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City tries to keep retail on Emerson Street block

Original post made on Mar 6, 2013

For a glimpse of downtown Palo Alto's changing fortunes, one need look no further than the 600 block of Emerson Street, where zoning laws have been swaying with the economic tides in recent years. On Wednesday, the city's planning commissioners responded to the latest trends by endorsing a requirement for ground-floor retail on this peripheral downtown block.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, March 5, 2013, 7:21 PM

Comments (5)

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 6, 2013 at 8:16 am

This is very interesting.

In the time I have lived in Palo Alto, I have seen Midtown lose retail (are banks called retail?) and turn into office space. Midtown almost died but is now doing reasonably well until I see that lately that Papa Murphys and Cafe Sofia are closed (due to high rents?) and hope that these spaces remain as useful retail and not change to office space.

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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 6, 2013 at 10:31 am

The mix of office/retail/other/parking in the downtown area is not well documented. The City has spent over $2M for Business Development Managers, and still we don’t have a working land use/economic model for the downtown area.

Given how small this area is, there is no reason that the City has not developed a model that can predict (within reason) the traffic generated for a given land use mix of office and retail. Such a model would also provide some insight into the various tax revenue that this mix would generate, and the cost of providing services. Certainly, the need for parking would be something that such a model would be expected to generate also.

There is little in this article, and presumably less from the City, as to what the current office/retail mix is on this block of Emerson. Why shouldn’t we at least have an inventory of business occupants in the buildings on this block when we start a discussion about zoning restrictions for the use of those buildings?

The people in the decision process must be flying by the seat-of-their-pants, rather than using accurate, up-to-date data about how this block is being used, how much tax it is generating, and how much traffic it is likely to be contributing to the total traffic in the downtown area.

Building such a model would not be that difficult. How in the world can we, sitting in the heart of the Silicon Valley, be so behind the times in our use of modern planning tools?

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Posted by thanks for paying attention
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 6, 2013 at 10:52 am

Mr Martin makes some good points supporting the belief that "If you don't measure it, you can't manage it". The basic tenant information was in the PTC agenda for last night available on the web at Web Link
and although it is not an obvious link, if you click on "Staff report with attachments" below the agenda item, it will provide the staff report and on page 2 and attachment B, the occupancy info.

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Posted by palo alto parent
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 6, 2013 at 11:55 am

I personally would love all new development between Alma, Hamilton, Lytton and Middlefield to be a retail/office/work zone, something similar to Newbury Street in Boston. First floor retail and restaurants, second floor offices, third and fourth residences.

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Posted by Stan Hutchings
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 6, 2013 at 3:43 pm

One excellent way to attract "mom and pop" stores is to zone the area for retail on lower floors, and residence on upper floors. Zoning should allow at least 4 stories, which would give sufficient room for most families, and provide space for retail plus office/storage/etc. To encourage retail owners and their families to live upstairs, create incentives (tax rebates, parking permits, etc.). Also, to discourage non-owners from living there, create dis-incentives (higher taxes, no parking permits, additional fees for services, etc.).
When I was touring Asia, I was impressed by the efficiency of shop owners living above their shops. There were many advantages, including less commuting, security of shop, longer open hours because owners were right there, etc.
If the zoning is done right, and building codes are flexible and reasonable, mom-and-pop-owned retail stores could become popular to the benefit of the city, the owners and shoppers.
I believe the one reason this concept is not more widely adopted in the USA is the many unreasonable zoning and code regulations that discourage this way of life.

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