Town Square

Thoits to sell key plot at San Antonio Center

Original post made on May 21, 2009

After owning the land for more than 60 years, Thoits Brothers Inc. has decided to sell its portion of the San Antonio shopping center to a developer who appears to have a fresh vision for the property.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, May 20, 2009, 2:42 PM


Posted by Great, a resident of another community
on May 21, 2009 at 2:24 pm

It's about time. Anyone remember the Menu Tree that use to be in the old shopping center when JC Penny's was also there? I'm looking foward to a better shopping experience at this center but I hope the City/developers do not put housing there as well.

Posted by Why not?, a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 21, 2009 at 2:32 pm

In response to Great above --

Why not include housing in the revitalized San Antonio Center? Including a moderate amount of housing woud provide more housing options in the city, helping address housing affordability - which, despite the current downturn, is still a huge issue in Mountain View and much of the area. Adding housing would allow more people to live close to shopping and services, which would allow a number of people to shorten trips or accomplish them by walking or biking - helping address greenhouse gas reduction goals. And adding housing would create a more vital neighborood center with activity during more of the day, even past store hours, which enhances safety.

Posted by oldschgrl, a resident of North Whisman
on May 21, 2009 at 2:36 pm

i remember when restaurant with counter seating was at the Sears eye center.
i remember when Sears sold popcorn in the store

thanks Thoits Brothers

Posted by MM, a resident of Sylvan Park
on May 21, 2009 at 2:41 pm

My condolences to the Thoits family for losing their 85M because a Home Depot was rejected for San Antonio Shopping Ctr by the MV City Council. Fortunately the council wants what is best for Mountain View. These property owners don't care what is good for the community, Home Depot belongs along a freeway corridor (for example where Bed Bath Beyond/REI is today). It does not belong in a retail shopping center. Hopefully the new owner will come up with a solution that is appropriate for that location.

Posted by Smart Growther, a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 21, 2009 at 6:14 pm

So a retail store like HD doesn't belong in an area zoned for retail shopping. Brilliant logic. Nice to hear that some people know whats appropriate for someone else's property. It's fine to have an opinion but at least the property owners are willing to bear some financial risk for their opinion of what Mtn View customers want.

Posted by paul, a resident of Castro City
on May 21, 2009 at 6:59 pm

I still miss the old mill - the san antonio shopping center is basically ugly. Affordable Green LEED housing is anticipated.

Smart Growther - what's on the property (big box parking/traffic) can actually hurt a neighborhood. We have enough useless retail stores in Mtn. View. Remember the Lucky's and Mervyn's stores?

Posted by eric, a resident of another community
on May 21, 2009 at 7:53 pm

The ONLY way this buyer closes on the deal is if they are granted massive density first by the city. Go look at the old Rickey's site in Palo Alto and assume something even denser at San Antonio. Since this council seems to like heavy traffic, it should pass with no problem.

Posted by bikes2work, a resident of The Crossings
on May 21, 2009 at 8:35 pm

I think this is fantastic news! ANY step in a new direction is welcome at San Antonio Shopping Center as far as I'm concerned. Now, I'm really looking forward to our upcoming General Plan meeting. It will be interesting to see a variety of plans considered for the space, including a variety of uses and layouts.

Posted by bikes2work, a resident of The Crossings
on May 21, 2009 at 8:35 pm


Why is there so much traffic? Maybe because people who work here can't afford to live here? The manager of the Quality Tune Up right beside the Rite Aid at this particular site lives in Los Banos. That is crazy!

If the Home Depot was allowed to continue, they probably would have dropped the project by now. HD has totally retrenched in the current economy. They have stopped expanding. We would have an empty Sears building or a vacant lot right now.

Posted by Seer, a resident of Blossom Valley
on May 21, 2009 at 9:37 pm

I think we need to be very clear on what's best for Mountain View/Los Altos/Palo Alto residents vs. what's best for Mountain View's ladder-climbing city politicians. The only way for that to happen is to have the public control the debate, not the City Council.

