News

Giant sign approved for new Alma Plaza grocer

Grocery Outlet gets green-light for glaring sign despite resident objections

For decades, Alma Plaza in Palo Alto has served as a graveyard for grocers' dreams.

The reputation has stuck even after the plaza at 3445 Alma Street was redeveloped and rebranded as "Alma Village." Years after Lucky's and Albertson's shut their doors and left town, the plaza welcomed its latest tenant, Miki's Farm Fresh Market, which stayed open for less than six months before it closed its doors in April and its owner filed for bankruptcy.

Now, the City Council is trying its best to keep the latest entrant into the plaza from suffering a similarly ignominious fate, even if it means ruffling some feathers in the neighborhood. That's what happened Monday night, when the council voted 6-3 to approve a large, illuminated "Grocery Outlet" sign despite an appeal from neighborhood leaders.

At 104 square feet, the sign for the discount grocer would be more than 30 times what is normally allowed for signs in the area. In this case, however, the council agreed that typical rules don't apply. With so many grocers failing on the site for reasons ranging from poor visibility to insufficient parking, council members agreed to bow down to the grocer's request for a "cabinet" sign that some in the neighborhood called excessive and unsightly.

The city's Architectural Review Board and planning staff had already approved the sign, but the council was asked to take it up after an appeal from a group of residents led by Midtown's Sheri Furman and Annette Glanckopf. Both argued that while they support the new grocer, they oppose the installation of what would be the largest sign on the Alma corridor. They urged the council to reduce the size, despite an assertion from a Grocery Outlet executive that the store would pull out if it doesn't have its way.

"The sign exceeds all the sign-ordinance limits," Furman told the council Monday. "We are protesting that excess."

The council ultimately voted 6-3, with Karen Holman, Greg Schmid and Gail Price dissenting, to uphold the architectural board's approval. Though no one was thrilled about the proposed sign, few dared to call Grocery Outlet's bluff and risk being once again without a supermarket at Alma Village.

The city had previously approved an even larger "banner sign" for the development, though Miki's went out of business before that sign could be installed. Though the newly approved 26-foot-tall sign would be slightly smaller than its approved predecessor, it would be brighter. Its letters would be illuminated and it would reach 10 feet over the store's roofline.

Tom DuBois, one of the appellants, argued that allowing such a sign would put Palo Alto on a slippery slope.

"Small signs work when everyone has them," DuBois said. "Once we have large signs, it will kick off an arms race. If I owned a store and saw a large sign, I'd definitely want one too."

Holman agreed with the residents that the sign is excessive and argued that the business could survive with good marketing, even without the giant sign. Others were more cautious, largely because of the city's recent experiences with the site. Councilman Pat Burt, who was on the planning commission when Alma Plaza was going through its long quest for approval about 15 years ago, said the question for him is, "How do we make something that is moderately successful at this site?"

"I don't want to see another failure at this site," Burt said. "I don't think this whole Planned Community development at this site is the best design, but it's built. We've got to get past that."

Burt challenged Marc Drasen, Grocery Outlet's vice president for real estate, to consider a compromise with the neighbors, but this suggestion went nowhere. Drasen told the council that after thoroughly studying the issue, "we feel this is the minimum sign schematic that would be beneficial for success for our store."

Most on the council agreed with Burt and approved the large sign despite major reservations. Councilman Marc Berman noted that the site was "cursed" (though he quickly downgraded his assessment to "challenging") in explaining his willingness to go along with the staff recommendation. Councilman Larry Klein noted that cars typically drive fast up and down Alma Street, which has few traffic lights, and the larger sign is thus justified. Councilwoman Liz Kniss, who made the motion to approve the sign, said she doesn't want to risk losing a supermarket but noted that she is supporting the sign "reluctantly."

"I don't know why Grocery Outlet feels so strongly about the sign, but it's quite clear to me that they do and it's also quite clear that Mr. McNellis (the plaza's developer) has scoured the countryside for a grocery store that's willing to go here."

For developer John McNellis, the Monday night showdown was the latest skirmish over a development that has stirred intense neighborhood controversy for well over a decade. Often criticized for its massing and inadequate setbacks, the development has become a local poster child for "planned community" projects gone haywire, density run amok and insufficient public benefits. McNellis told the council on Monday that the debate over the sign is "a situation that, for better or worse, we the city have put ourselves into."

"There is a requirement that I put a market in this location," McNellis said. "In this case, the market will not proceed without signage."

He also noted that he had reached out to grocers "from A to Z" and found no other takers for the site.

"This is our only market," McNellis said.

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Anneke
a resident of Professorville
on Dec 17, 2013 at 9:50 am

A challenging restart to an already challenging situation! Let's hope that the city council members and the developers are the patrons of this new market.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Cheryl Lilienstein
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 17, 2013 at 10:35 am

I think I see a sign.

Thousands of commuters passing by will say "OMG where did that ugly thing come from?"
And the answer is: in a vote with only 3 dissents, the city council approved this thing. They are concerned about legacy, though, and maybe this sign is it.

It's 30 times the allowed size.

As Holman, dissenting with Schmidt (and surprisingly Price, who said it was "bad design"), said to the planning employees: "Can you tell me why we have rules? Can you?"

Resident Tom DuBois produced photos showing that nowhere else in the Bay Area does Grocery Outlet have a sign more than 1/4 the size of the one that Palo Alto approved.

Yet, the merchant was not willing to consider the community's concerns or compromise, and nobody on the council proposed taking a vote on a smaller sign. Burt came close by asking if the the applicant would accept a sign that ends at the roof line rather than 10 feet above, but unfortunately Burt backed off.

And Scharff, Klein, Berman, Shepard and Kniss were predictably in support.

So when you drive past, and have your reaction, it's good to remember who chose not to discuss or even seek compromise and thus brought you this giant sign: Scharff, Klein, Berman, Shepard, Kniss (and Burt) and the good folks at planning who know the rules and choose differently.










 +   Like this comment
Posted by Knownothing
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 17, 2013 at 10:54 am

It would be good to know if the council has any idea what percent of the PA citizenry deems a given "public benefit" a real benefit. I even wonder if one takes the so called public benefits in the aggregate, whether a substantial fraction of the population would find them a benefit. Maybe the council is out of touch with what the Public thinks is a benefit.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Disgarceful
a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 17, 2013 at 10:54 am

Cheryl-- fortunately the right decision was made, considering the history of the location. But, naturally, rather than conceding defeat gracefully, we have comments like:
"Thousands of commuters passing by will say "OMG where did that ugly thing come from?

I am sure the vast majority of people will either think the sign is okay or have no problem with it.
When you speak of community concern, that is based on what? Have you polled the community? Have you appointed yourself as the spokesperson for the community?
It is exactly because of "community concerns" that we lost a dedicated shopping center and ended up with alma village.
There is a reason o other store wants to move into that location. How about helping out to try to ensure that this store will succeed instead of using scare tactics and pronouncements that falsely claim to,represent the entire community.
I am sure many people will be happy to have a local store and do not care one way or another about the sign, that the midtown association has chosen to get all worked up over.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Cur Mudgeon
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 17, 2013 at 10:55 am

Business as usual at the Planning Department and Council. We have zoning regulations that define setbacks that are violated in the name of an HIE.
We have failed commercial projects that get exemptions such as the one above.
Is no one NOT in the RE developers' pockets?

It's truly time for a housecleaning.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by yet another sign
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 17, 2013 at 10:55 am


from the Post

Mayor Greg Scharff aslo said he felt he had to approve the sign to salvage Alma Plaza
"To me, it comes down to this, if we don't approve the sign, we don't get the Grocery Outlet, the store sits vacant...you end up with a closed and blighted shopping venter" Scharff said.

To salvage Alma Plaza - is that to salvage CC and ARB approvals?

"A closed and blighted shopping center" - which CC and ARB approved, and continue to approve closed projects. JCC, etc. Does that mean all closed buildings will need signs?

"The site sits vacant" - why the overbuilding in Palo Alto. There are vacant sites?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by hilary
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 17, 2013 at 10:59 am

What a shame.
As a neighbor of the Plaza, its disappointing to see that not much has gone well for this project. Now a big sign and a discount grocery store (both of which are out of character with the neighborhood).


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Stepheny McGraw
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 17, 2013 at 11:01 am

It seems ironic that Palo Alto has closed the landfill. Now the City Council, the Architectural Review Board, the City Planners et al will be putting Time Square-size signs all over the place, even as they smile at the super size developments. The garbage has come from the Baylands to our streets and neighborhoods.

