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Publication Date: Friday, February 22, 2002

The Heated Debate over Home Dept at the Emporium site The Heated Debate over Home Dept at the Emporium site (February 22, 2002)

The pros and cons of Measure N The pros and cons of Measure N (February 22, 2002)

By Bill D'Agostino

On March 5, Mountain View voters will decide whether they want to allow Home Depot to put a "big box" store on the old Emporium site. Here are the major issues and how both sides address them:
Traffic and circulation

It's the wrong location, opponents claim. They are not opposed to a Home Depot in Mountain View, but object to one abutting a residential area. And even though it's along El Camino Real, the site is near many homes in the Dale and Sylvan Neighborhood.

For Tom Frankum, a former planning commissioner and the owner of Keystone Construction, the biggest problem with the plan is its effect on traffic circulation.

The latest plan put forth by the company has the store closing off one road, Continental Circle, to help ease neighbors' worries about noise and traffic. That, Frankum noted, only leaves one entrance, Americana Way, for all the traffic _ from large big rigs to customers' trucks and cars _ that use the store.

By contrast, Frankum pointed out, Sunnyvale's store has two entrances, with customers going in the front and deliveries and drop-offs in the back. "They aren't competing with each other and it just makes sense," he said.

Home Depot Real Estate Manager Patrick McGaughey pointed out that the company is planning to make up to $1.5 million dollars in improvements to the roads in the area to help ease the congestion.

Home Depot also noted that it has recently instituted a new policy of central distribution. Truck deliveries are now coming from one location in the Central Valley. "They're fewer loads but larger loads," McGaughey said. "It's helping us to reduce truck traffic but also helping us to know when you can and cannot dispatch those trucks."
Sylvan Avenue

One of the most heated aspects of the debate is whether big rigs would drive down the residential Sylvan Avenue to get to the store to make deliveries.

Home Depot representatives note that Sylvan is currently off-limits to big rigs, and that Home Depot is actively working to prevent bad truck behavior. But opponents don't believe that truckers will take the long way, and instead will opt for the easy ride down Sylvan Avenue to get to route 237.

"The alternative would be a three-quarter-mile stretch in which they would have to navigate a downhill reverse S-curve, merge onto 85 for approximately 500 feet, and then exit again onto another downhill curve to enter 237. That's very tricky," noted Lawrence Vallandigham, a leader of No on N campaign..

Part of the road expansion money Home Depot has promised will be used to expand El Camino Real, McGaughey noted, making the right turn more into the site less of a traffic problem.

But Vallandigham is not convinced Home Depot can be trusted to make those improvements. "If they decide they don't want to spend that money, they don't have to," Vallandigham said.

Art Takahara, a former council member and co-chair of Citizens Voting Yes on N, noted that there are already signs along Sylvan Avenue limiting big trucks. Home Depot representative Victor Ajlouny added that truckers won't risk getting costly tickets if caught driving on Sylvan Avenue.

But Council member Rosemary Stasek, a Home Depot opponent, said the company sees tickets as part of the cost of doing business and the city can't afford to regulate the trucks enough to be effective.

According the Home Depot, the store's biggest benefit to the community would be the sales tax revenue it generates for the city. But opponents believe the figures that Home Depot uses are misleading.

The store is estimated to generate up to $50 million a year in sales, and the city would get approximately 1 percent, or up to $500,000, from the sales tax revenue, according to a city-commissioned study from last year.

Home Depot has been using that figure in campaign literature, but does not mention that the study also found that the store would bring in a net gain of only $350,000 dollars to the city, after subtracting lost revenue from other businesses.

But that number could still be high, according to Ellis Berns, Mountain View's economic development manager, since it doesn't take into account how much of the sales in the Home Depot store would be to contractors, and therefore considered wholesale not subject to sales tax.

Council member Rosemary Stasek added that the company "now has a corporate policy to focus more and more on contractor sales."

To measure this possible effect in the study, the city had asked the company how much of its sales were typically from contractors, but the company did not provide that information for the study.

Ajlouny noted that if less of the sales were to contractors then the city could end up getting more money than expected. "It could go both ways," he said.

Additionally, sales tax is also subject to the ups and down of the economy, more so than other forms of city revenue. "Sales tax is extremely volatile and is also extremely subject to state control," said Stasek. "The state can come in and grab more of our sales tax at anytime."
Another use for the site

A different use for the site that could produce more revenue for the city would be a hotel, according to Citizens Voting No on N. Although hotels don't produce much sales tax, every hotel customer pays a "transient occupancy tax" that is entirely collected and directly controlled by the city.

Home Depot claims that the economic slowdown and the length _about 45 years remaining _ of Home Depot's lease, will make it financially impractical for a hotel developers to move in. But Michael Percy, Mountain View's principal planner, said the city routinely gets calls from hotel developers wanting to build on the site.

While Home Depot says a hotel would generate nearly the same amount of traffic as a giant retailer, the bigger issue for those who oppose a Home Depot is the size of the trucks that would be entering the site. "A hotel will have some deliveries but not nearly to the magnitude that a Home Depot warehouse will," Vallandigham said.

A combination Westin hotel/office space was subleased by Home Depot for the site in the mid 1990s, with no community opposition, but failed to materialize after it could not secure financing before Home Depot's deadline.
Driving out small businesses

Opponents of Measure N claim the store would drive out competitors like Minton's Lumber and Bruce Bauer Lumber. But the store claims it would bring in new shoppers, so that the local retailers will thrive _ even if they cannot compete with Home Depot's prices _ since the local stores will occupy specific niche markets.

"When you're bringing more shoppers into the area, all of the other businesses are going to benefit," said Ajlouny. "So there's concern that this business may lose people, that business may lose people because their business is going to go down but the reality is all of those other businesses in the area are going to have increased volume."

No on N Campaign Organizer Kay Mascoli noted that Minton's Lumber has a store in Cupertino that has suffered since Home Depot moved there.

Home Depot claims it will create more than 200 jobs at the new store. Approximately 80 percent of them, according to the company, would be full-time with benefits including medical, dental, and 401K with company contributions.

Salaries will range from $9 an hour to around $20 an hour. "The managers and assistant managers are all on salary," McGaughey said. "We don't have minimum wage jobs."

The jobs are also all non-union and drug tests are part of Home Depot's corporate culture. "When you get hired and when you get promoted, you get a drug test," McGaughey said. "If you fail it, you're out."

Vallandigham believes some of the jobs, like the sales tax revenue, will come at the expense of other local retailers who cut back or go under completely.
Big box only acceptable for 15 years

If the measure passes, opponents say, it would hurt the city's ability to change its own zoning. Measure N states that for the next 15 years, the only acceptable use for the site would be a large furniture retailer.

To change that zoning before 2016 would require a new election.

The biggest benefit for consumers that the store promotes is convenience. Citizens Voting Yes on N co-chair Astrid Thompson, who has recently updated her home for the impending arrival of a new baby, said sometimes homeowners have to make four trips to Home Depot for a project, a trip that can take up to 20 minutes each way to Sunnyvale or East Palo Alto. "We'd rather have the convenience of shopping in Mountain View and spending our money in Mountain View," Thompson said.


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