Wal-Mart, the country's largest retailer, is seeking a Pleasanton city permit to open one of its new "Neighborhood Market" grocery stores in the vacant 33,000-square-foot supermarket space once occupied by Nob Hill. And already opponents are out in force.
Actually, nothing in the schematics submitted to city planners identifies the applicant as Wal-Mart (although one planner said a small section of the multi-page submittal once did), but it's rather an ambiguous engineering firm specifying changes that could take place to existing water, sewer and electrical lines and fixtures still in place.
Nob Hill, a unit of Raley's, Inc., closed its doors a year ago at 3112 Santa Rita Rd., located in the Santa Rita Square shopping center at the southeast corner of Santa Rita and West Los Positas Boulevard. Since then, 99 Ranch, an Asian market, and British-owned Fresh & Easy have opened grocery stores in the nearby Rose Pavilion.
Nob Hill was granted an operating permit in 1980. It had no pharmacy and was open 16 hours a day. Any grocer would need only a business license to re-open the store with the same operating provisions without seeking new costly, time-consuming an--in Wal-Mart's case--likely controversial permit approvals from the Pleasanton planning commission or City Council.
Those restrictions that applied to Nob Hill might just meet Wal-Mart's conditions. It already has longer operating hours at its regular store about a mile away at 4501 Rosewood Drive, where it has a pharmacy. Its new Neighborhood Market concept focuses on solely low-cost groceries and household products, although most include a pharmacy.
Bypassing the structured city approval process could help Wal-Mart open a Neighborhood Market much more quickly in Pleasanton. Two on the City Council--Mayor Jennifer Hosterman and Councilman Matt Sullivanhave been outspoken critics of Wal-Mart's non-union business plan and opposed the Rosewood Drive Wal-Mart's application to enlarge its garden shop and add a storage facility. Councilwoman Cheryl Cook-Kallio, a member of the teachers' union, no doubt has similar views.
By simply resuming business in the former Nob Hill building with no changes that would trigger a public review of Nob Hill's already approved operating license, Wal-Mart could get started and wait to see if a more favorable political climate surfaces at City Hall. Both Hosterman and Sullivan are termed out next November (along with Councilwoman Cindy McGovern), opening three seats on the council that will be installed in December 2012.
But an outside group of activists wants to block Wal-Mart before it even announces its intentions. They are sending email messages to residents in the Santa Rita Square marketing area warning that "A Wal-Mart Store is coming...and you don't have a say about it!" It urges the public to demand an environmental impact review (EIR) to force a public hearing on the basis that a Wal-Mart grocery could increase traffic.
"Tell our council that you want a say when a big box store wants to open next to our homes!" the message continues.
Using the URL www.OurPleasanton.org, the web site might just as easily carry the name "Providence," since that is where it's located. When the site is accessed, the link automatically goes to Citizens Speak, an email advocacy service for grassroots organizations based in Providence, R.I. It apparently is effective. Serving community and labor advocacy groups for one-time issue-oriented actions and described as "the MoveOn.org for the rest of us," Citizens Speak won the Webby Award in 2006 for its "vision" and "superior quality."
As for Wal-Mart, it introduced its Neighborhood Markets in 1998. These stores range in size from about 40,000 square to much less, which would make the Nob Hill site suitable for one of its smaller markets. By comparison, Safeway's new Lifestyle Supermarket under construction at Bernal and Valley avenues across from the Fairgrounds will have 58,000 square feet of operating space.
These smaller markets, according to Wal-Mart, are meant to attract customers with easier parking, less crowded aisles and quicker checkout. They offer a variety of products, including a full line of groceries, including a bakery, dairy, deli, frozen foods, meat and seafood, produce and snacks, just what you'd expect from a small neighborhood market.
So what's the fuss?