More housing is a possible future for Marketplace

Nob Hill, other shops going out of business as plans for new housing development is proposed


Erica Dembrowicz

The Learning Express storefront advertises fun and educational toys and games for kids to play with. The store and neighboring Nob Hill Foods in the Marketplace are closing their doors.

When the idea of San Ramon Marketplace’s Nob Hill Foods and some surrounding stores being destroyed for housing was first proposed, locals were surprised. 

Now, Nob Hill will be officially closing on March 15 because of financial problems. 

According to the City of San Ramon, a plan for a five-story building containing 40 single-family condominiums was proposed to the San Ramon Planning Services Division on Nov. 2. The proposal is merely preliminary and is not yet approved.

In order for the houses to be built, Marketplace’s Nob Hill Foods, Sports Clips, and Custom Care Compounding Pharmacy would need to be demolished for space. 

But due to declining sales and increasing rent, the Marketplace Nob Hill will be closing anyway next month. The Starbucks in the Marketplace parking lot will potentially be renovated to accommodate an eating and drinking establishment for the housing deveopment, according to San Ramon mayor Dave Hudson and Citizens Against Marketplace Apartment/Condo Development (CAMPAD).

Learning Express also shut down at the end of January because the  owners are retiring.

Senior Marwan Balach is one of the many students who visits Starbucks not only to buy drinks but to hang out with friends and study. Nob Hill was also a prime location to hang out for Balach before the development of City Center.

“I used to go to Starbucks every day after school to do homework,” Balach said. “I feel sad and angry about [Nob Hill closing] because I don’t want a store that’s been there for generations [to close down].”

Plans for the housing project began on Nov. 20, 2020, when the property owners, TRC Retail, sent a concept review application to the city staff. Concept reviews allow the plans to be commented on by the city council but are solely informational. The city planning commission ended meetings about the plan on Jan. 5, 2021. 

The idea was brought back on Nov. 2 when the property owners submitted a preliminary housing development application that wasn’t related to the original concept.

The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) requires San Ramon to build 1,417 units of housing in its current eight-year cycle between 2015 to 2023. In its next eight-year cycle, San Ramon is expected to build 5,111 units of housing between 2023 and 2031.

The ABAG requirement to build homes comes from a collection of state laws called the Housing Element Law, according to ABAG.

“The [goal] should be a better world,” Hudson said. “If we take [Nob Hill] out of there and don’t put another one in and add 5,000 homes, are we better off?”

Housing is a policy priority in California, but removing grocery stores is also controversial. The major grocery stores in San Ramon are Walmart, Safeway, Sprouts, and Nob Hill. With the closure of Nob Hill, those who rely on it as a local grocery store now will travel farther to shop.

“[The housing development] is ultimately a business decision between the property owner and the store,” Lauren Barr, the Planning Services Manager for San Ramon, said.

 Laws from California’s government attempting to bring housing closer to transportation make it harder to be denied by the city.

“[California’s government] is providing transit for everyone that lives and works in Bishop Ranch throughout the entire Central Contra Costa Transit Authority district,” Hudson said.  “So the idea is trying to reduce miles traveled.” 

Senate bills have been created to reduce the distance between houses and jobs by building housing closer to transit. 

For example, Senate Bill 330 makes it more difficult for the city to deny construction for housing developments by reducing the amount of public hearings the city can have and requiring the city to provide a reason to deny the plans. 

The housing proposed on the site of Nob Hill and surrounding stores is directly affected by the bill. 

Even though Senate Bill 330 limits the number of the city’s public hearings to five, a group of citizens named Responsible Growth San Ramon have been trying to stop the development of the housing. CAMPAD is a campaign led by Responsible Growth San Ramon which has tried to raise awareness to San Ramon residents about potential issues of the new Marketplace development.

“This project is out of scale and character for the neighborhood, would eliminate a supermarket that is relied on by thousands of residents each week and would have a long term negative impact on the local small businesses,” CAMPAD stated on its website.

The need for 5,111 more units of housing brings up the question of how San Ramon will fit all these houses within its city limits in the coming years.