Council calls for quick action on downtown stimulus plan

Move comes after warnings that 50,000 square feet of available retail space now vacant, more to come

The Pleasanton City Council Tuesday turned its attention to creating a local economic stimulus package to help its struggling downtown retailers and to work with business and property owners to strengthen shopping locally.

By one estimate, more than 50,000 square feet of available retail space is now vacant downtown and one merchant warned that three more retailers may close within the next three months.

City Manager Nelson Fialho and the city's Economic Development Director Pamela Ott said they are working with a downtown merchants' group and the Pleasanton Downtown Association to promote the downtown and to encourage property owners to reduce rents, even on a temporary basis, to help businesses whose profits have been significantly reduced in the current recession.

"It's my understanding that the owner of the building which Domus recently vacated has doubled the rent for any prospective tenants," said Melanie Sadek, who heads the merchants group. "I can tell you that three more retailers are in trouble and could close within three months."

Developer Michael O'Callaghan, who was hired by the owners of a now empty lot where the Union Jack Pub was torn down, said it has taken him a year to obtain approval for a new building. He said the property owners pulled a permit to build the new structure which means they have only six months to construct the building and find a tenant or face having to do it all over again.

He asked the city to relax its requirements by providing lower fees for new businesses that want to come to the downtown and the time restriction on building permits.

Fialho told the council that the city recognizes that many businesses may be facing financial challenges due to the current economic downturn. He suggested that a "Business Assistance Package" be established to provide local stimulus to both downtown and other struggling retail businesses in the city, including financial assistance with sewer connections fees and interior and exterior building design and retrofitting work.

More recently, he said, the city has focused additional attention on supporting the work of the PDA and, more directly, downtown merchants. These efforts included a holiday marketing campaign financed by the city to encourage Tri-Valley residents to patronize downtown stores. Fialho said the city plans to initiate broader marketing campaigns using the print media, television promotions and possibly even Internet advertising to promote Pleasanton businesses.

Other efforts under considerations include:

• Development Loan Program - A loan program for building renovations (structural building renovations to improve or stabilize properties) to encourage commercial real estate improvements.

• Interior Rehabilitation Program - Assistance for interior rehabilitation work limited to retail, restaurant and entertainment uses in the downtown in the form of rebates of fixed city fees following the completion of the work.

• Broker's Bonus Program-Bonuses to real estate brokers earning a professional commission for a lease or sale of commercial space in the downtown for a retail, restaurant or entertainment use.

• Relocation Assistance Program-To assist desired retail, restaurant and entertainment businesses to locate in the downtown, with grants for costs such as moving a company, transferring utilities, temporary signage and other assistance within a limited range of $1,500 to $10,000 rebated once the business is in operation.

• Marketing Match Program-Would increase assessment fee matching funds with additional funding allocated specifically to marketing the downtown district.

• First Floor Retail-Enact a first floor retail only restriction within the downtown district for a limited term.

Councilwoman McGovern urged Fialho, the PDA and Ott's Economic Vitality Committee to review the proposals and return to the council with a list of recommendations within a month or two.

"At almost every social event or business meeting, the issue of what the City Council is doing to help downtown Pleasanton is the most frequently asked question," she said. "The public is concerned and so am I."

pleasanton,pleasanton downtown association,nelson fialho,pamela ott


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Posted by Timothy T
a resident of Downtown
on Jan 21, 2009 at 9:53 am

It's good to see them doing something, but it's a bit of shutting the barn door after the cows have gotten out.

For some reason, building owners are content to let the building sit unrented rather than lower rent and make it a bit more viable for a new business. Getting those owners involved and interested in the success of downtown is going to be much more key. I know the owners of the building that Redcoats is in wants ~$12k/month. I can't think of a single new business that'd be glad to pay that right now.

