Redwood City Planning Commission Chair Ernie Schmidt opened Tuesday night's public meeting by saying, "We know this is going to be a long night. The commissioners are prepared for that."
"Long" may have been an understatement when it came to agenda item number one - the potential expansion of Costco's gas station from its current 12 fueling stations to 20.
Costco representatives, in advance of Tuesday night's meeting, have said publicly that the current 12 pumps are not meeting high demand for the store's cheaper gas prices, and that increasing to 20 pumps would yield shorter wait times, shorter lines and therefore less traffic both in and out of the parking lot.
However, the Commission vocally disagreed. The question of the night became - how could Costco guarantee that more pumps would not increase demand for the cheaper gas even further, by potentially attracting more customers who want to fill up for less?
The argument of many - both commissioners and the public alike - was that, the intersections surrounding Costco and other nearby businesses such as Orchard Supply Hardware (OSH) and Sigona's Farmers Market are already incredibly congested and nearly impossible to navigate, and expanding Costco's gas station may worsen the congestion even further.
Though representatives from Costco and an architecture firm the company consults with insisted the expansion would only increase "delay" at the intersection of Middlefield and Woodside near the store by 2.5 seconds - which, technically, City staff said was less than the maximum allowed increase of 5 seconds, making their proposal acceptable - many commissioners and members of the public said, in essence, they weren't buying it, and weren't willing to take the risk that Costco's traffic studies were accurate and reliable.
Commissioner Janet Borgens said, "I am not convinced that 20 fueling stations is not going to increase traffic, especially in this day and age when people are price-shopping gas because of [rising prices]."
Commissioner Shawn White openly admitted he always buys his gas from Costco, and that he regularly has to wait in line for at least 10 minutes to fill up.
"If that [wait time] could even be cut by half, I would encourage the Commission not to write that off," he said.
White agreed with the comments of many that traffic at the intersections near Costco is incredibly bad. However, he said, in his opinion, the problem may be a matter of "traffic enforcement, and out of the purview of the Commission." He suggested, perhaps the Commission could work with the local police force to address the issue.
Chairman Ernie Schmidt said he believed the matter was up to Caltrans to address, though he commented that waiting for Caltrans to act on anything, because of how busy the department is, is often a long waiting game.
Several members of the public - especially those who live in the Redwood Village area near Costco and the neighboring Hoover School - urged the Commission to delay making a decision on the Costco gas station expansion until more studies could be done on traffic in the area and brainstorming ideas to improve it.
One such resident of the Redwood Village neighborhood even suggested that a large, members-only gas station should be built at a separate location.
“Granting Costco’s application would show the City cares more about businesses than its residents," she said of the Commission moving forward before more traffic studies could be done.
Another issue brought up was the fact that expanding Costco's gas station could hurt the business of local competing gas stations as well.
One local gas station owner even brought an attorney with him to the meeting, who addressed the Commission and audience. The attorney called Costco's lower-than-average gas prices and potential expansion an example of illegal, unfair business practices.
The attorney said, if the Commission granted Costco's expansion proposal, it would be an example of "the City sanctioning a monopoly."
One passionate member of Occupy Redwood City said the opposing comments of so many were evidence that the public is not in favor of the potential expansion, and sternly reminded the Commission that they are publicly-elected officials whose job is to represent the interests of the residents, and not of a large corporation like Costco.
In the end, the Commission voted 6-1 in favor of granting Costco an additional four fueling stations, rather than the eight the company was asking for, bringing the new total to 16 pumps instead of 20.
A special condition was added to the approval, that Costco must return to the Commission in the near future with a proposal for how to help alleviate traffic in and out of Costco and through the intersections near the store.
The sole dissenting vote came from Commissioner Randy Tabing. Tabing appeared not to favor any expansion of Costco's gas station at all, due to traffic concerns.
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