I, for one, will not be shopping at Grocery Outlet. This unnecessary and ugly sign represents neighborhood blight and that's enough to keep me from ever wanting to see what's on the inside.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 17, 2013 at 11:11 am

How many signatures are required to recall these clowns? Do we have to have a separate petition for each one?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by nurmi
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Dec 17, 2013 at 11:13 am

Grocery Outlet's attitude demonstrates they will not be good neighbors, folks. How do you spell BOYCOTT?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 17, 2013 at 11:13 am

"Councilman Larry Klein noted that cars typically drive fast up and down Alma Street, which as few traffic lights, and the larger sign is thus justified. "

Really Larry Klein. The breaking of a law, speeding cars down Alma, now justifies breaking another law???? Ignoring our sign code ? Wow,and from An Attorney?

The speed limit is thirty-five any one who can' slow down enough to make the turn shouldn't have a drivers license.

Most peoples cars and electronic devices tell them exactly how to find a destination…..not like the the olde timey days when we had to send up signs and flags and smoke so the stage coach could see them, from a mile s
away! Nor is this a sign alerting people on the highway for "last chance for gas for miles"

If the business is so tenuous as to depend entirely on a sign that large they probably don't have a contemporary marketing plan and will fail anyhow…..especially at that stinker of a location.

A new business in town should be concerned about their neighbors and sensitive to their needs and wants. Grocery Outlet would have made a better impression had they been willing to budge an inch or foot or two. Not off to a good start with the community you wish to frequent your store!


Just business as usual.favors for developers coal for the residents. Another decision brought by our Grinch Council, destroying little who-ville!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 17, 2013 at 11:16 am

Two words: dented cans.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by 35 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 17, 2013 at 11:20 am

The City Council and local residents demanded a grocery store be placed in this development despite the fact that stores there did not fare well. The project was delayed for a long time because of this. Live with it......as stated by Anonymous, a recall would be appropriate.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Robert
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 17, 2013 at 11:23 am

This is a classic situation. First the PA City Council approved a LOUSY design for the whole Alma complex, with that horrific hulking market building almost hovering over Alma. Then the market fails and, desperate, to fill the space, the supine CC capitulates to the new market people and approves a huge sign, as if people were not aware that Miki didn't have a market there before.

I vomited when I read developer John McNellis' stupid statement, "There is a requirement that I put a market in this location," McNellis said. "In this case, the market will not proceed without signage." Does he really not get the point that it's not "signage" as such that people are objecting to, it's the SCALE of the signage?!

Then there was Pat Burt's classic argument: "I don't want to see another failure at this site," Burt said. "I don't think this whole Planned Community development at this site is the best design, but it's built. We've got to get past that."
Right, Pat, two wrongs make a right! Rather than make a bad situation worse, perhaps it would have been better to come up with a better design rather than to make a bad design worse.

The incompetence on our City Council boggles the mind.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 17, 2013 at 11:24 am

Pathetic. The issue isn't knowing the store is there; it's being able to get to it easily!

Wonder what they'll do when this store fails!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by JoAnn
a resident of Ventura
on Dec 17, 2013 at 11:29 am

This is an illustration of the old saying "to have someone over a barrel." As in "Grocery Outlet has Palo Alto over a barrel."

Me, I won't shop there because of their commercials with Muppet ripoffs. I won't even watch them. But if the sign points at Alma, it should shine in anyone's window, etc.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by JerryL
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Dec 17, 2013 at 11:31 am

Speaking of the JCC. I notice that the walls on the San Antonio side
are already cracking? Is this going to be a hazard?

Speaking of Alma Plaza. I used to occasionally shop at Lucky's, turning
from Alma into an inviting parking lot. I always thought that the main hindrance to that location's greater success was the lack of an entrance from East Meadow or an access from the rear by punching through to a side street.

Neighbors would have none of it. So here we are.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 17, 2013 at 11:33 am

Silly… you wonder what the council will do if this store fails???

I have a prediction. The developer will go to council pleading hardship. Scharf made it clear he spoke to every potential grocer in the universe and only Grocery Outlet was interested He'll ask for it to be office space, and Voila, the Developer fairy will wave her wand and make it happen!

If this comes to pass it should still be used for a true community benefit. child care, elder care etc…
Good news is the office workers can get coffee next door.



 +   Like this comment
Posted by Long Time Local Guy
a resident of Southgate
on Dec 17, 2013 at 11:34 am

I wonder if Mark Weiss has ever been inside a Grocery Outlet...I have on 2 occasions, to purchase Weideman's sourdough bread which is no longer carried at Mollie Stones or other local groceries. The S.F. bakery directed me to the Grocery Outlet store in Redwood City where they deliver it twice weekly.

While there, I looked through the aisles. There were NO dented cans anywhere to be seen and to my surprise there were some interesting wines at reasonable prices.

The store doesn't pretend to be something it is not and the shoppers I saw didn't carry any Whole Foods attitude. I'm sure they'll probably do better than Miki's.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Midtown Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 17, 2013 at 11:47 am

Maybe it wasn't the new design of Alma Plaza, even though it is "challenging", but the fact that Miki's was just another overly expensive supermarket like Piazzas, Mollie Stones, and Draegers. Maybe a reasonably priced market will make it in that location–regardless of the size of the sign.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Fed Up
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 17, 2013 at 11:52 am

Anyone who says the south part of Palo Alto is not treated differently from the rest of the city will have to show me where the council approved a LIGHTED sign THIRTY TIMES the allowable size anywhere north of Oregon Expressway. These things simply do not happen there, and they never will. They have always, and always will happen south of Oregon only. We are tired of being treated like the "poor relations" in this town. Been here 30+ years, seen no change at all.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Eva_PA
a resident of Ventura
on Dec 17, 2013 at 12:13 pm

Eva_PA is a registered user.

Another disappointment from a disappointing Palo Alto City Council. It seems ANYthing goes when it comes to development. I am not anti-development, just anti-bad development. And sorry but why Grocery Outlet. I guess that was the only store they could find, but really wrong demographic. I miss Miki's (and yes I did patronize them). I think they would have done much better as a smaller specialty store.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by bignose
a resident of University South
on Dec 17, 2013 at 12:35 pm

Dear Fed Up. We won't get any big signs in our frozen North. However, we do get a constant flow of larger buildings with inadequate parking as long as the builder whines or promises a police building that never happens. We all get our own Palo Alto crosses to bear.

I think what we're seeing in general is the divergence of the goals of the Council and those of the populace. We have to decide and make known what kind of community we want; one with more businesses and a larger tax base or back to a bedroom community or some mix in between. The first seems to be the goal of the council, at least given the last few years of decisions.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Dan
a resident of Southgate
on Dec 17, 2013 at 12:52 pm

McNellis should charge $0 rent or less to the grocery if that what it takes to make the business work. That space is designated as a grocery store for the "Community Benefit" in exchange for McNellis' increased profits resulting from the zoning changes that allowed him to build more houses. He shouldn't be profiting from the space, he should be subsidizing it. Also, people know where their local grocery store is. They don't need a giant sign to find it. This is not an area out-of-towners generally drive by. Perhaps the Council should have granted a 1 year exemption to the rule, allowing the giant sign long enough to establish the grocery store, then take it down once locals were familiar with the place. Now, I'm afraid, they've set a bad precedent.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Paul
a resident of University South
on Dec 17, 2013 at 12:52 pm

The answer is simple. Just don't shop at the new market. It will go out of business, they will take down the sign, and the site will be repurposed as new office space.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by mutti
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Dec 17, 2013 at 12:59 pm

Yes, speaking of JCC -- and Palo Alto High School. Grocery Outlet can just put up whatever signs they want and the city will ignore them. Paly's electronic sign is illegal, and the school was told that 12+ years ago. They left it 'static' for awhile, but it's back to flashing again. And don't get me started on the 'temporary' signs on the side of the JCC. I drive by there every day, see the holes in the wall from previous signs and the ugly signs currently there. Is this a building or a billboard?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Humpty Dumpty
a resident of another community
on Dec 17, 2013 at 1:00 pm

It's got nothing to do with getting customers for the grocery store. McNellis and the City Council majority are just telling everyone that they have the power to erect a large, ugly sign wherever they want.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Zoning-For-Sale-In-Palo-Alto
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 17, 2013 at 1:01 pm

> As Holman, dissenting with Schmidt (and surprisingly Price, who
> said it was "bad design"), said to the planning employees:
> "Can you tell me why we have rules? Can you?"

Karen Holman got it right, this time. It's a shame she didn't go a little farther and make it clear that she believes that zoning is for sale in Palo Alto.