Posted by Mike Laursen, a resident of Monta Loma
on May 21, 2009 at 9:46 pm

I agree with Smart Growther that property owners should be allowed to do what they like without being subjected to a planning process where the City Council treats the property as if it were their own, getting involved in every little details, trying to impose their grand visions (we need a "gateway" hotel here, we need a funky-but-family-friendly alley with midscale restaurants there), or just impose their arbitrary whims. I also think MM may be right that Home Depot would create too much traffic.

How can we resolve both points of views. Instead of an arbitrary zoning/planning process, just have clear-cut, objective rules about how much traffic a commercial property owner can generate on any particular street adjacent to their property (also giving the owner the opportunity to mitigate the traffic by paying for improvements). Add in some other clear-cut, objective rules about matters like sight lines, fire safety, etc. -- and then leave the property owner alone to build whatever business they think will be most successful, recouping the investment.

Posted by Mike Laursen, a resident of Monta Loma
on May 21, 2009 at 9:47 pm

(Yikes! I really do know how to write grammatically-correct English. I think I'm having trouble reading these teeny fonts.)

Posted by Ned, a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 22, 2009 at 8:10 am

Marketing to nostalgia has never worked for a business model. If you miss something that used to be, dump your own money into it, don't make someone else do it for you and take all the risk.

Posted by reader, a resident of another community
on May 22, 2009 at 8:26 am

I hope everyone here will go to and offer their suggestions for the General Plan update! the city is asking residents what they want MV to look like in the future.

Posted by Mike Laursen, a resident of Monta Loma
on May 22, 2009 at 9:01 am

I don't want Mountain View to look like anything in particular. I want it to evolve rather than being centrally planned.

Posted by Hmmmm, a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 22, 2009 at 9:31 am

Re: Mike Laursen's post about "central planning"...

I agree that we shouldn't plan our city so rigidly that it can't evolve naturally over time.

But you make "central planning" sound as it if's all a bad thing. Without "central planning", Castro Street would still be a fairly dumpy auto-oriented drag. Without "central planning" Shoreline would still be landfills and remants of hog farms. Without "central planning", we would have no Bay Trail, no Stevens Creek Trail, and fewer parks, schools, and recreational/cultural facilities than we do now.

Posted by Ditto what they said above, a resident of another community
on May 22, 2009 at 10:32 am

If the views of some of the more prolific posters here equaled those of the general population of MV, we'd have a Libertarian City Council and no Planning Department.

Thankfully, they do not, and we have one of the best planned cities in the Bay Area.

The Thoits may be fantastic folks - but just looking at their property it's clear they're not savy developers. The buildings and layout of their part of San Antonio Center have not changed in nearly 60 years. Having the entire San Antonio Road side of the center locked up in that time warp has not been good for the rest of the center, and has been a wrench in the plans to expand or redevelop it as one cohesive place.

I wish the Thoits well, but I'm glad to hear they are selling to a developer who has bigger ideas for what San Antonio Center could become.

Posted by Mike Laursen, a resident of Monta Loma
on May 22, 2009 at 12:59 pm

re: "But you make "central planning" sound as it if's all a bad thing."

Yeah, let me back off a little and say, of course, some "central planning" is good, as you point out.

Posted by Mike Laursen, a resident of Monta Loma
on May 22, 2009 at 1:06 pm

"If the views of some of the more prolific posters here equaled those of the general population of MV, we'd have a Libertarian City Council and no Planning Department."

I didn't propose no Planning Department. What I proposed above was an alternative to precise planning known in the planning community as "results-based" land management.

Posted by rEaCTIONary FRinGE, a resident of Rex Manor
on May 22, 2009 at 3:24 pm

Three words: Day Worker Center.

Posted by Mike Laursen, a resident of Monta Loma
on May 22, 2009 at 4:11 pm

What about the day worker center?

