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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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Battling a new Wal-Mart concept

Uploaded: Feb 16, 2012

Surprise, surprise?.there is a bit of controversy about Wal-Mart locating one of its smaller grocery stores in Pleasanton.
Wal-Mart, through an anonymous agent, submitted plans to open one of its neighborhood grocery markets in the old Nob Hill site on Santa Rita Road. It's a sorely needed addition to that shopping center where other merchants have suffered or closed without the anchor tenant—to say nothing of residents.
The Wal-Mart deal should be no big deal—one grocery store replacing another grocery store—I don't recall hearing too much flap about when Ranch 99 or Fresh and Easy came to town.
Of course, none of those companies are divisions of the world's largest retailer and one of the major targets of unions across the country. And, that doesn't include retail competitors who would just as soon keep Wal-Mart out of the city.
What was rather unusual during the packed council meeting was the number of speakers who favored the market. It's easy to rally self-interested union members to speak against, but there were both business owners and residents speaking for the application.
The Wal-Mart concept is an interesting one from another standpoint—big supermarket chains want larger stores that can include a range of services (banks, pharmacies, large ready-to-eat spaces) so they've been closing these smaller stores for years. Finding businesses to fill these spaces have been very challenging for the owners of shopping centers. Those anchor spots have sat vacant for years.
Livermore has two neighborhood centers without anchor tenants as does Pleasanton (the former Flair market site on Vineyard and Bernal plus Nob Hill). Wal-Mart is locating one of its neighborhood markets in a similar center in San Ramon and receiving some push-back from some residents. .
What understandably irritates opponents is the company's stealth approach to the cities by going through the leasing agents without identifying the firm.
From a zoning standpoint—which is the only appropriate way the city should consider the application—it's a permitted use—simply swapping one operator for another in the same business.
For some, however, what company does business in town and whether the work force belongs to a union is a consideration—not that it should be. Just like the federal government should not be in the business of picking winners and losers in industries it wants to favor—the same goes for local government.
Councilman Matt Sullivan exercises his "discretion" in this regard to a fault, seeming to base votes on how it will affect existing businesses and what wages will be paid to workers instead of whether it's a suitable land use. Fortunately, his proposal to consider requiring additional city review before a business locates in the city didn't attract three votes.
The protectionism is a failed policy. Competition results in better services and products and yes, it's a dynamic business environment. Things change and all of us must change and adapt as well.
People want value for their dollar—there's a reason the Costco and Wal-Mart do so well—regardless of age of their adult customers.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows,
on Feb 16, 2012 at 9:47 am

Stacey is a registered user.

Two things:
- Fresh 'N' Easy is run by Tesco, one of the world's largest retailers.
- The City should create a new law preventing similar anonymous applications.

Posted by SteveP, a resident of Parkside,
on Feb 16, 2012 at 10:04 am

SteveP is a registered user.

Good write up. No doubt you'll receive lots of flak from the organized mob, but there's no arguing the points you made about the planning commission's responsibilities. Matt Sullivan's attempts at social engineering our out of place and unwelcome in a free society.

Posted by SteveP, a resident of Parkside,
on Feb 16, 2012 at 10:09 am

SteveP is a registered user.

If, as has been said many times before in the numerous topics posted about Wal Mart, the filing is a like-for-like business, why should it matter who files the application, an agent or the CEO of the company?
Unless you're planning on promoting Matt Sullivan's 'discretion' in the planning process, we don't need yet another law to govern what should be a very straight forward process.

Posted by Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows,
on Feb 16, 2012 at 12:19 pm

Stacey is a registered user.

I agree that the process should be very straight forward, which is why I think it wrong to allow such anonymous applications. The ability to create an anonymous application is clearly being used as a government-supported competitive business tactic by Wal-Mart. A more level playing field would be to have either all anonymous applications or require more transparency in the application process.

Posted by franco, a resident of Vineyard Hills,
on Feb 16, 2012 at 8:24 pm

franco is a registered user.

Transparency is always a good thing. However, what evil is created by anonymous applications that substitute one grocery store for another previous grocery store where no substantive changes are requested? If this is a business tactic, then it is available to all applicants on an equal basis. Why make a law against it? In fact one could argue that all such applications should be anonymous in order to prevent discrimination against applicants, such as is occurring in this case.

Posted by Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows,
on Feb 16, 2012 at 9:33 pm

Stacey is a registered user.

"If this is a business tactic, then it is available to all applicants on an equal basis."

Yes, I had considered that the anonymity is equally available. If one business is doing it (and they're doing it nation-wide really) to gain an advantage over competition, others will too. "A more level playing field would be to have either all anonymous applications or require more transparency in the application process." Is anonymity the right direction to go in?

Posted by Sherryg, a resident of Ponderosa,
on Feb 17, 2012 at 12:41 pm

Sherryg is a registered user.

If the applicant would have remained anoymous, everyone would have been thrilled that a new grocery store was going in to replace Nob Hill. There would have been no protesting.
Now that everyone knows it's Walmart, people crawl out of the woodwork to protest.

Posted by franco, a resident of Vineyard Hills,
on Feb 18, 2012 at 5:40 pm

franco is a registered user.

My key point is freedom of choice, not creating a law that says everyone must apply anonymously or everyone must identify themselves in a zoning application. Not unlike posting on the these blogs. You have the freedom to be anonymous or you can identify yourself. You choose the tactic to suit your purpose. For example, if you fear your children may be discriminated against if you criticize the teacher's unions in a PW blog, you will most likely choose to go anonymous. This is no different than what Walmart is doing. They know they will be discriminated against, which is now happening before our very eyes.

Posted by Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows,
on Feb 19, 2012 at 9:30 am

Stacey is a registered user.

It's an interesting discussion. The anonymity didn't really prevent discrimination. Like on this blog, where anonymous posters can still be identified through their writing, Wal-Mart's tactic of applying anonymously for grocery store permits (and then revealing themselves later) is a sign the opposition looks for. The OurPleasanton (Saint Consulting) group sent out anonymous flyers to the neighborhood containing factual inaccuracies well in advance of anyone else having a clue. I would argue that transparency would not necessarily have increased discrimination, but the average citizen would have had a clearer picture.

Posted by franco, a resident of Vineyard Hills,
on Feb 19, 2012 at 5:37 pm

franco is a registered user.

So, the average citizen would have a clearer picture of what? The unions are hunting for Walmart to keep them out, and Walmart is using various tactics, including temporary anonymity, to put stores in target locations. I think at this point the average citizen has a pretty clear picture of what is going on. And no change to zoning application requirements was needed. All parties had freedom of choice to pursue their agenda in their own way.

In fact, the present case exemplifies how far some of our elected officials will travel to use their governmental powers to discriminate against those whom they have prejudice. Whether the greater public good is served is not really considered by them. They seem to serve at best a narrow base of the citizenry from whom they are assured their vote.

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