Though Domus vacating their building will finally leave room for a glorious, new .99 Only store. :D

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Posted by resident
a resident of Pheasant Ridge
on Jan 21, 2009 at 11:07 am

Downtown Pleasanton has such great potential, yet not all, but many building owners have let their buildings go without proper maintenance for long periods of time. This has made a large percentage of downtown in need of a serious renovation. At the same time the owners have charged the business owners/retailers premium prices to rent these same spaces.

The property owners are willing to sit on the vacancies until they get their inflated prices. They can do this because most of these buildings have long been paid for and the owners have done little to no renovations or upkeep.

What if the city would inspect all vacant properties and enforce building requirements on the landlords making them maintain properties to the proper standards. The city can’t tell owner’s what to charge for rent but they can enforce codes and make sure all building s are being maintained properly.

If they won’t work with tenants on rent than let’s at least make the buildings look presentable to possibly attract new tenants.

If you are looking for a place to open a new business and he see a small, old and in dis-repair building at a premium price in Pleasanton or a brand new building in Dublin or Livermore at a discount which one do you think most will go for.

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Posted by Genius
a resident of Birdland
on Jan 21, 2009 at 11:35 am

Sure make the property owners invest more money in their buildings. And then dont expect the rental rates to go up any... pull your head out dude.

Next someone will come up with the great idea of rent control.

Unless you want to spend a good amount going out to dinner, send your wife into a used clothing store, stop by the bank or pick up an overpriced dog collar.... shop somewhere else.

Downtown is a waste...

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Posted by Tom Kelly
a resident of Stoneridge Park
on Jan 21, 2009 at 11:55 am

It seems to me that by allowing a store on Main St. to remain empty for long periods of time or by setting the rent to a level that encourages stores to close, causes financial harm to all who do business downtown, both merchant and customer. Whether it be vacant stores or vacant homes, disservice is made to all.

A city "Vacancy Tax" for all commercial real estate in the downtown area and other commercial areas within the city could help "persuade" commercial real estate owners to work with businesses during these difficult economic times rather than working within a self-serving bubble that hurts all.

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Posted by Hahahaha
a resident of Birdland
on Jan 21, 2009 at 2:18 pm

A vacancy tax??? Are you freakin kidding me? A liberal through and through... so creative in the art of taxation.

Its a recession people. Expect bad things to happen.

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Posted by Positive
a resident of Kottinger Ranch
on Jan 21, 2009 at 3:33 pm

I love our downtown. I try to do a majority of my shopping there. When I purchased my house, I look at Pleasanton for three reasons...schools, safety and downtown. I enjoy the charm of our Main street and it concerns that they aren't doing well. I have had numerous conversations with downtown business owners. Many of them are doing what they can to stay positive and keep their business going through this tough time. I think many people have a misunderstanding of who these business owners are. A majority of the owners aren't rich. They aren't making a killing. They are trying to survive like many of us. Unfortunately, their survival depends on us. Did you know that many of the business owners downtown have jobs other than their stores to try to make a living. You may think the stores downtown are expensive and they are, if you are comparing them to Walmart or Target. What I love about downtown is the unique stores that give me a unique gift that you can't find other places. That is what a downtown is suppose to offer. I will get involved and see what I can do as a resident to help business owners, the city and the PDA in making positive changes for MY downtown.

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Posted by Ceasear
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Jan 21, 2009 at 3:48 pm

You'll need to rob one of the banks down there to have enough money to
eat at the overpriced restaurants.

The city should hook up with a developer, claim immenent domain, buy up the downtown, bulldoze it, then have the developer put in a Santana Row style downtown.
At least then the overpriced food would taste good.

It would be far better that the run down, sleepy, depressing place that it is in its current state.

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Posted by The Jackal
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Jan 21, 2009 at 7:45 pm

Downtown merchants have to survive the downturn or leave and it is going to be difficult.

It is probably time for change anyway as things are a bit past their prime.

The Oasis is usually busy in the evenings so I think the hard truth is that unless you offer an exceptional product at a fair price in this climate your not going to make it.