Posted by phm, a resident of The Crossings
on May 22, 2009 at 5:58 pm

I also remember JC Penneys and Menu Tree, and the pedestrian mall between them and Sears. Time marches on. At least we're getting Kohl's soon.

Home Depot on San Antonio Road would have been a traffic disaster. And I didn't like how HD proposed a consumer-oriented store with nice landscaping to get support of the neighbors and then
chsnged their plans to a basic big-box HD with no notice.

I'm looking forward to finding out more about the new owner's plans.

Posted by AC, a resident of another community
on May 23, 2009 at 12:37 am

AC is a registered user.

To Why Not?

I also am opposed to adding housing. Partly for traffic reasons, it's true. But mostly because I want Mountain View to retain it's small-town community feel.

To that end, I'm really not interested in more affordable housing.

The truth is that I pay a premium to live here, and I like what I get for that premium. Yes, Mountain View isn't cheap. But we have a great town and we live a good life here. Easy access to freeways, the best commute in the Bay Area, just enough shops and restaurants to provide entertainment for our community.

I don't want to attract visitors (beyond what Shoreline and the parks and the movie theatre already attract). I don't even want to attract other people's money. It costs me almost every dime I make in my tech job to live here, and it's true that I don't have much by way of savings because of it. But that's the choice I make to live here.

If our quality of life in Mountain View means a greater burden upon us its residents, then I really don't see that as unfair. I love that older people, young professionals, and a varied cultural demographic of a certain education level and a certain income makes up our city. I'd like it to stay that way.

Is that a bit elitist? Maybe. But that's why I've lived here for 16 years, since I moved to the Bay Area from Oregon in order to pursue a career in the tech industry.

Any one of us could live somewhere with a horrible commute, lack of community feeling, and lack of the amenities that Mountain View has, in order to save our pennies and try to do things with that money. That's why people bought houses in Tracy, and braved hours of commute each day.

Those aren't my goals. I choose to live here, because I like living here; and I pay what it takes to live here.

I want Mountain View to stay small, friendly, and neighborly. That's what makes Mountain View worth the high rent I pay.

Posted by Mike Laursen, a resident of Monta Loma
on May 23, 2009 at 12:58 pm

AC, it was interesting to read your honest statement of why you don't want housing to grow more affordable in Mountain View. A lot of people would be afraid to say what you said publicly. The problem I have is when people in our area (not necessarily you) feel entitled to impose their vision on commercial property owners, even though they have invested none of their own money and are taking on none of the risk of the property investment.

Posted by MV'er, a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 23, 2009 at 11:28 pm

I think all Mountain View residents are entitled to impose their opinions and visions on any commercial property development because what is put there WILL affect our residential investments and quality of life. It is quite risky to entrust our city to investors who probably do not live anywhere near here and could care less what is put on that property so long as they make a profit. They could tear the whole place down and build a megaplex crematorium, or a giant, neon green public storage facility.

Posted by eric, a resident of another community
on May 24, 2009 at 12:10 am

I think that MV'ers neighbors should be allowed to force him to paint his house and buy an expensive car to help their property values.

Posted by AC, a resident of another community
on May 24, 2009 at 8:56 am

AC is a registered user.

Mike Laursen,

Interestingly, I had a conversation on this point with one of my neighbors yesterday. He bluntly asked me if I had a problem with people of lower incomes. As it was a conversation, and I didn't have time to formulate a rebuttal, I responded bluntly "No, but I think we should take care of our own before courting new residents with lower income housing. If we were to have more affordable housing, I'd rather see it go to our police, fire fighters, librarians, and other people who are part of this community before courting more people to come live here".

I should mention that our conversation was not socio-economically centered. He and I are both people of color. We talk about these kinds of issues a couple of times a week, he and I. Last week's City Council meeting saw an issue raised regarding a concern of racial profiling based upon where our police most often patrol. To which I told him, "Look, I'm Asian/Pacific Islander and you are black. If we carried on like that, we could expect to see police in the street too. So I say: Profiling, yes. Racial, no."

