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Whole Foods exec: We're not coming to Menlo

Original post made on Aug 12, 2008

News that Whole Foods may open a store at the abandoned Cadillac dealership at 1300 El Camino Real in Menlo Park had potential shoppers intrigued and local businesses concerned.
It turns out the specialty grocery store's chances of actually moving to Menlo Park are slim to none.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, August 12, 2008, 8:20 AM

Comments (24)

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Posted by smart shopper
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 12, 2008 at 8:35 am

"Whole Paycheck Market" is in deep financial trouble, debt rating and stock plummeting, rising costs will doom it to selling off unprofitable stores, and, then, of all things, the recent e.coli beef recall. You name it, they can't hit their numbers. They must have got a generous lease concession when they took over Albertson's in RWC. Why would they want to cannibalize their nearby stores?
Forget Menlo, Austin headquarters can't digest what they have bitten off already.

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Posted by loves WH & Draegers
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Aug 12, 2008 at 11:18 am

Rats. I like to shop at both of these fine stores and would really like to have one easier to get to (walking or bike) than the new ones in Redwood City and Los Altos. My favorite is Palo Alto because it offers bulk spices but the space is really cramped.

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Posted by skeptical of developers
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 12, 2008 at 3:45 pm

I'd have loved the Whole Foods, but I really dislike the subtext here.

"He said a grocery store may not end up being the major tenant if and when the project is approved, and noted another large retail store could fill the space"

What other "major tenant"??? This guy knows he's lying about WF, and is trying to sell a huge box store to an unwitting community looking to walk to buy fresh organic arugula.

What will it be:
Sear's Menlo?
Best Buy Menlo?

We don't need a big box store- El Camino is already full.

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Posted by smart shopper
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 12, 2008 at 4:00 pm

CWS just bought Longs for $3billion, maybe they would like an ECR presence between Sequoia Stn. RWC, Sharon Hts., downtown PA, San Antonio?

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Posted by Mac Cheese
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Aug 12, 2008 at 8:54 pm

Sounds like there afraid of being under cut by Draegers!

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Posted by Alkey Holic
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Aug 12, 2008 at 8:56 pm

What we need at the Caddy place is a drive through Bev&More.
Next to it should be a Hooters. The police can hang out there
or the BBC on Sat. night. Get rid those J.C. college types that
go to Menlo. Watch them puke and urinate on their shoes on ECR. instead of my front yard.

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Posted by Hmmmm
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Aug 13, 2008 at 8:04 am

So I get that this one may have been a rumor, but with all the auto dealerships having already left, GM deciding not to go with Menlo, what is going on? I know this is only anecdotal, but I have talked to several business owners who all complain that the city is very difficult to deal with, and it is hard doing business in MP. That explains a lot. The Constitution area (east of 101) is still largely abandoned, El Camino still looks drab. How about getting some business other than a new coffee shop or carpet store, that will actually bring in some tax revenue. Just a thought.

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Posted by Joe
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Aug 13, 2008 at 9:27 am

I'd like to see In-n-Out Burgers on ECR in Menlo Park.

It would be packed. (I'd probably eat there once a month. I don't make a habit of junk food, which allows me to come up with good ideas like this one.)

The nearest In-n-Out is in Mountain View.

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Posted by loves WH & Draegers
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Aug 13, 2008 at 9:43 am

Many of us already shop at both Whole Foods and Draeger's and would welcome a new WF closer to us.
I don't think the primary problem of El Camino's state is the city. The economy is down, so development is risky. Also isn't it true that along El Camino many of the property owners are getting rent still from tenants who have left? So they have little incentive to change things, including cutting weeds on their lots. Stanford is the biggest culprit.

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Posted by Tom
a resident of another community
on Aug 13, 2008 at 10:07 am

I think there are several reasons that MP has difficulty in attracting new business--I know I don't envy Dave Johnston and the challenges he has. Yes, the economy is down, but the exodus began long before that trend began. My thoughts

• Rents in MP are very high.
• Any new development project gets met with huge resistance, especially
if the resulting business will result in "one net new trip"
• Even when a new building does get built, it sits vacant (ie. the
recently completed building at the corner of ECR & Cambridge)-again,
high rent.
• MP is notorious for doing studies and changing its position
on what can or can't be done in various locales (ie. visioning
study and rewriting the rules in the M2 zone).
• Deny it if you want to, but there is a high degree of NIMBY here.
• The message to businesses who might be considering locating here,
from the City, the Chamber of Commerce, and even in blogs like
this one, while not always negative is certainly far from
• No progress has been made after years & years of study/debate
to improve the street light situation and train track crossing
difficulties that make it very hard to get around town.

