel managers tell me they are seeing better business from Sunday through Thursday and we find that room rates are starting to climb again. These are good indicators that there's more business activity in Pleasanton and the Tri-Valley."

Raty pointed out that the state Board of Equalization showed an increase in retail sales in the fourth quarter of 2011 of 2.16%. He expects that to continue in 2012.

"We've also been fortunate around here in seeing dirt turning, both last year with the new Safeway complex and now with the construction of Stoneridge Creek, the retirement community being built in Staples Ranch. That bodes well for the 2012 economy."

Also under construction in Staples is the long-planned extension of Stoneridge Drive, which will provide a four-lane thoroughfare to El Charro Road, where it will connect with Jack London Boulevard in Livermore. Near there, at the intersection of I-580 and El Charro, Livermore's Paragon Outlet Mall is also under construction, with a planned opening of 160 discount outlets by Thanksgiving.

There's optimism, too, in the corporate sector. Clorox will move into its new seven-building campus on Johnson Drive this spring, moving 1,100 employees into the complex that has been vacant since Washington Mutual went out of business. Clorox added a new research building and will sell its current center, also on Johnson Drive.

James Paxson, general manager of the Hacienda Business Park Owners Association, said there's been an increase in business activity there.

"We had a lot of proverbial tire kicking over the last couple of years, but now we are seeing more people who are actually interested and want to move forward," Paxson said. "If you look at our activity charts and especially the kind of new tenancy that's come in over the last couple of months, there has been a bit of surge."

He said space that was previously occupied by Robert Half Jr., which moved to San Ramon, has been getting filled over this past year.

"Overall, we saw more than 350,000 square feet of leasing in the park last year, which was great," Paxson said.

On the downside, however, was an announcement by Ross Stores Inc. that it will move out of California Center (formerly called the CarrAmerica Center) in 2014 and into three empty Cisco-owned buildings it has purchased in Dublin.

"We're sorry to see them go," Paxson said, "but with a two-year notice, we can start looking for companies that need the 167,000 square feet of floor space Ross now occupies."

There's even more space available at California Center, which continues today to be only about 50% occupied.

"Our bread and butter for the last couple of years has been the smaller tenants," Paxson added. "That probably will continue to be a very important sector for Hacienda Business Park for most if not all of 2012. Still it's those kinds of companies that often expand."

The Maddie Center, a no-kill animal organization, has purchased a 141,000-square-foot building in Hacienda and will move its headquarters there this year. The organization was founded by Dave Duffield, chief executive of Workday Inc. on Stoneridge Drive, and his wife Cheryl to provide care for wayward cats and dogs and to educate others at similar organizations in the country.

Besides providing space for animal care, the Lake Tahoe Land Co., the Duffields' organization, will also use part of the space for its administrative offices.

Maddie's Fund was named after the Duffields' miniature schnauzer, Maddie.

More housing also will come to Hacienda in 2012. BRE, a nationally known developer of affordable housing, is seeking permits this month to start construction on a major apartment house complex with 650 units for moderate- to low-income tenants.

The Pleasanton City Council rezoned the property to accommodate the BRE project as part of its requirement to make land available for at least 3,000 more units for this type of housing. The move was part of a court-ordered requirement to increase the number of affordable housing units here.

Of course, 2012 is also an election year both on the national and state level as well as for Pleasanton. Mayor Jennifer Hosterman and two others on the City Council -- Matt Sullivan and Cindy McGovern -- are termed out this year. Council members Cheryl Cook-Kallio and Jerry Thorne have announced their intentions to seek the mayor's post with others likely to follow, if not for mayor then for one of the council seats that will open.

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