My point is that I would rather improve the lives of the people who make up this community, which is a fine community just as it is; before trying to make Mountain View more accessible to new residents.

Let's take care of our own first. I think that is the great lesson of this recession. I believe we need to direct our funds and our practices/policies and our energies (read: time, talent, and treasure) to improving our community before trying to save everyone else's by giving them low-cost housing alternatives to attract them here.

Yes, there are Mountain View residents who have a tough time making the rent (or the mortgage; but the truth is that we're 80% rental here), but are they committed to this community? Because I would answer that if they are, they have already won the struggle to be able to afford to live here.

Posted by NP, a resident of Shoreline West
on May 24, 2009 at 2:41 pm

AC - I understand the point you're getting at - but I know many long-time MV residents who make less than the median income and/or are renters who would toss a Linda's Parisian Burger in your face for even questioning their commitment to this community. Especially those who have grown children with young families that are now priced out of the city.

Until the late 1980s - Mountain View was a place where newcomers and young people of all incomes and backgrounds could easily afford to live. While cites like Los Altos locked large segments with single-family-home-only neighborhoods - all were welcome here. Many were immigrants and they gave this town its reputation for being diverse. Look at the students' faces in an Old Mtn. View High yearbook from the 1940s and compare it to one from say, Palo Alto High, and you'll see what I mean. I think the reason this city, more than our neighboring cities, cares more about providing diverse and affordable housing options is because it's a part of our legacy. Mountain View was never a suburb for the rich - and I think most don't want to see it become one.

As for growth; When my family put down roots in Mountain View during the Great Depression to work in the fruit canneries- there were 6,000 people living here. 6,000! It was a very nice affordable small town surrounded by orchards and they loved it just the way it was. They would have been quite happy if things stayed exactly the same. So - I can understand your feelings about wanting to keep this city the same as it was when you arrived 16 years ago. One wants their home to retain the qualities that attracted them there in the first place.

That said, we all have a choice:

1. We can fight the change, become the obstructionist Not-in-my-backyard type that only sees traffic and over crowding when any new homes are proposed.

2. We can accept that, barring a Detroit-scale loss of jobs or epic and unpleasant climate change - that growth is a fact of life in the Bay Area and Mountain View's population will likely increase as long as there are older industrial and commercial areas with single-story buildings and large parking lots that are ripe for redevelopment. The question then becomes how do we limit and focus that growth to reduce negative externalites (like traffic). That's where good city planning and involvement in the public process becomes key. You might not get everything you want, but you will get something good out of the change and growth that occurs.

To get back to the topic at hand, there are few places in this city better suited for growth than the San Antonio Center. Any good urban economist studying Mtn. View would tell you that vast acres of surface parking lots and one-story buildings near a train station and rapid bus line is *the* best spot to place new housing. At San Antonio Center, you have a chance to mix housing with retail right next to a train station and major VTA bus transfer point - which means people can walk to the Safeway versus drive and potentially take mass transit to work. It won't eliminate new traffic all together - but a development like that can greatly reduce the number and length of vehicle trips taken - and thus reduce the number of cars on our roads.

Like you, I love Mountain View just the way it is today. My parents loved it when it had 20,000 less people, my grandparents when it was 40,000 less, and great-grandparents when it was 65,000 less. Each generation lived in a very different city than the previous but all agree that it's still a fantastic place to call home. The pace of change and growth has decreased drastically from the true boom years of the 50s and 60s - but MV's population will likely continue to grow. If there's anyplace where new growth is going to happen in Mountain View - let it be that tired old shopping center on San Antonio Road.