Like this comment
Posted by Alky as well
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Aug 13, 2008 at 2:24 pm

I would like to see that Bev-mo as well. Drive through! 24 hours.

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Posted by likes planning
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Aug 13, 2008 at 4:00 pm

A lot of the uproar in recent years was because projects were brought forward that did not comply, even remotely, with the city's existing General Plan and zoning rules.
Projects that do comply, such as the Beltramo project (next to the store)have been approved but aren't being built because of the economy and possibly other owner-related issues.
Things like street lights on El Camino are managed by caltrans, not the city. It's not hard at all to get around, as long as you don't pick to go in the height of rush hour. Just an hour later is a breeze.
Be really careful when you start making accusations.

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Posted by Tom
a resident of another community
on Aug 14, 2008 at 8:26 am

Likes planning - If my post sounded at all like I was making accusations (a strong word in my book) I apologize. That was not my intent. I, too, appreciate the value of good planning. I was simply trying to state some things/themes I perceive as being present here that I've heard over the years from people involved in selecting business sites to be negatives. One response to your point about the Beltramo project, however. Fortunately Mr. Beltramo is a long time MPer and a persistent person. A check of City records will reveal that it took him years and numerous meetings w/ councils & commissions to finally get his project approved. I'm not saying that was inappropriate or poor planning, just suggesting that if that had been a new business wanting to locate somewhere, its quite likely they would have given up and gone elsewhere.

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Posted by likes planning
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Aug 14, 2008 at 8:34 am

Please check the records again - many of the delays related to the Beltramo project were not due to the city at all. The city can't act until all required project details are provided. It would be instructive to see how long it took to get approvals after complete plans were provided.
A recent meeting was to request an extension of an approval already granted.
While I think the city could be much better in its processes, it is quite common that an applicant comes forward with incomplete plans or is asking for something that does not fit within existing rules.

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Posted by Speak up
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Aug 14, 2008 at 10:53 am

There is a meeting of the El Camino/Downtown Vision Plan oversight group tonight. If you have thoughts on the planning process, don't just post on this board, go to the meeting!

Oversight/Outreach Committee Meeting
Thursday, August 14
7:00 p.m. - approximately 9:00 p.m.
Recreation Center Fireside Room

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Posted by abc
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 14, 2008 at 1:41 pm

when did MP last updat their zoning codes? 1950's? Everything requires a discretionary Use Permit, so property rights are non-existent.

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Posted by PalmReader
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 14, 2008 at 3:25 pm

abc: The city last overhauled the General Plan in 1994. Staff has been reluctant to start another revision effort. In the meantime, zoning changes and general plan amendments have crept in over time to accommodate specific projects. It's Swiss Cheese at this point.

re: the Beltramo project. After many years of nursing along their application, other delays were also caused by the Beltramo family themselves due to estate planning issues. The current delay is due (I heard) to a newly discovered need for remediation of soil contamination. (Has anyone ever checked whether the fabled vacant car delaerships also have ground contamination limiting its use?)

re: the question on how long it takes to get an approval after plans are complete. This question is incomplete. You should also study the time it takes to get building permits after use permits are granted. Many confuse delays at the building department withdelays in planning.

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Posted by craig
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Aug 15, 2008 at 2:09 am

Looks like the Almanac article exaggerated things. The Daily Post says Whole Foods hasn't decided whether or not to go into Menlo Park. One scenario would be to have Whole Foods close its Palo Alto store when the MP one goes online.

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Posted by Tom's factual twin
a resident of another community
on Aug 15, 2008 at 11:06 am

Beltramo's was approved on August 1, 2006. 1.5 years later, Beltramo's requested a 2-year extension, meaning the applicant inflicted nearly four years of delay on his own project unrelated to the city's approval process.

The project required a use permit, rezoning from C-4 to P-D, and Planned development permit for the P-D zone. They requested the P-D rezoning to get relaxed building requirements. No one forced it on them.

Beltramo's also requested a do-over of the EIR in Nov/Dec 2002, the week before (denied) and the week after (approved) a pro-development council was elected, this, presumably to get a better traffic baseline to eliminated cumulative impacts of their project. (The economy went bust in 2001).

Rezonings, user-permit processes, and building permits and codes are all defined by state laws, that spell out the amount of Public hearings, Planning Commission review required. Menlo Park is no different than any other community. It does not have either an Architectural Review Board, or board of Zoning Adjustments, hence its compliance with State law is minimal.

All CONFORMING projects in Menlo Park have been approved with no resistance from residents, including Safeway, Beltramo, Menlo Square, etc. etc.