 +   Like this comment
Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 17, 2013 at 1:08 pm

I predict this monster sign will be constructed of programable LEDs like the old Circle Star Theater sign or the Ikea sign. After that is done Grocery Outlet will assert their first amendment rights! Didn't we just turn down a deal like that which was supposed to bring in millions? No one mentioned that thousands of train riders are going to accosted by this thing! Palo Alto, home of Grocery Outlet! And I bet they got it for FREE! They don't want to sell groceries, they want to advertise. No wonder the sign is a deal breaker!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by sarah
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 17, 2013 at 1:14 pm

You know, I don't think I'd patronize a store that doesn't take the feelings of the locals nearby under consideration.
It's a bad place for a store like that, and it will most likely fail as well. I wish it well, but I won't be there.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Follow the Money
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 17, 2013 at 1:24 pm

@ Paul,
Or maybe the new office space will claim the sign was a mezzanine when they tear down and build a bigger building in a few decades.

The phrase "Adding insult to injury" seems inadequate.

@Anonymous,
The answer to your question is being discussed on this current thread:
Web Link

It's not as difficult as it sounds. Get together with your neighborhood group. Reach out to the Maybell people. You'll find some like-minded people. Now is the time.

The Maybell situation highlighted that we need to do more than just recall the Council. We need to
1) Make sure this Council doesn't rig the Comprehensive Plan to favor the Manhattanization of Palo Alto.
2) Make sure we change City Code so that following the Comprehensive Plan isn't optional.
3) Make sure the City includes state mandated elements like Safety and Traffic Circulation rather than the way they do it now so residents have protections to enforce their own vision of Palo Alto and state mandated protections and don't have to keep fighting individual developments.
4) Change City elections code so the City Attorney no longer controls what is put on ballots and the ballot analysis. If Council knows they can't insert such bias in elections, they will be more likely to see the handwriting on the wall when residents referend. A referendum does not have to go to vote, City Council has the option to rescind their ordinance, as they did for the Maybell neighbors' 2nd referendum. If City Council thinks they can win by illegally biasing the election, as they tried to do with the Maybell referendum, they are more likely to put us through another expensive election.

There are similar guidelines for coming forward with initiatives. Time for Citizen Revolt 2.0.




 +   Like this comment
Posted by Disgraceful
a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 17, 2013 at 1:31 pm

You know, I don't think I'd patronize a store that doesn't take the feelings of the locals nearby under consideration.
It's a bad place for a store like that, and it will most likely fail as well. I wish it well, but I won't be there."

How do Yu know what the locals nearby want?
The people who filed the appeal do not even live in the area-- they live in midtown, alma village is in south of midtown.
Sounds, Sarah, like you would be very happy if the store failed. Too bad.

"And sorry but why Grocery Outlet. I guess that was the only store they could find, but really wrong demographic. I miss Miki's (and yes I did patronize them). I think they would have done much better as a smaller specialty store."
I guess the assumption is that residents will only shop at high end stores-- I guess that is why Mikis flourished there!!!
Nt every resident can shop at whole food and other boutique stores. Maybe that is why so many go to menlo park and MV for groceries. Except for the pathetic midtown Safeway, PA has driven all the affordable stores put of town.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by KP
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 17, 2013 at 1:34 pm

This is just ridiculous. The city council does whatever the heck they want to do! When will it end?!
What do they mean that Alma PLAZA is hard to see? EVERYONE knows it's there and when there is or isn't a grocery store they want to patronize.
Just incredibly stupid and tiresome.
I've said it before...I wonder if anyone on the city council EVER reads our comments? OUR comments, from the people who live here! If they did, they SHOULD be embarrassed by their decision making, period!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 17, 2013 at 1:35 pm

Ugliness and blight continue to spread over the whole city. The
commercial and residential streetscapes are the ugliest I have
ever seen anywhere. The City is plastering signs, yellow paint, red paint all over the place. Almost every corner is now getting red paint.
What is happening to Palo Alto is beyond shocking, it is a tragedy.
The 636 Waverley Street project which residents strongly objected to last
night I'm afraid will be upstaged by another Ken Hayes project down the
street, 611 Cowper at the corner of Hamilton/Cowper, which is a modern 34,700 sf four-story mixed use building underparked by 53 spaces.



 +   Like this comment
Posted by RW
a resident of another community
on Dec 17, 2013 at 1:51 pm

"At 104 square feet, the sign for the discount grocer would be more than 30 times what is normally allowed for signs in the area"

I'm no mathematician, but that would mean that normally, signs are allowed to be only about 4 square feet. I think the article should state "30% larger"??


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 17, 2013 at 2:00 pm

Did it ever dawn on our officials that the problem is getting there from here and parking if you succeed, not seeing it??

I challenge the officials to set off from downtown, get there given the current traffic configuration and then park.

I really wonder if these people ever drive around and see what they're "planning" or to what they've done.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Dec 17, 2013 at 2:10 pm

RIGHT -- Thanks "RW" for pointing out that the sign is THIRTY PERCENT larger than normal, not 300%.

I used to get a kick out of these hysterical letters to PA Online, but not so much anymore. The character of the community is looking angry about everything, and when the letters are about the schools many letters are downright racist.

But the subject here is the market at this location: Recall the history of this project. First the writers object to allowing a larger Safeway at that site, then they object to Miki's as being too expensive, then they mourn it's going out of business, then they object to a lower cost market and its moderately larger sign.

Perhaps the new market will fail -- Palo Alto is impossible to please.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 17, 2013 at 2:18 pm

C'mon guys. Look it up. Municipal Code 16.20.140 Projecting signs.
(1) Area. No such sign shall exceed three square feet in area.

Signs on the wall have limitations also. But this is a "Projecting sign."
You see very few of these.

Also applicable: (2) Height. No part of any projecting sign shall exceed a height of twelve feet, nor shall any part of such sign extend above the top level of the wall upon or in front of which it is situated.

But as they say, rules are meant to be broken.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by ChrisC
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 17, 2013 at 2:35 pm

OMG .. the latest crazy thing from the City Council, I love how they loaned money to Maybell and are not in a hurry to get it back, yet they can lay off the city-employed street cleaners for another out sourcing. (Garbage and recycling pickup has never been the same since it left the city.) The problem with the market is not a sign; it's the entrance and parking. If you're not already looking for the place, by the time you see a sign, you can't pull in. I've heard many people who already shop at Grocery Outlet in Redwood City who are ecstatic it's coming here. They do not need a sign. Palo Alto city government values are just all wrong. Oh, let's talk about Izzie's cute coffee cup sign. Oh, and they want to help the grocers? How 'bout JJ&F? How'd they help them holding up their permits for five years? Does the City Council ever read these posts? Do they care?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 17, 2013 at 2:37 pm

Absolutely pathetic.

I can guarantee that as a protest I will never use that grocery store, ever.

The JCC has large banners and now this. Where will it end?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Zoning-For-Sale-In-Palo-Alto
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 17, 2013 at 2:38 pm

> yet they can lay off the city-employed street cleaners for
> another out sourcing.

Just for the record, the sources of funds for the Maybell loan, and the street cleaning come from two different sources, and are not interchangeable.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by David Pepperdine
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 17, 2013 at 3:13 pm

Only in Palo Alto could we have so much dissension about a simple store sign. Small wonder the city is going to pot.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Linda
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 17, 2013 at 4:00 pm

A sign of any size will not save this store from being a failure. There are too many other good options, and the inconvenience of stopping at a place where the parking lot is too small and the traffic too heavy will be a deterrent to any grocery store. There should be thought put into what kind of business will work in this location and then the plan modified in some way. The sign will be an eyesore, and we'll just have another failed business sitting empty in no time because it was never a good idea. We don't need this store!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Downtowner
a resident of Menlo Park
on Dec 17, 2013 at 4:11 pm

I liked the old Alma Plaza & used to go there specifically for B.J. Bull. While loading up on frozen pasties, I shopped @ Lucky & and got a coffee next door. Lucky wanted to expand but PA wouldn't allow that, because the neighbors in back didn't want to hear delivery trucks unloading in the early a.m. Besides, everybody "knew" PA needed more (packed-density) housing, right? And of course, there was a developer waiting to pour some money into city coffers.

You got what you asked for. Developer money, more housing, and a poorly situated retail building which is too small for a supermarket. The location of the building blocks adequate sightlines of the driveways, which is hazardous, but does keep delivery trucks farther away from housing.

Now you fuss about the proposed sign. CalTrain riders will be visually assaulted by a big, lighted sign?? Get real. Lots of you vow never to set foot in Grocery Outlet. Aside from all the squabbling, does anyone look at a larger picture? What amount of growth & direction of development do you want for Palo Alto? How many of you posting on this thread have actually notified your City officials & councilmen about what you want for the future? Is it important to you to have functional supermarkets in town or are you happy to drive to Mountain View or Menlo Park to shop? Is Whole Food enough variety & selection for you, at reasonable prices? Do you prefer 7-11 to Grocery Outlet?

