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.