Posted by MV'er, a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 24, 2009 at 3:35 pm

Think I'll move to "Another Community", paint my house neon green and let Eric drive my '72 Pinto round the block on the weekends

Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community
on May 24, 2009 at 5:08 pm

Lets keep Mtn View a nice small city feel but with smart growth and well planned change, good streets and schools. Great Parks and a good grwoing business base. We hjave to build new housing all styles and prices so that from the buger flipper, the police officer to the buisness owner and the CEO of start up can all live here, i know not everyone wants to live here, but others do.

Posted by Mike Laursen, a resident of Monta Loma
on May 24, 2009 at 10:09 pm

AC, it wasn't clear in your original comment whether you meant that you were against more affordable housing (i.e. just having more apartments, condos, and homes, thereby lowering housing prices by increased demand) or you were against Affordable Housing (as in supplemented housing).

I'm in favor of the former, but not the latter. Of course, the latter has always been just a token effort, anyway. Somebody above said something about ABAG dictating to the local cities; my impression is that the local cities blow off ABAG all the time.

The one thing you might want to think about, though: you were a new resident of Mountain View at one time.

Posted by Mike Laursen, a resident of Monta Loma
on May 24, 2009 at 10:12 pm

"increased demand" -- that was supposed to say "increased supply"

Posted by AC, a resident of another community
on May 25, 2009 at 9:22 am

AC is a registered user.

NP: I really need to think about and digest what you've written. Thank you.

Mike Laursen: I'm wondering if I wasn't making my point very well. Yes indeed, I was a new resident here. But I came to live here not just because I could afford it, or because it seemed like a good idea, or because it was a good stepping stone. I came to live here because I liked the town, its people, it's feeling, it's view of green hills (as opposed to brown depressing vistas), the mix of new companies (at the time, Sun) and old family businesses, the proximity of landmarks like Hangar One, coffee shops like Cuppa Joe, being next to freeways, hospitals, dentists, public transportation, etc.

This is where I wanted to live. I like that most of my neighbors (and I am a renter) *want* to live here too.

My point is that I would like to take better care of (as NP mentioned) those who live here and make up this community. And that, to me, includes those who are coming into this community because they want to be part of it. This as opposed to attracting new residents "just because they can afford it" or "just because of decent location".

The Senior Center is complete now, and I think it's a great thing for us to have a place for our elderly. I would like to see a Teen Center improvement for the kids in the community. Our fairs and festivals are still some of the greatest in our area. Our roads are good, public services are good, we're bike friendly, the Stevens Creek Trail is doing well. I honestly think that we're doing a good job; and I would like to see us keep it up.

But at the same time, your comment about property values makes sense to me too. And yes, I'd like us to take better care of the property value and equity of those who have made great sacrifices and investments to own property here too. I may be a renter, but in many cases, it is the homeowners who create that stable base of neighborliness that I love so much about Mountain View. So really, what is in the best interest of homeowners is in my best interest too, ultimately.

Because as you said, I was a new resident here once. And I chose to live here. No one made me, and no one gave me a hand-out to help me afford it.

Posted by Mike Laursen, a resident of Monta Loma
on May 25, 2009 at 9:55 pm

Thanks, AC. This was the best thread of conversation on The Voice website in a long time.

Posted by Fact check, a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 26, 2009 at 11:45 am

I appreciate the quality and thoughtfulness of the discussion on this thread as well. I hope people will carry this over to the General Plan update meetings that the City is holding right now.

I do want to set the record straight on one incorrect fact that was posted above, by AC on May 24th. Late in that post, AC says 'the truth is we're 80% rental here'. If you check the Current Conditions report on the City's General Plan website, it states in Chapter 5 that "In 2008, approximately 41 percent of Mountain
View households owned their homes... The City's homeownership rate has increased slightly since 1990 when 38 percent of households owned their homes."

Here's the link:
Web Link

Posted by Mr. MV2, a resident of Blossom Valley
on May 26, 2009 at 12:56 pm

Sure I remember the Menu Tree, Old Mill etc. etc. The reason that these business ventures failed is that the were built over or near an old Indian burial ground. To end the curse a large park should be built, with statues honoring the Olone Indians.