Speak clearly & succinctly now or watch the continuing proliferation of underparked commercial buildings. Developer money is powerful but so are voices & votes of residents. Speak clearly & succinctly. Anonymous postings & complaints don't count. Write letters, sign them, & mail them. Attend council meetings. Or maybe you really don't care enough to act & just like complaining after the fact.


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Posted by Rupert of henzau
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 17, 2013 at 4:15 pm

Linda-- who is the " we" that does not need this store? The city needs a reasonably priced store-- almost all of the remaining stores in town are boutique groceries. Not everyone inPA is making 6 figure incomes. Not everyone wants $40/pound cheese.
You sound like you really want this store to fail.

Neighbor, above, is correct , people are either ignorant to or choose to ignore the history of this location. We could have had a dedicated neighborhood shopping center. But, no. Palo,alto residents put it through the PA process and now you have alma village.


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Posted by Alma is a parking lot
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 17, 2013 at 4:18 pm

"Councilman Larry Klein noted that cars typically drive fast up and down Alma Street, which has few traffic lights, and the larger sign is thus justified. "

Has Larry Klein ever drive on alma street, espcially near morning or evening rush hour times? His statement above is a joke & insulting. This shopping center has 2 lights right near it and at least for me it is very rare to drive on Alma without stopping at one or both lights.


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Posted by NO! NO! NO1d
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 17, 2013 at 4:35 pm

NO. The direction from the city should have been NO.

Traffic moves slowly through this site because of the dimwitted stoplight that is adjacent to the store...only 300 feet from East Meadow stoplight.

The sign is too big. Period. PERIOD.

Why can't the council have some courage and tell the grocer to go pound sand. If you want the store...live with our community standards.

The truth of the matter is...my family will never set foot in the store as long as the sign is there. If the rest of neighborhood feels equally inclined...the sign (or grocer) will be gone in no time at all.

The ultimate play here is that it will be the Grocer's own behavior that results in his success or failure. If they don't respect our community values, we will not shop there.


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Posted by Vote with your feet!
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 17, 2013 at 4:41 pm

I like NO NO NO's point.

If we think the sign is disrespectful of our neighborhood values, then we will not shop there.

We already have Safeway and Piazza's that are wonderful grocers that respect us.

In a sense,we voted for our council who refused to act on our very vocal concerns.

This time we just vote with our feet. Which, in my family's case, will never see the inside of that grocery store until the sign conforms to our neighborhood standards.

I'm cool with Safeway and Piazza's


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Posted by Kate
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 17, 2013 at 4:46 pm

While almost everyone is attracted to saving money on food. I will never set foot in this store if that sign goes up. Palo Altans, 'vote with your feet' - and in the next city council election, USE YOUR HEAD!! Get rid of the problem-makers!!


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Posted by Rupert of henzau
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 17, 2013 at 4:47 pm

Boy, such negative comments by people upset with a sign!!!!! Wanting a business to fail. Claiming the grocer is not " respectful" of the " neighbors" . And this is based on what data? The comments posted here?
Just because some people object to the sign does not mean everyone does. And I bet,regardless of the sign most people do not wish that the business fails.
As neighbor pointed out, what a city!!!!!


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Posted by Library Bug
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 17, 2013 at 4:47 pm

Thought as with all of these hysterical threads that someone needs to mention the Mitchell Park Library.

Ok, here goes: The sign is so large because the City of Palo Alto did such a horrible job of managing the Mitchell Park Library renovation.

There.

The thread is now complete.


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Posted by Safeway Fan
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 17, 2013 at 4:54 pm

Since when is Safeway an expensive "boutique" market.

Easy to enter, easy to park, easy on the wallet.

There was no need for Grocery Outlet in the first place.

We were unlikely to shop there before the sign fiasco and definitely will not shop there now.


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Posted by PatrickD
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 17, 2013 at 4:55 pm

So does Izzy's get to have it's rooftop sign now? It's a lot smaller than this proposed sign.


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Posted by Downtowner
a resident of Menlo Park
on Dec 17, 2013 at 5:39 pm

How does a retailer show you "respect"? Is it by providing merchandise at a fair price? Courteous personnel? Offering a clean shopping environment? Having convenient business hours?

I guess not in PA. You appear to equate "respect" with the appearance of an externally-mounted sign. The rumors about the Palo Altans' sense of entitlement appear to be true. You fume & rant but evidently expect other people to voice your concerns to City Hall & the Planning Dept. & council members. Make your phone calls & write signed letters to your local government if you're so unhappy.

Thanks for the entertainment you provide for the rest of us.


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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 17, 2013 at 7:14 pm

@NO, the Alma stoplights are 670 feet apart, not 300.
I know this is the internet, but let's try to keep our numbers somewhat
accurate before commenting loses what little credibility remains.

The sign is actually dwarfed by the adjacent utility pole.
Perhaps the sign itself does not merit such vitriol.
Still, for everyone here claiming it's such a minor quibble,
this is death by a thousand cuts, straws on the camel's back,
rising tide, global warming, mission creep, slippery slope,
boiling frog or whatever your favorite metaphor.
Just another affront we'll now have to live with.

A non-conforming sign was baked into the original plans anyway;
Miki's just never got around to it. I heard at the meeting that
the sign-lights will be shut off after 10:00 pm. We'll see.
I do wish success for this Grocery Outlet store, but suspect it
will be one of their more troublesome locations given the site
geometry. Initial customer surveys will be interesting. Any bets
on how long Starbucks will remain open here?

I feel sorrier for those who showed up last night
to protest 636 Waverley.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 17, 2013 at 7:34 pm

I'm not actuall worried - the sign will soon come down as soon as they go out of business in 2-3 months. The horrible location/parking and miserable ingress/egress will not be overcome with a sign that pisses everyone off that sees it.


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Posted by Rupert of henzau
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 17, 2013 at 7:51 pm

If only the know-it-all Palo Alto residents would have left well enough alone. We could have had a 29k square foot grocery in a neighborhood shopping center-- no housing. Instead we let the " friends of alma plaza" ( a misnomer if there ever was one) and piazzas ( anyone ever notice the self interest in piazzas complaints about the alma plaza grocery?) help lead us to this point.
Still surprised that local residents want the store to fail. They may be surprised when shoppers form neighboring cities come INTO Palo Alto to grocery shop. I wish Grocery outlet the best of luck.


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Posted by Rhinelander
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 17, 2013 at 8:03 pm

What a bunch of washy-washy wimps our city council members are, letting Grocery outlet push them around like that. Sure didn't take much for them to cave in. Absolutely spineless and gutless.

This is absolutely the worst city council in recent memory,


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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 17, 2013 at 8:18 pm

@Parent, that question was asked at the meeting. The non-conforming sign is permitted to remain even if the grocery goes out of business. For as long as the building stands. Not sure how much freedom future occupants would have on re-lettering. Currently 13 characters of illuminated white sans serif font, about 16-inches each, arranged in one vertical message. An optometrist would tell you this should be legible at 500 feet by anyone qualified for a driver license with 20/40 vision. That distance on Alma is covered in about 10 seconds at 35 mph, or about 2 minutes going southbound on a weekday at 4:30 pm.

@Rhinelander, we're hoist by our own petard.


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Posted by Stephen
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 17, 2013 at 8:19 pm

Really? I mean, really?! A two and a half story high illuminated sign? How much more outcry will it take for City Council members and the Architectural Review Board (who on earth are these people, anyway?)to get it that Palo Alto residents are beyond disenchanted and distrustful of both city staff and elected representatives. Together, they continue to exercise inexplicably bad judgment, without soliciting input from Palo Alto citizens as a whole. Here's hoping we can vote this sad lot out before they impose more architectural blight on the rest of us.


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Posted by Jason
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 17, 2013 at 10:20 pm


So the sign is big, and the store (per city requirements) is small. Maybe when the size of the sign equals the size of the small store, maybe, maybe the City Council will allow grocery stores to be large enough to succeed, maybe even with affordable groceries. Take a clue from our neighboring cities, where many of us go to shop for food.


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Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 17, 2013 at 10:35 pm

Does 100 sq/ft actually sound small to anyone else? 10x10? 5x20? Not a big deal folks..


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Posted by An Alternative
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Dec 17, 2013 at 10:35 pm

I would not mind a tall sign that looked just like this:
Web Link
Why not sell Steve the place for what he can get for his current location, with the same taxes? Cut him a deal, and we would all be happy & blessed. Looks they want to tear down his place. Compared to the 5 parking spaces he has the sight is super, and The Milk Pail has not problem with building name recognition or clientele.
Problem solved for the developer.