Safeway had no problems working with Menlo Park. Burlingame is still fighting over a Safeway remodel and has adopted the Menlo Park working group process.

In the early 2000's many projects were put on hold and the amount of use-permit extensions increased dramatically, proving that developers had approvals but no tenants or projects. Government approval was not a bottleneck.

The issues that arise in Menlo Park are 1.) rents, 2.)rent expectations, 3.) higher rent expectations, 4.) more, higher rent expectations. 5.) irrationally exuberant rent expectations.

Menlo Park rents and land prices are the highest in the Western US and at times exceed both Manhattan and Hong Kong.

Spec developers (like 1600ECR) purchase the land at enormous prices with high rent expectations and require zoning increases to make the economics work. They then pressure the community politically (1600 ECR gave money to pro-development council candidates) and they pressure staff to get the zoning changes they need to justify the buying price. If denied, they sit tight until a pro-development council is elected.

The projects in Menlo Park that have met with resistance are those that request zoning changes, general plan amendments, etc. to allow for building intensities greater than that allowed in the zoning code.

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Posted by Tom's factual twin
a resident of another community
on Aug 15, 2008 at 11:22 am

Just to follow up on my earlier thoughts, why high rents and land prices lead to community conflict:

the community expresses its vision and desires through the zoning code. Generally, On ECR, through the C-4 zoning, Menlo Park is asking for local-serving, retail uses which bring both needed services and sales tax revenues.

The uses which return the highest yield to developers are, in alternating cycles, professional office, followed by luxury housing.

Hence the community and developers are at odds with one another.

Rather than proposing projects that bring the community the value it desires, some spec developers hook up with resident property rights advocates to fabricate PR stories that offices and luxury condos' are financially valuable to the community and that the city and residents abuse its discretionary approval process, as "Tom" , perhaps innocently, did with Beltramo's project.

Neither is true, and the facts are easy to cite. Office and luxury housing cost the city more than they bring in, and the city does not abuse the discretionary process, rather the city is usually generous in granting approvals, variances, and rezonings, much to the chagrin of many residents.

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Posted by Mabel
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 15, 2008 at 2:24 pm

Tft: I generally agree with your arguments, but it's quite a stretch to say that the Menlo Park Safeway project passed with "no resistance from residents."
There were buckets of resistance from residents until Safeway finally agreed to bring neighbors to the table for a collaborative planning effort.
The result may have passed easily, but it was years in the making.

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Posted by Namaste
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 23, 2008 at 2:47 pm

Factual Tom should come out from behind the curtain in his hill top residence in Redwood City and move back to Menlo Park. This way, he could run for office honestly and the voters could see if they want another 8 years of this guy's negative analytical intensity. Menlo park needs to be a player in the 21st century.
I wonder why Factual Tom has a chip on his shoulder about people who want to make a living and turn a profit. Maybe it's some hangover from his college experience.

Namaste, Factual Tom. Take a big breath and relax.

Like this comment
Posted by counterfactual tom
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 28, 2008 at 9:45 pm

Addressing an earlier query and response, should the fact that a previous council passed a general plan in 1994 limit what can be done by today's council? What if those wise people in 1994 did not think of everything we might need or want today? Is the general plan of 1994 our local equivalent of the Ten Commandments?

As to TFT's assertions that developers are at odds with "the community", apparently, the "community" is always right, at one with itself, and it's desires are obvious to all. Developers never build things that the community wants, yet how strange that people (are they "community"?) pay such high prices? Clever folks, those developers.

Let me advance a counterfactual theory, developers DO build things that people want. Developers that don't, don't stay in business long. The posts here show that Whole Foods would have appeal to a sizable portion of our town. And here's the really crazy idea, developers actually build the "community" of the future. I.E., I may or may not like the traffic, but I must acknowledge that the mixed use projects along El Camino will bring new citizens, new businesses, new services, and new vitality. Yes, developer earn some lucre for their efforts, but then we all earn lucre don't we?

Perhaps if TFT were more thoughtful, he might qualify his statement to something of the form that SOME in our community are happy with the way things are and oppose change or additions to the membership of our community.

As for how easy it is to get things done in this town, I tried to rent a tiny house off the downtown that had a mixed residential commercial zoning. I wanted to open a chiropractic office. Planning quoted three months to a use permit hearing. That's business in this town, moving at the speed of an amoeba.

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Posted by tom h.
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 6, 2010 at 12:55 pm

Hold him to his word.
David Lannon, president of Whole Foods' Northern California operation, said the specialty grocery store chain has "no interest" in moving to El Camino Real in Menlo Park, and he's unaware of any talks to open a store at the former Cadillac site.

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

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