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Posted by Mr. Turner
a resident of Valley View Elementary School
on Jan 22, 2009 at 7:04 am

I'm trying to figure out why Livermore doesn't have the same "depressing, sleepy" problem downtown. Even during these tough times it's a reasonably upbeat place to be. Maybe because the whole thing was redone recently. But here's a possibility. Livermore has positioned its downtown as more than a place to shop and eat. The city seems to strongly support downtown as the "soul center" of the community, as opposed to just a place to shop or eat then get out quickly. This makes people feel good about being there in general, which makes a big difference in vitality. Then again, there's no Stoneridge in Livermore. Suburban malls sucked downtowns dry nationwide, and some of that is probably still happening here.

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Posted by Mark
a resident of another community
on Jan 22, 2009 at 9:14 am

How about an idiot tax for people that come up with ideas like these. Unbelievable...take an economics course or move to Berkely

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Posted by Long Time Resident
a resident of Country Fair
on Jan 22, 2009 at 10:20 am

Finally, someone has come up with ideas that just might actually do something to revitalize our downtown and encourage new businesses to come into Pleasanton. The marketing campaign to get people to 'shop local' is laughable, and certainly does nothing to address what is happening to our beautiful Main St. We hear over and over again about inflated rents, a local beauracracy that would scare away even the most successful business person, and existing merchants having to come up with their own strategies to try to stay afloat because our City Council can't get it together. Come on people - let's implement the plans that will make a difference and save our downtown from further deterioration and demise. And, we don't have a couple of months to toss the ideas around and see what sticks. Make it happen now!

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Posted by Explorer
a resident of Mission Park
on Jan 22, 2009 at 11:16 am

There are few inflated rents on Main Street, it's all about the credit worthiness of a tenant. The Domus site used to be a grocery store and that's why there is a parking lot with it. Who shops in a grocery store of 10,000 square feet? It's too small to attract a major retailer and too big to attract a small business. That's why downtowns struggle. If you can't move merchandise, you can't support employees, taxes, insurance, maintenance, and other costs associated with owning and running a business. I haven't seen a downtown that isn't struggling with our similar demographics. Walnut Creek is a hub of economic support with Danville, Orinda, Moraga, Lafayette, Concord, etc feeding it. We can't compare with them. Livermore, with a lot of incentives for merchants, can't attract national or regional tenants. Their downtown is struggling too. Pleasanton doesn't have a strategy or goals for the downtown. I don't see it happening without the use of eminent domain to take property for private development. A difficult issue that many would not like mentioned in this properous city. Redevelopment agency is not in the plan either. At current configuration, it will not be more than it is today - piecemeal of tenants. Downtown merchant organization that can't attract tenants without a budget to travel and promote the region. Tri-Valley needs to think and plan together as a destination. Lot's more I could say...

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Posted by Trevor Tooze
a resident of Livermore
on Jan 22, 2009 at 11:19 am

The city and the landlords have shot themselves in the foot. The city, in conjunction with the PDA have been so selective in the types of businesses they have allowed. The landlords have had a huge dose of "greed", upping rents as much as 75% to 100%, without doing improvements, I may add. There are so many restaurants in Pleasanton, that have had to raise their prices to pay the higher rents, and now the restaurants are hurting as much, if not more than other businesses. Yes, a stimulus is a good idea, but could be helped out by landlords charging realistic rents.

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Posted by patron of Main St
a resident of Downtown
on Jan 22, 2009 at 11:52 am

Trevor -- where do you get your ideas? The city and the PDA have nothing, NOT ONE THING, to do with picking or approving tenants. I can guess that they might draw the line at a nude dance hall but maybe not if the landlord agreed to it.
Explorer -- "There are few inflated rents on Main Street, it's all about the credit worthiness of a tenant." Say what? There are many inflated rents and I have never heard of any landlord basing rent on credit worthiness. That may apply to huge buildings as in Hacienda business park but it has nothing to do with the rents charged on Main Street.
The problem, which has been addressed many times in the past at various levels, is that we need a first floor retail ordinance. It works in Los Gatos and most landlords rent their properties for much more than in Pleasanton. The reason we do not have a first floor retail ordinance is that the landlords will not agree to it. Without the city forcibly taking the property (and no reasonable person wants to see that happen) there is nothing to prevent the landlords from renting to banks, nail salons and botox parlors. Those are the places where the residents of this town spend their money and those are the tenants who can afford to open a storefront.