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Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 18, 2013 at 2:05 am

This is stupid - a finger in the face of all Palo Alto residents.

Like this huge sign, that no one can see unless they are up on Alma traveling right by the place anyway, is going to make any difference in whether this store survives or not. What a bunch of a-holes we have on the city council.


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Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 18, 2013 at 2:16 am

The idea that a sign will make any difference to the success of failure of this market.

Did anyone here not know about Miki's market. There were signs for Miki's, they were easy to see and relatively unobtrusive. Why does this new place need a giant sign and who is going to see it and how will it make any difference.


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Posted by Marty
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 18, 2013 at 7:26 am

Yahoo! We're getting a Grocery Outlet! Not all of us are spoiled yuppies with more money than sense. I would make the sign even bigger just to piss the yuppies off.


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Posted by bellesdottir
a resident of another community
on Dec 18, 2013 at 7:40 am

Gone are the days, never to return. I recently visited Palo Alto and drove through the parking lot behind the grocery store that didn't make it in "Alma Village" and was appalled at the lack of space. Now the City Council feels that a bigger sign will attract new customers? Get those recall petitions ready. You may be able to recall but you'll never get a decent public space where the "village" now stands. South of Oregon has been the victim of North Palo Altans' unfamiliarity with what happens south of Oregon for years. Remember when the Medfly scare led to spraying SOUTH OF OREGON while grapefruit trees still had their fruit on them at the corner of Cowper and Forest?


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Posted by I now shop at Fresh Market
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 18, 2013 at 8:07 am

An old Russian proverb says something to the effect that one should not spit in a well from which one may drink in the future ... why piss-off the neighbors from the start when they are the ones who you would want to entice to do business at your establishment? Most fast drivers are using Alma as pass through road, I discovered Fresh Market which I love and it is close to my house, many other residents have other options near by so it is the neighbors of this upcoming store that the owners should be vowing not alienating.


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Posted by Disgraceful
a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 18, 2013 at 8:25 am

What I find amusing is the assumption that all of the neighbors are upset about the sign. Would one of the people that are making this claim kindly provide some evidence that the neighbors are upset. The appeal against the sign was filed by people that do not even love n the neighborhood. As I and others have pointed out, there are quite a number of people that want this store to fail. BTW, I now whop at fresh market, the is also an old saying about not bearing false witness.


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Posted by Former Neighbor
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 18, 2013 at 8:37 am

How about a sporting goods store?

Too many grocery stores in this area already. No sign will lure loyal customers from Piazza, Whole Foods, Trader Joe's etc.

Put in a store we need and forget the "village concept". Sports Authority is all the way in East Palo Alto or Cupertino. Big 5 stores are equally far.

Bowling Alley!!! So many residents were crushed when Palo Alto Bowl was "knifed in the back" Community recreation suffered...all those fond memories of kids birthday parties, league bowling, etc. Why not return a valued activity back to us and surrounding neighborhoods. We have left South Palo Alto because it was apparent to us and many others: City Council does Not Care about South Paly!!! Sorry that this might be hard for you to read but....We are so happy in our new home away from Palo Alto....This fiasco at Alma Plaza convinces us we did the right thing.


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Posted by I now shop at Fresh Market
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 18, 2013 at 8:46 am

I don't think this proverb is biblical, just common sense saying that is used often in Russia to solicit cooperation and consideration - it has more to do with respecting people and the environment around you. Those around you are the ones who will be there to help in the future unless the relationships were strained in the past. A big ugly sign is indeed an eyesore and would not entice me. Just saying it from my perspective. I don't know the neighbors names who are not happy, nor do I live in the neighborhood, but a loud Vegas style sign turns me off.


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Posted by Jason
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 18, 2013 at 9:54 am


Since the store is small and lacks adequate parking, why not just give up on a grocery store and put in another 7-11 or liquor store or pizza place?

Also, wasn't there supposed to be a community room at this development, and also a park? What happened, and who is in charge here?


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 18, 2013 at 10:06 am

Jason

There is a small community room above the grocery store, but it seems complicated to rent and I have never heard of any community events being held there. There is a park near the parking lot, it is a tiny piece of grass - hardly a public amenity. Can't see it being used for ball games, birthday parties, family picnics or other park type activities.


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Posted by I see a sign
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Dec 18, 2013 at 10:11 am

[Portion removed.] Since when is 10X10 a GIANT SIGN. Your story says the sign will be 104 square feet. That is 10X10. Then you say it is 26 feet tall, which would make it only 4 feet wide. The story claims that this is THIRTY TIMES what would normally be allowed. Can someone do the math? [Portion removed.]

On another note, I just went to the Grocery Outlet in Manteca and it is awesome. A ton of organic stuff, same stuff they sell at Whole Paycheck only for a fraction of the cost, nothing was over the expiration date. I got five bags of stuff I would have bought anyway at Whole Foods or Molly Stone's for $35.

[Portion removed.]


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Posted by Do the Math
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 18, 2013 at 12:10 pm

The math is quite easy. City code allows for a sign three (3) square feet in area, up to 12 feet in height.

This sign is 26 feet long, 91 sq feet in area, and will project 34 feet into the sky (the sign is mounted at least 8 feet over the sidewalk, not from the ground).

30 times 3 sq ft = 90 sq ft.

This sign is also ILLUMINATED. So you will have a lit tower 34 feet high projecting light 360 degrees arond the location, into mid-town and onto homes on Park Blvd. The current sign bracket is clearly visible from Park Blvd homes.

A reasonable compromise seemed to be stopping the sign at the roofline, about 10 feet lower. Height will make a huge different in how far this light pollution will shine.


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Posted by Do the Math
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 18, 2013 at 12:14 pm

I think Grocery Outlet really missed an opportunity to generate goodwill and ensure neighbors will shop at their store. If they had agreed, as a holiday gift to the people of Palo Alto, to either put up a banner sign or limit the height to the top of mounting wall, they could have gotten some very positive publicity.

How about a boycott? What if we get a petition going to have people pledge to not shop at Grocery Outlet if the sign is installed as approved AND pledge to shop there if the company changes the sign? City Council has failed us but we still have the power of the people and the press. This could be a lot of bad publicity for Grocery Outlet.


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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 18, 2013 at 12:32 pm

While I live in PA, I don't live near this location and it would take something good to entice me to drive there, get into that small parking lot and shop at this new effort at a market in that spot. Then - I am turned off by a large sign which the description makes me think of as incompatible with PA, but I will wait and see - and try to get in at some point. I doubt I would ever be a routine shopper there. The Fresh Market, as someone else posted, has risen in my esteem as I have gotten better acquainted with it, and it is convenient for those of us in Duveneck/St. Francis. I just think the entire Alma Plaza development is a sad debacle. If only they had fully renovated the old center in its old footprint or near it, with the large parking lot that MIGHT have worked out....


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Posted by Disgraceful
a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 18, 2013 at 12:35 pm

Go ahead and organize a boycott if you want. Who are you speaking for, do the math???? Have you actually asked who is upset or are you basing it on the appeal from people in another neighborhood or the people on this thread that wantbto store to fail. I think the store will do well-- the chain has good quality food at a reasonable price-- something lacking in palo alto.
If I were grocery outlet I would ignore the comments made by people acting like oiled children who did not get their way
Read downtowners comments above on what will cause the store to,succeed-- not giving into blackmail..


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Posted by Disgraceful
a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 18, 2013 at 12:51 pm

Do the math-- if the sign is 12 feet high, then it can only 4 inches long in order to be 3 square feel. S notnsure about your math

" If only they had fully renovated the old center in its old footprint or near it, with the large parking lot that MIGHT have worked out...."
Epic fail by the city council and too much interference by neighbors who could never be satisfied-- and now we have this. Hope those that fought alma plaza are happy


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Posted by Follow the Money
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 18, 2013 at 12:59 pm

FYI - this seems to have been the yes on D drumbeat even during the Maybell debates -- blaming residents' attempts at fighting back for the ugly horrible developments approved by our City Council and ARB. Sort of like telling you not to fight back if you are attacked, because you'll get worse.

Neighbors are not satisfied because the zoning rules, Comprehensive Plan, and just plain common sense aren't followed. How would you know they wouldn't be satisfied, the City Council never bothers to find out.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Ronald L.
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 18, 2013 at 1:17 pm

If the sign said "please tear down this ugly building" I'd be for it.


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 18, 2013 at 1:26 pm

I have to agree that the neighbors (and probably local grocery competition, though I cannot verify) who blocked the Lucky's/Albertsons expansion are the root cause of everything that has happened at the Alma Plaza.

