Planners vote 5-0 to OK Walmart grocery store | March 23, 2012 | Pleasanton Weekly | |

Pleasanton Weekly

News - March 23, 2012

Planners vote 5-0 to OK Walmart grocery store

Bid likely to go to City Council for final decision

by Jeb Bing

The Pleasanton Planning Commission voted 5-0 last Monday night to approve for a second time the bid by Walmart to open one of its Neighborhood Markets in the vacant former Nob Hill supermarket on Santa Rita Road.

The commission's decision actually was to deny an appeal by two Pleasanton residents, Angela Joe-Willmes and Linda Martin, who contested a decision by the city's zoning administrator. The administrator ruled that Walmart could open its market at the site since the proposed market matches the footprint of the Nob Hill store, which the city approved in 1982.

Last month, the City Council voted 4-1 to accept the zoning administrator's decision, with Councilman Matt Sullivan, a longtime outspoken opponent of Walmart's business policies, casting the one vote against the measure.

Although there were rumblings over the last few days prior to the Planning Commission meeting that busloads of union protestors might attend, only 18 showed up and none spoke although they took copious notes about the comments from those at the meeting who did. Even the two women who asked the commission to hear their appeal did not attend the meeting.

Because of the large crowd anticipated, Monday night's meeting was held at the 227-seat Firehouse Arts Center, where about half the seats were empty. The union representatives sat in the back two rows of the theater with the rest of the seats filled with supporters of the Walmart Neighborhood Market, at times applauding the 35 speakers who urged the commission to deny the appeal by the two women and allow Walmart to move forward with opening its store.

Only one speaker voiced concern over the Walmart grocery store, pointing out that she thought Nob Hill's business was declining, which is why Raley's, Nob Hill's corporate parent, closed the Pleasanton store. She said another grocer at the same site might sap the business of other supermarkets in the city.

But Tom Foley, who manages the Meadow Plaza shopping center at the southeast corner of West Las Positas Boulevard and Santa Rita, said retailers in the center have seen their customer base slump since Nob Hill closed.

Walmart's Neighborhood Market, which would occupy the 33,160-square-foot former Nob Hill market, would revitalize the center as its major anchor tenant.

Others said that Walmart would bring 75 new jobs to Pleasanton and probably much more as its customers also shopped at other retail stores and dined in nearby restaurants.

One speaker called it a "spillover" effect as Walmart's Neighborhood Market attracts more shoppers to Pleasanton.

Other comments at Monday night's meeting:

"It's been a hardship on my business since the loss of Nob Hill. I don't think another store coming in will have any additional impact on traffic." -- Karen Frederick, retail store owner.

"I've lived here for 20 years and I don't want someone telling me where I can shop." - A 77-year-old.

"The Walmart store will create 75 new jobs. It would be difficult to tell people at the local unemployment office that they can't have a job because someone doesn't like Walmart." - A longtime resident.

"I live near the store and I really miss Nob Hill. I'm shocked that the appellants aren't here. What's their issue?" - Ed Heuer.

"This (Walmart) will be a job creating machine. Other businesses will benefit, too. Both the workers and the shoppers will spend throughout the city." - Robert Bacon.

"These people (Walmart representatives) have followed the rules and done everything they needed to do to open their store. I've served on both the Planning Commission and City Council and I know that this is a permitted use." - Sharrell Michelotti.

"I'm not a Walmart customer or a Walmart fan, but I am a fan of neighborhood centers. It will be easy for people who live near this one to walk over and shop." - Brad Hirst.

"I'm concerned about adding another grocery store in our community. Where are the customers who will go to this new store? I'm concerned for Fresh & Easy, Raley's. Some will lose business and some will gain. This may be a win for the new tenant but not for other stores. How can a city of 66,000 people support 10 grocery stores?" - Donna Robby.

"We're here tonight because America is the greatest country in the world. This property has been zoned for a grocery store and this would be a replacement. It's the rule of law." - David Miller.

"I surveyed my neighbors and all of them want a free enterprise system in Pleasanton. I urge all of you here tonight to go to the City Council meeting (when this issue comes up) because Walmart will need your support there, too." - Kay Ayala.

"I'm from Livermore and use the Pleasanton BART station, This new store will be right on the way home and many of us will shop there." - Robert Allen, former BART board member.

"I started working for Walmart as a management trainee right out of college. It's a wonderful place to work. The Neighborhood Market is just like any other grocery store." - Walmart marketing manager.

"I live in Pleasanton. Walmart has been my career. Walmart offers many community services, financial support, aid to the Tri-Valley Community Foundation." - Erick Wente, manager, Mountain View Walmart.

Noting that this issue will now likely go back to the City Council for a final review and decision, Planning Commissioner Arne Olson said that if anyone on the council votes to uphold an appeal of the commission's decision, "they will be casting a vote against Pleasanton."

But that, indeed, is probably what will happen.

Although Angela Joe-Willmes and Linda Martin have exhausted their right of appeal as a result of the Planning Commission's denial of their appeal Monday, a member of the City Council can file an appeal of the commission's decision. It's expected that will come from Councilman Sullivan, who has 15 days to file an appeal.

The appeal will then have to be heard at the council's next regularly scheduled meeting, which would likely be April 17.

However, anyone on the council including Sullivan could ask for a postponement to the next meeting date, which would take the issue to the council meeting on May 1.

Further delays could be come at that time due to illness, although a final vote by the council at either its May 1 or May 15 meeting could wrap up the Walmart Neighborhood store issue.

Barring a lawsuit, the store could open in mid-summer.