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Posted by Explorer
a resident of Mission Park
on Jan 22, 2009 at 12:59 pm

What's a realistic rent? How would this be determined? Not by percent of sales, as then that requires a landlord to see the books of a business. How much should Landlords charge? Stop being vague and suggest solutions. First floor retail only doesn't need to be, go look at the vacancy in Livermore with this restriction. We need many businesses in downtown and Hacienda. Zoning restricts the type of businesses, not the PDA. All businesses must have a business license, hence zoning is enforced.

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Posted by QREUS George
a resident of Del Prado
on Jan 22, 2009 at 6:23 pm

Lots of interesting thoughts here, on all sides. The one I like best is the "Taxation of Empty Stores on Main Street" or at least the threat of it. That will make it easier to get reasonable leases that will actually Bring in possible business. I don't get why Any building owner would want to leave a building empty unless they had more money than they need and are using it as a Write Off or what else could there be as far as advantages...... Perhaps they are waiting for the City to give them a "Hand Out." Hmmmm that is working for some companies.

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Posted by Paul
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 22, 2009 at 6:49 pm

Main Street is the crown jewel of Pleasanton. Over the past three decades, the demand for commercial & retail development in the 580/680 has left downtown with few options except for expensive restaurants and hair salons. When Pleasanton successfully developed plans for both commercial & retail to the north of downtown at Hacienda, Stoneridge Dr.,Owens Dr., Rose Pavilion and soon at Staples Ranch, it created a business "hot spot". Feeling the pressure, the City of Dublin quickly responded and got it's commercial & retail development underway with it's own jewel at the retail/theatre complex at the Hacienda Crossings, further impacting the crown jewel downtown. The name "Hacienda Crossings" should have brought concern to the city leaders as a shot across the bow, but very little if any action was undertaken to develop a strong battle plan for the future.
Pleasanton escalated the commercial/retail battle and failed to protect the base. Now we are taking heavy casulties and it appears that the battle plan was never drawn up.

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Posted by Jack
a resident of Downtown
on Jan 22, 2009 at 7:13 pm

Somebody needs to explain something to me: How does a landlord make money off an empty building? And retail only? That would only triple the number of empty storefronts...
And the ones getting bashed the hardest in this post are the property owners. Aren't they the ones who created and developed and have maintained what we currently know as our downtown?
Domus, the Pleasanton Hotel, and Kolln Hardware, are three very unique situations, and only time will tell what their very three unique outcomes will be...

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Posted by Paul
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 22, 2009 at 7:32 pm

Why is Staples Ranch going commercial/retail? Perhaps Bernal Park and Staples Ranch should have been flip flopped to create a balance of commercial/retail on each side of downtown. Leave the auto row up on the 580 but bring more box retail into closer proximity to downtown.
Bring in more family oriented attractions in proximity to downtown. The new Theatre Arts Center is a good start but Main St. will need more than this. The new Sharks Ice, planned for the park in Staples Ranch should be in the Bernal Park Phase II as proposed by a Pleasanton resident several years ago. We complain about the outside traffic coming into our streets. Why not encourage it by building directly opposite the County Fairgrounds and make the Bernal area a new "hot spot"
Just thoughts folks. Be kind.