You can point to all of the bad decisions, allowances, PCs, etc. that happened afterwards. But none of those things would have happened if the locals had been reasonable and had allowed the store to expand. And proof is in the pudding with Piazza's expansion - no neighborhood was harmed or destroyed.

Luckily more common sense has prevailed at the Edgewood site.


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Posted by No Surprise
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Dec 18, 2013 at 1:46 pm

Its clear to me. The building should be the new home of the City Council and Planning commision. Its a failure as a retail location. Rezone it and put it to use. We got scammed into an infill housing project rather than the retail center we needed. Ditch the retail and call it a day. The City Officers responsible should be forced to wear the yoke of embarassment around their necks.


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 18, 2013 at 1:55 pm

New safety services building?

;-)


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Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 18, 2013 at 3:17 pm

SteveU is a registered user.

3 Square feet is absurd.
The NO on 'D' sign was 1/2 that.
3 sq is the size of the McDonalds entry/exit sign

do the math
100 sqft is 10x10 or the size of my front bedroom

I estimate the old Albertsons/Lucky street sign was 64sq
This is not unreasonable as long as it is not overly brite or flashing


 +   Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 18, 2013 at 5:04 pm

Aaaaah, now I have visions of SteveU's front bedroom hanging over the sidewalk.


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Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 18, 2013 at 5:20 pm

Yes, make it the new HQ for the City Planning, City Council and City Safety Dept.

Start a petition and I'll sign it! And/or start a recall petition and I'll sign that, too!


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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 18, 2013 at 5:36 pm

I don't know what they have to say
It makes no difference anyway
Whatever it is, I'm against it!
No matter what it is
Or who commenced it
I'm against it!

Your proposition may be good
But let's have one thing understood
Whatever it is, I'm against it!
And even when you've changed it
Or condensed it
I'm against it!


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Posted by Rupert of henzau
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 18, 2013 at 5:46 pm

Bravo, musical. Very nice poem, which accurately sums up the mindset of many in Palo Alto. I think alma village is a perfect example of this. The city council refused to take a stand, the neighbors refused to be satisfied with anything that was proposed to maintain the plaza as a shopping center. And now we have alma village with a ( gasp) Grocery Outlet ( what a store for the masses that sells cheese for less than $40/ pound and is not an ego trip for the owner). And, horrors, they want to put a lighted sign outside--oh the humanity-- Palo Alto society will now crumble-- the midtown association is objecting because surely the light will shine into their homes!!! What a city!! What a bunch of malcontents!!!!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 18, 2013 at 6:14 pm

(Just watched Groucho and company perform it at the Stanford two weeks ago.)


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Gus L.
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 18, 2013 at 8:23 pm

Is there an Artist rendering of this sign?
I know when I put my sign up I had to submit three drawings to the City Architectural review board and they chose which one could be displayed.


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Posted by easong
a resident of another community
on Dec 18, 2013 at 10:12 pm

So a giant ugly too-bright sign for a discount grocer goes up for a few more months, then the place goes belly up for all the familiar reasons, then the sign goes dark, sits there for a year, then gets torn down. The cycle of life at Alma Plaza.


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Posted by SeemsToMeToBeSomeoneElsesWords
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 18, 2013 at 11:29 pm

Musical seems to be using the Marx Brothers work - plagiarizing the song from Horse Feathers which is probably copyrighted material, in any care not even with any attribution. Show a little respect Musical, have some class.


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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 19, 2013 at 12:35 am

Such songs are part of the classical American canon, needing no more attribution than the Star Spangled Banner. I thought everyone would recognize those lyrics which have fit so many political situations over the years. I guess hearing the tune would've helped. Or maybe not. The way this thread was going, the words were just too appropriate to pass up. As I added above, Horse Feathers was shown very recently at the Stanford Theatre.

@Gus, a complete fully dimensioned sign description is in a 4 MB pdf at Web Link
or you can search our City website for "3445 Alma Street Appeal".
On page 1 the photo labeled West Elevation is really East Elevation.
The "Blade Sign" is illustrated and dimensioned on page 3.
The final two pages are an engineering report saying the design can withstand hurricane force winds.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Paul
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Dec 19, 2013 at 11:48 am

Did anybody look at the proposed mock-up of the sign? What are you complaining about?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 19, 2013 at 12:18 pm

Paul, where is a picture of the proposed mock-up you are talking about, I see no link.

However much someone might like the picture, why is an arbitrary exception being made here when every other Palo Alto business must abide by the restrictions? To me that is the problem and the question. Soon everyone will want an exemption, and then the restriction will get removed of enlarged. Palo Alto and most all businesses here so far have done pretty well without giant signs, and I'm pretty sure a sign is not going to the make the difference between survival and closing with this store, so why do it?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Book"em, Danno
a resident of Stanford
on Dec 19, 2013 at 1:09 pm

Why isn't the ARB prosecuted for their violations of long-standing regulations? Maybe some heavy fines would change their tune!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Gus L.
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 19, 2013 at 8:00 pm

Musical, Thanks for the link.
Not as bad as it is made out to be.


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Posted by Do the Math
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 19, 2013 at 10:26 pm

Just to be clear, the Palo Alto ordinance IS 3 sq feet for a projecting blade sign (ie it sticks out of the building). It also says such signs should not be uncovered over the sidewalk, not exceed the roofline, and not exceed 12 feet high. You don't have to do ALL of those things.

Other signs, like signs on building faces CAN be larger. Grocery Outlet has 3 of these signs, and no one was complaining about those.

SteveU - you seem to think 100 sq ft is small, but drive around Palo Alto and look for BLADE SIGNS. NOt Banners, not wall signs. You will not find many, and non this large. Blade Signs went out of favor in the sixties I think - they are primarily designed for pedestrian traffic. Most cities have ordinances limiting these types of signs.

Look around Palo Alto as a whole - we generally have pretty small signs. MacDonalds wanted a large golden arches when they moved in to Palo Alto and THAT city council told them no. This City Council doesn't have the guts.


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Posted by galen
a resident of Ventura
on Dec 21, 2013 at 1:24 pm

This is absolutely disgusting! John McNellis should go to jail for this nonsense and so should every CC member who has enabled him to run rough shod over our city zoning for his personal profit! It's time to clean house!

By the way, this monstrosity of a sign will shine down on my side yard. For this, i promise to boycott this store. But when this store fails too, won't it play right into the long-range plans of McNellis? You bet it will!

People of Palo Alto, we're being duped by smarmy "businessmen" and their little cronies on the CC and various "Planning Boards". Either we tell these people "no" or we kiss our beautiful community good-bye.


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Posted by JoAnn
a resident of Ventura
on Dec 22, 2013 at 3:58 am

Well, if this doesn't work, they can always try one of those air-blown 2-story clown dolls, or a guy out on the corner twirling a sign that points to the "ample parking."


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Posted by Long Time Resident
a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 22, 2013 at 10:29 am

A big gigantic sign showing off to train commuters will not bring business to the store. The new grocery store needs to advertise to the local community by mail, flyers and the Daily/Weekly newspapers. Antagonizing the neighborhoods with unwelcome signage is a bad start for business. Just look at how successful the Milk Pail is.


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 22, 2013 at 10:41 am

@ Galen: did you support the original proposal to expand the original Albertson's/Lucky's?


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Posted by What is there right now?
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 22, 2013 at 9:23 pm

Okay, I just looked at the drawings that musical posted a link to. It shows an existing blade sign, reading Alma Village, that will be removed and replaced with a sign that is exactly the same size. Is that sign really there (I need to go drive down Alma and check it out!). If it is, how did the existing sign pass muster?


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Posted by Shaqunita
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Dec 22, 2013 at 11:11 pm

You Yuppies complaining about a sign. I can't wait to use my Snap Card .


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Posted by Do the Math
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 23, 2013 at 9:21 am

"What is there right now?" - those documents are mock-ups! There has never been a blade sign there. Originally there was supposed to be a cloth banner but it was never installed. There are Miki's signs on the building. Those are going to be replaced and no one was concerned about those 3 signs. Only the sign projecting above the roofline.

There's a huge difference between banners and blade signs as established in the case law. Banners do not project light.

BTW, when did Alma Plaza (neighborhood shopping district according to our Comp Plan) become Alma Village?


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Posted by Disgraceful
a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 23, 2013 at 9:45 am

"BTW, when did Alma Plaza (neighborhood shopping district according to our Comp Plan) become Alma Village? "
After the wishy washy city council and the obstinate ( " we will never be satisfied with anything proposed for alma plaza") neighbors killed the idea of having it retained as a shopping center only. The developer changed the name to alma village to,reflect the fact that it is now mainly housing.
My take on this- the citizens of plao alto should nt complain at all about alma plaza and it's fate. They got what they deserved in the end due to the council and never satisfied " friends of alma plaza".


