Guest opinion: Draeger's makes case against usurping parking plazas(Editor's Note: The following letter was submitted to the Menlo Park City Council.)
By Richard Draeger
I would like to thank the City of Menlo Park for taking a long term view on the zoning needs of El Camino Real and the Central Business District. The effort put into this plan has been substantial and it has elicited comment from many residents who typically have not made their views public, which is one of the most democratic and positive outcomes of this public process.
Draeger's Supermarkets is very much opposed to the infill of the public parking plazas being proposed. Plaza 4 is arguably the most heavily used parking plaza in the Central Business District and its utilization rate leaves very little idle capacity even during the weekdays. The proposed Specific Plan is allowing approximately 25 percent of this parking plaza to be occupied by a mixed use retail/office building, which would irreparably damage Draeger's customers' ability to park and, of course, our sales. Grocery customers need to park within a short distance of the store's entrance. Our customers are primarily housewives with children in tow and travel from the store to their automobiles with shopping carts weighing approximately 100 lbs or more. Structured parking located blocks away is simply impractical.
The same point is applicable to the parking that would be dislocated by the structured marketplace and the boutique hotel. Trader Joe's, the Farmer's Market, and Walgreens would all be severely affected by the 50 percent reduction of parking being proposed on the south side of Santa Cruz Avenue.
Menlo Park's Central Business District is one of the few remaining where family-owned merchants, such as Draeger's, are still able to operate a viable business. The existence of these unique, locally owned businesses is one of the reasons that Downtown Menlo Park attracts discerning customers looking for high quality products and services from the surrounding communities of Menlo Park, Atherton, Woodside, Portola Valley and Palo Alto.
A merchant depends upon convenient parking where a customer is able to park within a few feet of either a front or rear entrance of their store. Parking structures are not convenient. The average amount of time for a customer to retrieve their automobile is 6 minutes. Our customers will simply find another location to shop for groceries that makes better use of their valuable time for this activity that they conduct three to four times per week at a store such as ours. The proposed plan may help restaurants and offices but would bankrupt merchants.
The city should incorporate the proposals being advocated by the Downtown Alliance. The most important recommendation would be to relocate the all day permit parkers to a new facility at the train station; or in a public/private venture at the Presbyterian Church (which could build far more spaces than the project requires); or a smaller structure at Oak Grove and Crane. Indeed, the merchants have lost over 50 percent of the plaza parking that we paid for through assessments to all day permit parking while the city was able to profit from the permit revenues. Relocating the permit holders would automatically give back much needed parking to the merchants and increase downtown revenues dramatically. This would be better than killing trade with our customers that has helped sustain the city with tax revenues for the last 55 years.
Richard Draeger is an owner of Draeger's Supermarkets Inc.