Adios Home Depot?
Home Depot's future at the San Antonio shopping center took a significant turn for the worse last week when a majority of the City Council voted to oppose big box "industrial" stores at the center.
If the council vote holds, it could end Home Depot's 12-year effort to bring a store to Mountain View. The 5-1 study session vote may become formal in the coming weeks as city staff draft new language for the shopping center's precise plan.
The council had split 3-3 on the project earlier this year, but while talking to the Voice on Monday, members unanimously stated their opposition to Home Depot's plans.
What had likely changed the mind of members Nick Galiotto, Tom Means and Jac Siegel was a letter received in May which stated that the company wasn't going to bring an "Expo" type store targeting homeowners. Instead, the company said, it intended to open a typical Home Depot catering to contractors.
In an e-mail, Galiotto wrote that "While I originally believed it was possible for Home Depot to craft a store that was sufficiently upscale from their typical version, it wasn't apparent that they intended to do that."
Council member Ronit Bryant, who had proposed the study session, would not say that last week's vote killed the Home Depot project outright. Instead, she said, the council simply wanted to limit the shopping center to smaller stores with a plan to improve its "walkability." With Home Depot not specifically on the agenda, few residents showed up to speak.
Home Depot's Kathryn Gallagher, senior manager of communications, said in an e-mail that "Home Depot is aware that the council is contemplating the future of the shopping center and looks forward to being a part of those discussions. Our store is under design and we're confident we can work with the city to become a positive part of the community."
Council member Tom Means was the only dissenting vote last Tuesday because he felt the council wasn't being forthright with Home Depot. "I probably should have switched my vote," he said Monday.
Council member Margaret Abe-Koga said that while the council didn't specifically talk about Home Depot, they had likely killed the project in an unusually roundabout way.
"Obviously they were very disappointed," Means said about the Home Depot representatives in the room. "They didn't like the way it was coming up and the way they were being treated. I probably got a little frustrated with other council members. I wasn't my usually chummy self."
Home Depot could bring increased sales tax revenue to the city, but its potential arrival has raised concerns on the council about the increased presence of day workers, who already stand nearby along El Camino Real. There were also concerns that truck traffic from deliveries and customers would be higher than with an Expo — or with the Sears that is there now.
"We're not going to put it in the middle of our city," said Mayor Laura Macias, "with access only to Highway 101 on one of the busiest streets between Sunnyvale and Palo Alto, which is San Antonio Road."
Several years ago Home Depot lost a bid for a site next to Highway 85, where Camino Medical Group now exists on El Camino Real. The company had pulled plans for an Expo store at that site as well.
"They are bad neighbors, classically," said Siegel. "They cause a lot of noise. Cupertino continually gets complaints. If we allow something like that to go in, it's there for the next 50 to 75 years — its semi-permanent."
Without Home Depot, it's unclear what would replace Sears when its lease expires in February 2009. Bryant hopes it will be something that can be an anchor for smaller stores. But in the long term the council hopes to totally revamp the shopping center.
"To me it's pretty obvious the kind of place we should have," Bryant said. "I hope we move forward to develop something."
Abe-Koga said she was excited by the opportunity. The center's precise plan, a council-approved guide for its development, is already very good in most respects, she said. But it's often mentioned that the center's various owners have never agreed on how to redevelop it.
"I know there was a time when the owners were getting together to remodel it," Abe-Koga said. "Unfortunately they stopped that talk in the 1990s. We could find a way to 'incentivize' the owners if they are willing to work with us."
At the end of the meeting, the council directed staff to come up with amendments to the precise plan to clearly exclude big box hardware stores like Home Depot. The council will vote on the revised language in the coming weeks.
Member Matt Pear recused himself due to the proximity of some of his property to the proposed location.
"If it goes like it did Tuesday night," Means said, "the Home Depot project is dead."
Chronology of Home Depot in Mountain View
1994: Emporium, a department store which had been in business for more than 25 years on El Camino Real, closes down.
1995: Home Depot signs lease to retain control of the site for about 50 years.
1995: Council approves Home Depot "Expo," a design center showroom that would have had less large-truck traffic. Soon after, Home Depot announces it is no longer interested in building an Expo.
Between 1995 and 1997: Home Depot subleases site for development of a Westin Hotel and Leisure sports complex. Westin approved by council in June 1997.
September 1998: Home Depot informs city that Westin/Leisure Sports complex is not going forward.
Jan. 25, 2000: Council approves site for hotel, office, small-scale retail or other sites but not for big-box retail like Home Depot.
November 2000: While Rosemary Stasek, one of the most vocal opponents of Home Depot, is running for City Council, Home Depot calls residents asking about their support for candidates.
January 2001: The city asks for conceptual drawings and ideas to address traffic and noise issues for a big-box store at the site.
July 31, 2001: The night that the City Council will be presented with the plans and vote on re-zoning, Home Depot pulls its request.
September 2001: Home Depot begins gathering signatures to put re-zoning the site on the ballot for 2002.
Oct. 26, 2001: Planning Commissioner Carol Moholt says a caller soliciting support for Home Depot claimed the call was coming from the Registrar of Voters.
Nov. 22, 2001: Home Depot announces it has not gotten enough signatures for March ballot. The City Council, however, puts the issue on the ballot anyway to avoid a costly special election.
March 5, 2002: The city overwhelmingly votes against Home Depot's Measure N, which would have allowed big-box retail on the old Emporium site.
February 2005: Construction crews take wrecking balls to the old Emporium building to make way for Camino Medical Group's new facility, which received support from those who opposed Home Depot.
May 15, 2006: Home Depot applies with the city to take over the old Sears site at San Antonio Center.
Nov. 9, 2006: Home Depot unveils plans for a completely rebuilt store at the old Sears site and meets with less public opposition than in the past.
Dec. 5, 2006: Home Depot holds an informational open house at the Mountain View Senior Center. Though 2,000 fliers were sent to local residents, attendance is light. The company says it is building an Expo-type store which is more attractive to homeowners.
February 2007: In a surprising turnaround, San Antonio Center signs a three year lease extension with Sears, though Home Depot says that won't affect its plans for the site.
March 6, 2007: Council holds study session on Home Depot, where it is unclear if there is enough support for a project at San Antonio. At least three of six members raise concerns about the store's appearance, traffic and day worker issues. No decisions are made.
May 2007: In a letter to the city, Home Depot withdraws its plans for an Expo store, says it would build a regular Home Depot.
Dec. 4, 2007: City Council directs staff to come up with amendments to the San Antonio precise plan — to be approved at a later date — which would exclude big box stores like Home Depot.
E-mail Daniel DeBolt at email@example.com