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Posted by galen
a resident of Ventura
on Dec 24, 2013 at 2:50 pm

@ Crescent Park Dad: Yes, i did.


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Posted by Scary parking experience
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 26, 2013 at 11:39 pm

I never shopped at Miki's and probably won't shop here because of the badly designed parking lot. I cautiously drove in one day and as I was looking for a parking spot a car suddenly appeared from the underground level, right into the path of cars. It so startled me, I just continued on to the exit and never came back.
If the badly designed parking lot remains the same, I won't even attempt it.


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Posted by ChristineTheCar
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 26, 2013 at 11:45 pm

>> a car suddenly appeared from the underground level, right into the path of cars. It so startled me, I just continued on to the exit and never came back.

I can see why you were terrified, imagine that, a car in a parking lot! ;-)


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Posted by Scary parking experience
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 31, 2013 at 12:45 am

Sorry Christine I should have been clearer for people with poor reading comprehension.
The car appeared from an unexpected place, from a hole in the ground, that is, the exit from the underground level. It opens right into the path of cars looking for a spot. I've been in countless parking areas, never experienced something like this.
It's called bad design.


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Posted by Make yourself heard
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 1, 2014 at 7:44 am

Email or write Grocery Outlet HQ in Berkeley and let your feelings about this sign be known. Maybe the company will do the right thing where our council did not.


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Posted by DoTheMath
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 23, 2014 at 3:34 pm

If you're outraged by the size of this illuminated sign, come to paloaltoville.com and register, sign up for the newsletter. Get involved in land use issues in Palo Alto!


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Posted by Do the Math
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 18, 2014 at 11:38 am

A petition just launched to ask Grocery Outlet to put up a smaller sign or a cloth banner instead of an illuminated sign. While out city council approved one of the largest and highest signs in all of Palo Alto, we are asking Grocery Outlet to be a good neighbor.

Please add your name to the petition here
Web Link


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Posted by GotMyVote
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 20, 2014 at 4:03 pm

I signed the petition - this sign is horrible! Tell your friends to sign too

Web Link


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Posted by RW
a resident of another community
on Mar 7, 2014 at 9:44 am

So, the sign is up today. It's pretty huge. It extends maybe 10 feet above the roof, even. I love Grocery Outlet but that sign is just too big for the location.


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Posted by Poorsche
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 7, 2014 at 5:35 pm

Unfortunately, I have to drive past this architectural mistake twice a day. I usually try to close one eye to avoid seeing it in my peripheral vision.

That sign is just too obnoxious and tacky. it would not be so bad if they kept it from rising above the roofline, but even if they lowered it,,it would still be a big, bright red sore thumb.

Worse, I can't seem to keep it out of my peripheral vision, especially if that unsynchronized light catches me.


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Posted by The tragedy
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 7, 2014 at 10:36 pm

[Post removed.]


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Posted by thought I posted but can't find the name
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 9, 2014 at 2:11 pm

@No Surprise,
"Its clear to me. The building should be the new home of the City Council and Planning commision. Its a failure as a retail location. Rezone it and put it to use. We got scammed into an infill housing project rather than the retail center we needed. Ditch the retail and call it a day. The City Officers responsible should be forced to wear the yoke of embarassment around their necks."

You are so right! They'll also learn just how "walkable" they've made the thing. (Did anyone else notice that front corner of the building has already been run into once or twice?) Brilliant!

The quotes from our Council are just hilarious for how out of touch they are with this side of town. As if we just didn't notice that location because we drive too fast up and down Alma! So they have to come up with something that's even more in-your-face than the building itself!

The fact is, the building/space were designed to be uninviting. It should be a clue that no merchants wanted to take the space.


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Posted by thought I posted but I can't find the name
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 9, 2014 at 7:42 pm

I think we and the future of Palo Alto would all benefit greatly if someone really smart at our local universities or one of the idea companies would make it a personal project to explain to our current City Council members that there is a big difference between the truth and what they can make sound plausible in their own heads.

Really, truly. I am not being snarky. This is the big problem here.


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Posted by Harry Devlin
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 12, 2014 at 9:53 am

It's really all immaterial as the chances that a Grocery Outlet will succeed at this location are slim and none, and slim just walked out the door. With the stores nearby, two Trader Joe's, Sprouts, Milk Pail, two Whole Foods, and Safeway, this Grocery Outlet is doomed. I've been in a couple of Grocery Outlets. They basically sell "food from all over the place that no one else wants." Food that is near its expiration date, bizarre varieties and flavors that have failed, frozen fish from China, ungraded meat, etc. Occasionally you'll find something you like but it since it's a closeout it won't be there the next time you go there. It's the absolute wrong kind of store for a city with Palo Alto's demographics. They do often have good deals on wine.

The most important lesson that should be learned by the politicians, and the developers that own them, is that these mixed-use developments invariably fail because the retail space ends up being so undesirable.


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Posted by Harry Devlin
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 12, 2014 at 1:28 pm

thought I posted but I can't find the name: The city council members already know that the truth is not what they rationalize with their smarmy arguments.

We elect people like Liz Kniss and we get what the developers pay for. She was a disaster as a county supervisor and now she's moved on to help destroy Palo Alto.

Don't know what got into Greg Scharff's head. I know him and I've been to his house and used to go to his wife's optometry practice. He's someone that I would have thought to not fall for the crap that the developer and the Grocery Outlet person spewed.

Here's my take on the vote for the sign: those voting to approve it did not want to be accused of Grocery Outlet abandoning the plans to open a store and did not want to be accused of the store failing if Grocery Outlet grudgingly opened the store with a smaller sign. That store is almost certainly going to fail in that location regardless of the size of the sign, it's just a poor location, in a poorly designed mixed-use project, with the wrong demographics, and intense competition a mile or so away.

I miss city council people like the late Ellen Fletcher.


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Posted by It will suceed
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 12, 2014 at 1:56 pm

Seems that people like Harry devlins will be disappointed if the stored does not fail. They spread misinformation about the nature of the products at GO and assume that everyone can afford to shop at whole foods. Time for some decent shopping in town-- we have let the elite naysayers rule the day for two long. I predict this store will succeed despite the efforts of Harry devlins, tom Dubois and the " friends" of alma plaza


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Posted by Harry Devlin
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 12, 2014 at 4:33 pm

It will suceed <sic>:

Personally I don't like Whole Foods, it's way too expensive and I don't like the vibe.

But it's a mistake to claim that those that can't or won't shop at Whole Foods are only able to afford to shop at Grocery Outlet. I actually go to Grocery Outlet more than I go to Whole Foods, but rarely go to either store. Between TJ's, Sprouts, Costco, and the Mexican Israeli market near where I work, there's no upside to Grocery Outlet. I used to buy Tom's toothpaste there at a very good price but they no longer carry it. I've also bought soup mugs, walking sticks, and non-phosphate-free dishwasher soap there. But the food selection is dismal at best.

Grocery Outlet is really no bargain unless you're willing to tailor your shopping list to the narrow selection of products they offer. A far better way to economize on groceries while not sacrificing quality is to go to Sprouts, Trader Joe's, and Costco. This of course assumes that you have transportation to these stores. If the only people shopping at Grocery Outlet are those within walking distance then obviously it's not going to make it.

Second, the sign thing is a side issue. I would not boycott Grocery Outlet because of their big sign and I doubt anyone else will either. I don't go there often because my family tries to eat healthier food. Grocery Outlet has a very limited selection of produce (and it's no bargain), no fresh fish, no USDA graded meat, and many non-perishables from countries with little food safety. It's not the right kind of store for Palo Alto.

Third, those trying to save money on food often make use of coupons but Grocery Outlet does not accept coupons.

The real issue is that NO grocery store can succeed in that Palo Alto location with or without a big sign. Cities like to throw in some terribly designed retail space on these high-density housing projects as a sop to the residents so they can make grand statements about how great "mixed-use" is. But in town after town, the retail side of these poorly designed mixed use developments fail.


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Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 12, 2014 at 5:06 pm

> But in town after town, the retail side of these poorly designed mixed use developments fail.

It does seem to happen frequently, but what about Santana Row, or San Antonio Row, i.e. the new Safeway San Antonio mall. They are both surrounded by residential, apartments, the train, etc. and good areas for transportation. Seems with the right mix at a critical mass they can succeed. Can anyone think of any others? Town and Country?

The problem with this little spot is that there is really nothing there, nothing to stop for, and no room to stop if you do.


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Posted by Harry Devlin
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 12, 2014 at 7:18 pm

Santana Row has a lot of parking and it has destination restaurants. The retail there has done poorly.

