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City hopes to keep retail on key downtown block

Original post made on Nov 6, 2012

Concerned about a wave of offices overtaking downtown shops, the Palo Alto City Council signaled its commitment to preserve the area's retail character when it directed staff Monday night to come up with zoning changes that would protect a particularly vulnerable block.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, November 6, 2012, 12:50 AM

Comments (13)

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Posted by Wondering?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 6, 2012 at 7:47 am

> Vice Mayor Greg Scharff, Councilwoman Karen Holman
> and Councilman Greg Schmid to put forth a memo
> calling for more retail protection.

Is this the same ¡§the building is the benefit¡¨ Greg Scharff who seems to have no problem voting for any large, oversized, commercial building that comes before the Council?

So .. what makes this block of Emerson so important, all of a sudden. Is there some back channel of information available to the Council that is tipping them off that the developers are eyeing this block now?

„« Downtown Business and Professional Association

Web Link

So .. who in this association met with the City? What authority does this organization have to deal with City employees in an authoritative way? And what about the Chamber of Commerce. Who speaks for downtown businesses with these two, overlapping, organizations operating in the same twelve-block area? Is there really a need for both of these organizations.

Wonder if anyone on the City has constructed a map of the downtown business district yet? Given that there are issues associated with traffic, parking, sales tax generation, public safety and infrastructure needs, just to name the most obvious, does the City have the slightest idea what is going on downtown, from a day-to-day point-of-view, or a three-five year point-of-view?

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Posted by Ducatigirl
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 6, 2012 at 8:36 am

What is so special about this one block? Seems suspicious.Does someone important to the city have a vested interest in it?

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Posted by Need small retail
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 6, 2012 at 8:39 am

The owner of Bell's Books pointed out that the vibrant stores on University are mostly chain stores -Apple, Restoration, Starbucks, the new furniture store, etc.etc. If we want to save small local stores, this is the time to act.
Can't figure out Nancy Shepherd. Odd views. Who does she represent?
Gail Price is easy to understand, she usually supports major developers and worries that the city staff is working too hard. That's usually her excuse that works to protect developers.

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Posted by Big Al
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 6, 2012 at 9:02 am

Hey, who really cares, retail or not, the stores downtown are vastly out of touch with reality and overpriced as well due to all the freakin money they must shell out for rent....who needs a new run anyways....these shops have nothing for me...and i've lived just about my whole life in this little city.....if all the retail were gone it wouldn't bother me cause all the shops and restruants are designed for those people who apparently have lots of money to throw around....maybe if there were something of substance then people might actually care.

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Posted by Voter
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 6, 2012 at 10:30 am

If Obama wins forget about it. Few small businesses surviving.
So many have closed already over the last three

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Posted by mj
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 6, 2012 at 11:09 am

I remember a few years ago when some of the zoned retail space on at least one side street , Bryant I think, was converted from retail to office.

The city zoning regulations say that if a certain percentage of retail space is/was (kept?) vacant for a specific period, the owners of the buildings can petition the city to convert the retail space to offices for five (I think) years.

At the end of this period, the city will review retail situation. If the economy has improved in theory the space is to be converted back to retail.

Of course, I'm sure this has never been followed up on in any of the past conversions of office to retail in what was zoned retail.

Just as developers who in the past who have promised public benefits were also not followed up on. Cafe Riace? The "public plaza" on 800 High also now occupied by a restaurant. Another developer promised a playground years ago that never materialized, though he got his development built, the list goes on and on.

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Posted by Sherry
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 6, 2012 at 11:28 am

Aside from restaurants which are supported by the professional sector, there hasn't been small business in downtown Palo Alto for a very long time. The interests of small business are not in line with land owners/developers who make policy in this town. The Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Association are run by a handful across both organizations who have not owned nor operated a small business. They are salaried employees of big business; Banks, Realtors, Law firms, Hospitality industry, etc., and more often than not, do not reside in Palo Alto.

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Posted by What's so great about Emerson Street?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 6, 2012 at 12:08 pm

One of the retailers on Emerson, Stanford Florists, owns their property. They actually want to retire as the couple is in their 80's. However, they are on the fence as to whether they should sell the property, or rent it out. They have been trying to decide this for at least two years now, so no decision by the PA council is going to stop them from going out of business, and transitioning the flower shop into something else. The challenge, they cannot get the rent they desire if they rent to another retailer, but they can get great rental income if they rent to a tech start-up or office type of business. And, of course, there is no profit in the flower business these days as consumers have so many different choices of places to buy flowers - i.e. Safeway, Whole Foods, local stands, apps, etc.

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Posted by Bob
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 6, 2012 at 12:53 pm

Boy, there seems to be a lot of assumptions and misleading info throughout these comments. First, that the prices are higher in downtown Palo Alto than they are in other places. Simply not true. A frozen yogurt, a meal in a restaurant, a pair of glasses, dry cleaning, a handbag or a scarf, a gift item or a piece of furniture--all priced the same as anywhere else. Anyone who thinks differently has not been downtown lately.

Secondly, that the boards of these organizations, the Chamber and the Downtown Association is made up of folks who don;t own businesses. Also not true. Both boards contain folks who care about the vibrancy of the downtown and the town as a whole and it's because they are vested in the community, many because they own and operate their businesses and some own their properties as well.

Third, the 2009 zoning changes were in response to retail stores on the periphary of the downtown core that could not sustain retail, evident by long standing vacant storefronts. Allowing offices was a reaction to the potential of those vacancy remaining for years. It also contain a provision allowing those offices to revert back to retail.

Fourth, "there hasn't been a small business in downtown in years" Really? I could list just a few off the top of my head that exist today, some new, some long standing. For example, Prolific Oven, Shady Lane, Five Ten Gifts, Palo Alto Toy and Sport, Oren's Hummus, Vino Locale, Empire Clothing, Bell's Books, Great American Frame Shop, The Foam Store, Inhabiture, McCroskey's...all locally owned...and the list could go on.

Look, visit downtown before you render an opinion on this issue. I think you will be surprised at how many independents there are despite the 2009 office zoning on the outer core of downtown.

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Posted by Gordon
a resident of another community
on Nov 6, 2012 at 7:53 pm

And many vacant retail spaces are overpriced so they will not rent in a timely manner so the landlords and their agents can then lease out the space to offices. Consider the old a Radio Shack space and the Water Works space. I was interested in one of these and was told "Bla,Bla". Not surprised by any of this. Those with MBA's do not care for anything but the bottom line. What happened to owners who care about the human side of a community.

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Posted by Dave
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 7, 2012 at 10:33 am

FYI, The old Radio Shack is now a nice retail store called, "Inhabiture."

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Posted by Ducatigirl
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 7, 2012 at 3:02 pm

The question, "What's so great about Emerson Street?" still hasn't been answered. I personally prefer Ramona, but other than that, I hardly ever go downtown anymore. Anything I want I would be better off buying elsewhere: better parking, better prices, better attitudes.

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Posted by GladWeDidThis
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 17, 2014 at 8:15 pm

> Vice Mayor Greg Scharff, Councilwoman Karen Holman
> and Councilman Greg Schmid to put forth a memo
> calling for more retail protection

Glad we got this - would have been a shame to lose retail downtown

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

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