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Posted by Steve Rosefield
a resident of Pleasanton Valley
on Jan 23, 2009 at 9:54 am

Downtown Pleasanton is our historic center based on the proximity to the primary freight and passenger transportation mode of the yesteryear … the railroad. As other passenger options became the methods of choice, the need for development based on concentric rings formed around the original center of town has diminished. In this respect, Pleasanton is not unique. Many cities and towns have seen their downtown areas progress from active business centers to aging second tier retail areas (or worse). Once freed from the dependence of the railroad, businesses were empowered to develop shopping areas that better suit their needs (parking, freight moving, proximity to a wider customer base, etc) Of course those “brick and mortar” businesses now have challenges of their own to face. What has made Pleasanton unique has been the affluent (even if it was somewhat HELOC generated) and educated population base that had leisure time to spend searching for unique dining and shopping experiences in the downtown area, and the resources to do so. Uniqueness has proved to be harder to sustain on the goods side. There are a few hardware based businesses, but my guess is the only ones that will survive the current business climate and area direction offer a significant service component or have reduced operating expenses because they own their property. Like much of the nation, our “boom town” has suffered from our loss of perceived prosperity.

On to some suggestions … I’m going to get a little long winded here, and I am not sure what the site will do to my pasted format, so bear with me.

First and foremost redevelop downtown in a way that honors our past while looking to the future.

• Organize the private railroad currently operating in Sunol and bring it to downtown Pleasanton.

The Niles District of Fremont desperately needs some commercial revitalization as well. And this “old time” railway system ties the two areas together via one of the most beautiful canyons anywhere. Utilize our downtown museum as a historic center with an emphasis on the history of the railroad and its effect on development of our town and the nation. Schedule informational/historic train rides during the day and develop an “on train” dining business that runs at night. Cross promote extensively with the three affected areas.

• Build a Livermore Valley Wine Center in downtown.

Create one spot where all of the wineries of the area can display, serve, and sell their product. (perhaps the vacant Domus space?). Intersperse the wine offerings with an ongoing common farmer’s market space supplied by multiple local farms. Move the weekend market to an adjoining space (like the Domas parking lot). Wine is our most noticeable regional product. Make it a destination and a focal point and promote the region accordingly. I would use the re-developed ferry building in SF as a large scale model of the concept.

• Redevelop some of the historic buildings to accommodate B&B style hotels.

The Rose is a beautiful centerpiece. Some “down market” offerings will help their business and help to make the area a destination.

• Bring live entertainment and attractions back to downtown and the surrounding areas.

Rib cook off? Hot Rod show? Battle of the bands? School science fairs? Regional competitions? Jazz festivals? Softball tournaments at our parks? Swim events? Live entertainment at the local restaurants? Give people a reason to make the trip!

• Build a multi-use pathway from the park at the corner of Mission and Niles through Niles canyon and into our new sports park and downtown area.

It’s going to cost some money to get the railroad into town … so get something in return for our part of the funding. Make Niles canyon accessible to pedestrians and cyclists to further promote the area as a lifestyle destination. Advertise our spectacular outdoor possibilities (equestrian, hiking, mountain biking, etc).

Our location and charm makes our city an attractive destination for affluent residents from the Bay Area and beyond. Let’s give them some reasons to choose us over some of the better known destinations to our north. I could keep going, but let’s see if any of this gets some dialogue started.

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Posted by Bright Future
a resident of Carlton Oaks
on Jan 23, 2009 at 10:14 am

Steve Rosefield, your brainstorm is terrific. It's sunshine on this rainy day!

I really like the Niles train idea. In challenging times, bold steps must be made. We need visionary leadership. Steve, wanna run for mayor in a year?

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Posted by Steve Rosefield
a resident of Pleasanton Valley
on Jan 23, 2009 at 3:25 pm

Thank you, Bright Future. Like many these days, I am looking for a new job, but I am doubtful that having a few ideas qualifies me for that one. I would love to get involved in the planning and promotion of our region however. But my real purpose was (and is) to float a few ideas and see if any of them might further the ongoing dialogue about how to best improve and promote our region in general, and downtown Pleasanton in particular. Each of the ideas listed present some significant challenges that would have to be overcome, but again, the point is to get the conversation started.