San Antonio Row also has a lot of parking, and a Safeway is a destination as is the TJ's and Walmart and Sprouts across the street and Whole Foods across El Camino Real. Grocery Outlet appeals to a very limited demographic. Low income people that aren't buying ethnic food and that forego quality in favor of price.

We'll see what happens but I can't imagine any grocery store doing well that Alma Plaza location.


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Posted by thought I posted but can't find the name
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 12, 2014 at 11:48 pm

Is the space big enough for a bowling alley? When the next grocery store fails can we at least make McNellis underwrite some kind of community space for our youth? (They'd have to allow people access from somewhere else since holy cow I'd never let a kid walk along that narrow strip right up against Alma and that wall on a regular basis. The building was already hit within a few months of Miki's opening.


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Posted by Harry Devlin
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 13, 2014 at 6:23 am

I think the real question is "why was such a terribly designed development ever approved" rather than "why is no quality market interested in that space?"

Doesn't Palo Alto have any rules on setbacks? Or did an earlier council and planning commission waive those rules too?

Supermarkets really don't fit into such a residential area because they are so annoying to neighbors with early deliveries, odor, and pests. Many markets want to operate extended hours which won't be approved in places like Alma Plaza.

The general idea of developers, and the politicians that they own, is that they can get rezoning through, and vastly increase the value of the land, if they throw in some retail, no matter how inappropriate it is to do so. Then they'll complain that they cant' rent it as retail and beg to change it to something else like office space or doctor's offices or a health club.


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Posted by COH
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2014 at 10:26 am

All you people who say you won't shop there... You will. You will. You'll be able to save the gas money you previously spent going to the Redwood City G.O.

Have you ever seen the cars parked at the RWDCY G.O.? Atherton residents know a good deal when they see it. Grocery Outlet is NOT your grandmother's old Canned Foods store.

However - a sign that BIG is ridiculous.


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Posted by thought I posted but can't find the name
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 18, 2014 at 4:08 pm

And while we are all talking about this sign, the City Council is planning to try to codify the wonderful planning values that brought us Alma Plaza by ramming through their vision of the Comprehensive Plan this year, so that we can't get a new Council in to form it, we can only make comments. That sign is definitely a sign of what's to come...


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Posted by Sparty
a resident of another community
on Mar 21, 2014 at 4:22 pm

Again with the histrionics. You can barely see the sign until you're right up on it with all the telephone poles and cables running up and down Alma.

Chef Boyardee, Chicken of the Sea, Dennisons, Campbells, Progresso, Dinty Moore, Claussen, Betty Crocker, Del Monte, Swanson, Hunts, Del Monte, Harris Ranch, Best Foods.... Yeah these are all brands from foreign countries with poor food inspection laws.

Sierra Nevada, Mondavi, Red Tail, Speakeasy, Lagunitas, Widmers, Rock Star, Monster, Lipton, V-8, clearly their beverages are also weird brands no one has ever heard of.

Dove Bar? what is that?? Ice cream should be named Berkeley Farms or something. What do birds have to do with ice cream? Sounds like some cheap junk that came from overseas. Van de Kamp's? If you want to buy fish made by some foreign company go for it. Power Bars? what a stupid name! Like it's going to make you strong by eating some weird flat candy bar. Has anyone even heard of this before?

Purina--I guess you can feed that to your dog if you don't care if it lives or not. I wouldn't. never heard of it, another name that sounds like it was made up by some corporate ad man.

Rembrandt, Crest, Colgate, Vicks, Halls, Burts Bees, Revlon, Clairol, clearly these are dangerous brands no one has ever heard of and good luck with those helping you with your "Health and Beauty" They'll probably make your hair fall out right after they make your skin fall off!!!

Kingsford and Matchlight? never heard of them. Better not trust your bbq to those weird brands that sound like they have made-up names! Summer is only once a year, DON'T TAKE THE RISK!!!


People are complaining about a store they've obviously never been to more than once, and don't seem to have paid attention while they were there. Meanwhile we get posts lamenting the loss of Shady Lane which sells the worst side of the road on the old interstate junk that you could possibly find.


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Posted by SignsSignsEverywhereASign
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 21, 2014 at 9:35 pm

The sign is big, and unnecessary, but it is not ugly, outlandish or garish.

The problem is not the sign, the problem is the City Council which seems to not realize there is a ordinance about signs and just routinely passes on anything anyone wants to do.

It would be interesting to hear how they view this ordinance and why they give so many variances to it. I don't think there are many reasons to allow bigger signs in Palo Alto ... everyone else has had to play by the rules ... the City Council doesn't seem to get this.

Personally, I'd like to see a drastically new and different City Council sometime soon. It occurs to me that life ought to be really great in Palo Alto, with all the houses that are sold at sky high prices, and all the business that is being done here ... our city ought to have huge revenues ... and yet nothing seems to be getting done, things keep falling apart or breaking down and service keep getting worst while their prices go up.

Is it just me that believes this or what?


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Posted by thought I posted but can't find the name
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 22, 2014 at 7:04 pm

@Sparty,
And what is your position in Grocery Outlet?

What's sad is that you, like the City Council and even Miki, have it all wrong about that location and will have all the wrong messages if it goes bust.

People really resent the poor design of that location. It's not easy to get in and out, either. We are stopped at the new light there all the time, so this idea that they just need a bigger sign so people will notice it is only for people who don't live here. People have options, like Safeway, Trader Joe's, Costco, etc., where they can shop for other things at the same time. The new Grocery Outlet would have to be a destination store for it to do well, and offer something no one else could, and it doesn't and is hard to get in and out of.

That location couldn't be more in-our-faces already. Making it more so is not going to be better for business. It's just evidence that the people moving in there don't know this community very well.


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Posted by Sparty
a resident of another community
on Mar 23, 2014 at 3:39 am

I don't have a position at Grocery Outlet. I shop there sometimes if it's nearby.

Otherwise I shop at costco and safeway. My position is that threads like this make Palo Alto residents look like a bunch of clowns. A textbook "white people problems" meme. PA has had the "shallow alto" moniker for years.

Did you already forget the residents of the apts next door wanted to have some community center included and premiere access to scheduling events for it? Not to mention all the time they had to park their cars there until construction started.

Mikis failed because there isn't much of a market for $20/lb ham and $9 a quart potato salad. Same as Andronicos.

As for foreign fish..where do you think basa and tilapia come from? Lake Chabot? Are there people catching Mahi off the pier in Pacifica?

And people are seriously going to invoke Trader Joes? With their ridiculously small fish filets? It's better used as bait. And the parking lot for Sprouts is easy? Unless you drive the wrong way or cut across parking spots--which many do...you've got to make two U turns to exit on San Antonio. And good luck trying to get across to make a left turn. You'll have to turn right on to El Camino and make a u turn (eventually) or drive into Los Altos.

Everyone acts as if they are presenting arguments to people who live on the east coast and have never been to Palo Alto..let alone live there.

You can take solace in the fact that no one sounds any more outrageous than the usual klaxons at the city council or school board meetings.


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Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 22, 2014 at 1:32 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

Kudos to Annette, Sheri and Tom Dubois for their watchdog efforts here, and Fred Balin for his ongoing tracking of this crazy strip of Democracy.

I noticed today, six months later, that Grocery Outlet, owned by an equity firm, has hired two Wall Street firms to try to sell themselves for $1 Billion.

My contention is that not just the oversized sign but the entire building in Palo Alto is not about selling year-old bran flakes to strapped single-moms but a type of business to business play wherein a certain number of influential finance types -- Sand Hill vcs who live nearby -- will be impressed and tell their b-school buds back East or what not that Grocery Outlet is a good enough risk.

Here is a link to business journal article on the play (does not include my take, which I admit is a stretch):

Web Link

But like many things here it seems that the private sector has huge incentives, millions and billions at stake, whereas We the People and our so-called leadership at best have conscious and community interests and in many cases it seems like we are out-smarted or out-something. (Literally "out-let").


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Posted by Rupert of henzau
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 22, 2014 at 5:13 pm

Mark Weiss in an earlier post attempted to bad mouth the store with " dented can" posting. This is known to be a false claim. Unfortunately people like mark and Cheryl think that engaging in scare tactics is the way to drive the store out of business .


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Posted by customer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 22, 2014 at 5:36 pm

I have shopped at the new Grocery Outlet every week since they opened.
I have probably spent at least $600 there so far.
I have never seen dented cans or outdated products.
The light makes it easy to turn in, and exit.
Parking has never been a problem either.
The saving are wonderful and I hope the store is able to survive in this location.

I think "word of mouth" is more powerful than large signage at this particular location.


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