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Raley’s Store Approval Disregards the Bigger Picture

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By BILLY GRIFFIN  |  Truckee/Tahoe

In January, the Town of Truckee Planning Commission approved the Soaring Ranch Retail Center, which will bring a full-sized 40,000 square foot Raley’s supermarket to the Joerger Ranch site near the airport. In doing so, the commission made a serious error that is likely to create major disruptions in Truckee’s economy for years to come. I’m no expert in land use issues, but I’ll try to explain in layman’s terms why this is a big deal.

Years ago, when the Raley’s project was first conceived, the thinking was that there was no other desirable site in town for a new full-sized supermarket. The Town believed a grocery store by the airport was a great use for the land and gave its blessing for the project to move forward. Since then, however, the Railyard project in historic downtown was granted approval for its own full-sized 35,000 square foot Nugget Market, to be operational next year.

A 2015 Town staff report for the Raley’s project site included an economic analysis which stated, “Truckee would likely only be able to accommodate one new grocery store but not both [emphasis mine] between the Railyard Master Plan and Joerger Ranch.” Even the Joerger Ranch Plan itself concedes that between 2015 and 2023 the town is projected to be able to absorb only 50,000 square feet of additional grocery space — the equivalent of not more than one full-sized supermarket. This is important for two reasons.

First, Truckee’s General Plan prohibits development that unreasonably competes with historic downtown, of which Nugget is now officially a part. All Commercial Row business owners should be alarmed by the Town’s failure to keep that area sacrosanct.

Second, oversaturation of grocery stores leads to toxic competition as too many players compete for too little demand. One or more existing grocery stores will likely fail (read: Save Mart and New Moon) before the market finds equilibrium. And that brings the specter of urban decay, as anchor tenants disappear from shopping centers and neighboring businesses lose the traffic they bring. The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) prohibits development that causes this.

Once Nugget was approved, the Town should have turned to Raley’s and said, “Sorry guys, there’s only room for one and somebody else beat you to it.” But they didn’t. Inexplicably, Town staff continued to advance the project, ignoring its own report and recommended the commission approve it, which they did. Let me be clear: there’s nothing wrong with the Raley’s project itself. Raley’s is a first-rate organization, and the proposed development is beautiful and well-thought out. The danger isn’t in the project. It’s in the process, where the Town manager blindly pursues additional sales tax revenue without considering the larger picture.

It’s worth noting that Nugget didn’t claim all the available capacity. A 35,000 square foot Nugget still leaves 15,000 square feet available — a great size for a specialty market that can capably meet the needs of the communities in that part of town. Indeed, the Joerger Ranch Plan itself acknowledges that a full-sized supermarket is not necessary for the successful development of that site. So why overreach and risk courting disaster?

On Jan. 26, I co-signed an appeal to the Town Council to review this decision. It doesn’t ask the Council to revoke the permits. It requests that they commission a NEW report to determine if it’s still the case that Truckee can only sustain one additional full-sized grocery store, and to act accordingly. That’s a reasonable request: double-check before we do something irreversible.

The stakes are high for local business. I urge you to support this reasonable but crucial appeal. Directing smooth and orderly growth is the role of government in the free market. We need our Town Council to ensure that’s exactly what happens.

Editors note: Moonshine Ink reported on this and two other grocery store projects coming to Truckee in Store Wars, published in the December print edition.

~  Billy Griffin is a 30-year resident of Truckee/Tahoe. He holds a degree in economics from Hamilton College and has owned and operated New Moon Natural Foods for 21 years.

 
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February 8, 2018