My main premise is that the rules of retail distribution have radically changed in the last ten years. Unless a retailer has something fairly unique to offer, or their goods are service dependent, “Location, Location, Location” will most likely be preceded by www. The game has changed for goods providers, so businesses must adapt or risk demise. Since my wife and I moved to town in 2001, I have noticed that the downtown area has supported a mix of restaurants, other service providers, and hard goods providers. Each sector has supported the other legs of the stool by providing new customers to the region and serving the customers brought to the area by their neighbors. However the balance has tipped and most, if not all, of the businesses are now suffering from reduced revenues due to minimized discretionary income and lessened foot traffic. The city, the property owners, the business owners, and the PDA must work together to set a new strategy for the downtown area, or the carnage will continue unchecked. And that plan ultimately must incorporate our unique regional strengths to succeed.

So what makes our area unique? Quite a few things come to mind, but the items that stand out most to me are our agricultural goods (wines and other produce), our beautiful landscape, our fantastic terrain and infrastructure for healthy activities, our history as a railroad, farming, and ranching town, our relatively violence and crime free community, and our immediate proximity to the affluent, but crowded communities of Silicon Valley, San Francisco, and the peninsula in between. These things add up to a lifestyle that many aspire to achieve, even if only for a few precious days. Add those things together and I am pretty sure there is a reasonable business plan for the downtown sector in there somewhere.

I have a few ideas for re-engaging the community, as well, but I’ll save those for another day.

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Posted by Beth
a resident of Castlewood
on Jan 23, 2009 at 9:05 pm

I totally agree w/ HAHAHAHAH and why is every solution someone else's money via a tax? liberalism is spreading way too much thru this town that was built on conservative principals.

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Posted by Dave
a resident of Grey Eagle Estates
on Jan 23, 2009 at 9:28 pm

Downtown Pleasanton has stagnated over the last 10 years and is no longer competitive with other nearby cities and venues. It should be totally redeveloped. City planning and architectural standards have led to a crisis of shabby blandness. City leaders need to drive a new vision that is more like San Jose's Santana Row instead of the current frozen in time, poorly designed and built Main Street look of today.

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Posted by Guannattepe
a resident of Ridgeview Commons
on May 7, 2009 at 11:26 pm

Web Link online cialis, 80663,

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Posted by Jerry
a resident of Oak Hill
on May 8, 2009 at 2:21 am

This city desperately needs people with a vision such as Steve Rosefield projects but unfortunately they would be stiffled due to the political climate and "good old boys/girls club"(Chamber of Commerce)influence that is quite evident in this city...

Attempt to put forth an idea that could merit consideration without the blessings of the so-called "city leaders" and it will be squashed before it see's the light of day, and that's a shame...

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Posted by Pete
a resident of Downtown
on May 8, 2009 at 8:50 am

Lots of good ideas here and lots of bad ideas as well. First when has a stimulus plan ever worked? and who ever heard of a stimulus plan before Bush tried it and it failed this time last year? Well it was so unsuccessful that Pelosi and Obama are trying it again!! when are we going to wiseup and realize that Mayor Moonbean and company are clueless?

Main street used to be vibrant and then we decided we wanted to be Carmel and blocked off Main Street. Used to be the only way you could get through town was to drive down Main Street. Now you only go down there as a last resort as now we have Bernal, Valley, Stoneridege etc. to get through town and we have designed it this way. We used to have a great hot August nights and then some genius on the council decided we needed to charge the hotrodders to park and guess what? They went to Danville and now all we have is something at the Fairgrounds and have to pay to play. The company which built Hacienda Crossings in Dublin came to us first and we tried to strong arm them so guess what they went to Dublin.

Let nature take its course and Main Street will either survive or be like one of those old towns which was bypassed by the highway system but in this case we have done it to ourselves by voting for these idiots.

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Posted by Guannattepe
a resident of Ridgeview Commons
on May 15, 2009 at 2:31 pm

Have a nice day. From Web Link

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Posted by Ron
a resident of Downtown
on May 15, 2009 at 2:53 pm

Pete, you are correct. the market works. Keep the politicians away.

Guannattepe, I couldn't use your link, it looks like it's broken.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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