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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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Reader comments so far...

Mouse | Truckee
I admit I am a little late to this party. But...After reading Mr. Griffin's letter, I concluded there is more here than just Raley's. I cannot for the life of me figure out how this community can support all the Grocery stores. What is the Town Council thinking? Save-Mart, New Moon, Safeway, (Nugget being smart bailed out) Grocery Outlet....What ARE you thinking and why? One of these markets is going to go away; which one? This leads me to believe it is all about money and at whose expense? I must have missed the memo but I thought the Town of Truckee had some ordinance about "Big Box" stores. I recall 30,000 sq feet. That must have changed when I wasn't looking. If we are gonna go that big..Let's get a Wal-Mart so we can truly serve the folks who actually live here and are struggling to make ends meet everyday. Thank you for your thoughts Mr.Griffin.

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The Opinion Page is your place to spout off. This section contains letters to the editor and longer My Shot pieces. Also, the Spout features two bimonthly perspectives — In the Past, delving into Tahoe Truckee history, and In the Moment, an artistic musing of a moment today.

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March 14, 2019