When a bad development idea angers the public, some companies–In-N-Out–do the right thing …

And some don’t … Sywest Development, for example …

But here is the good news: last week, In-N-Out told the City of Pleasant Hill it was finally abandoning plans to build a drive-through restaurant on the far north end of North Main Street — next door to a neighborhood that lies within Walnut Creek city borders.

If you remember, back in 2010, residents in the neighborhood on the border between the two cities organized protests about In-N-Out’s plans to build its second Pleasant Hill location on a vacant parcel that backs up against their homes.  Neighbors believed that an In-N-Out at this particular North Main Street location, near the Oak Park Boulevard overcrossing over Interstate 680, would bring unwelcome traffic, noise, odor and even crime.  

I agreed with the residents. I thought this location also was poorly thought out because of it was not all that accessible to the freeway, which I understand In-N-Out thrives on.  The closest freeway exit from northbound 680 is the other side of Treat Boulevard. A concern of residents was that In-N-Out customers would get lost trying to get to and leave the restaurant, and they would wind up wandering around their neighborhood.

On June 10, the City of Pleasant Hill received this email from Kim Kennedy, the In-N-Out project manager:

INO would like to withdraw our application for the proposed IN N OUT BURGER project at 3131 North Main Street, Pleasant Hill.  INO believes it would not be in our best interest to move forward with this site. We at INO would like to thank all the members of staff for all the help and guidance during this application.  The city has been very patient and we at INO thank you.

So, kudos to In-N-Out for acknowledging that they were putting forth a not-very-good idea–a view that was affirmed by the residents in the community. And kudos to them for having the decency to say, yes, this isn’t the right project for this location.

So refreshing after the actions of Sywest Development, which moved forward with its plans to demolish the beloved, historic Dome movie theater in Pleasant Hill on May 8 and replace it with Dick’s, a generic, big box-style chain sporting goods store.  Pleasant Hill leaders, maybe a bit too cozy with Sywest and saying they felt locked into this years-in-the-making plan, rejected appeals to save the Dome by residents who crowded their City Hall chambers during meetings from March to May. 

So, now, we no longer have the Dome, but we in Central Contra Costa County will be getting a Dick’s.  

I can’t help but think about Sywest’s disregard for the community in which they want to work and do business when I read about public upheaval in Turkey that started with people there saying, no, we don’t want to lose a park in central Istanbul to a shopping mall, with Ottoman-style garnishes.  

Oh, yes, I know it is in many ways a big stretch to compare Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to SyWest Development president Bill Vierra or to Pleasant Hill city leaders who favored the Dick’s project; or to compare the protests to save the Dome with the violence and unrest that have broken out in Istanbul’s Taksim Square and in cities around Turkey–which, by the way, happens to be the world’s 17th largest democracy. And, of course, Pleasant Hill, unlike Turkey, is not boiling over with tensions over a government’s increasing authoritarianism, move to institute conservative policies, and Islam’s role in a secular society. 


But, as with the situation in Turkey, the fight to save the Dome did raise questions about a government’s relationship to developers and the extent to which a government is putting those interests over the wishes and aspirations of its constituents. 

And, both the outcry over the Dome and the protests at Taksim Square started with a bad development idea.  Yep, a bad development idea is a bad development idea is a bad development idea. To paraphrase the great philosopher Sarah Palin: No way to paint lipstick on that Dick’s.

8 thoughts on “When a bad development idea angers the public, some companies–In-N-Out–do the right thing …

  1. Honestly, the In-N-Out would have been a great idea for Pleasant Hill! PHill and Walnut Creek could have struck up a deal where PHill would pay for the redevelopment of the Walnut Creek roads in the area; it desperately needs it. With the better system Pleasant Hill would put in for Walnut Creek, they may get more people at their shopping center with Pasta Primavera and Nama Sushi and Teriyaki. That transition of Contra Costa Blvd and North Main Street is so congested that In-N-Out wouldn't have made a difference with noise. In-N-Out also provide security guards, that would be a benefit to that area because it's already pretty sketchy. Pleasant Hill and Walnut Creek are missing out on a great opportunity by not pushing In-N-Out to build in that spot. And let's face it, Black Angus had the exact same complaints from the community members from behind them and there have been no problems at all. I hope Pleasant Hill is begging In-N-Out to reconsider. But they didn't with the Dome and in hat, they were wrong. Sometimes change is good and sometimes it's bad. This article almost had it right.


  2. To “Anonymous”:
    Black Angus has nowhere near the clientele of INO.
    The congestion at the new INO at the other end of PH must have had some impact on the decision not to attempt to build at the Treat exit as well. There are times that the Target/ToysRUs lot is too much trouble to navigate (and INO employees have to be out there directing traffic). I suspect many people (like me) avoid the PH Target in favor of the WC one because of the annoyance factor. That's not good for any of the stores in that shopping plaza.
    Getting off 680 at Treat, then onto the opposite side of Contra Costa where the INO would have been would be a logistical nightmare, especially for people unfamiliar with the area, whether or not it increased noise or crime. It probably would have increased traffic accidents. It also would have had an impact on traffic coming off Oak Park onto Contra Costa.
    The cost of adjusting traffic flow, responding to accidents, and policing the area wouldn't be offset by tax revenue, I'm sure.
    As you say, the traffic off 680 turning left onto North Main where Contra Costa transitions is already heavy – especially at peak meal hours. INO was smart to reconsider and I doubt they changed their minds in response to citizen protest.


  3. @Anonymous June 19, 2013 at 11:08 AM:

    Are you kidding me?? I actually live around the area where In-n-Out would've been and it's already a traffic nightmare from ~4-7pm with cars getting off of I-680S to go towards Treat/Geary. These folks also go around the traffic island on Main Street and Sunnyvale Avenue even though there is a sign to tell people NOT to go around the island, but people still do. They also block the intersection at Main Street and Sunnyvale as well and it's a popular place for CHP to sit and hand out tickets EVERY morning and EVERY afternoon because so many people violate traffic laws in order to shave off a couple of minutes.

    Similarly, you also have traffic on Treat Blvd. for people who are leaving the PH BART station so it's a very, very congested location already.

    I'm a homeowner on the Walnut Creek/Pleasant Hill border on the Walnut Creek side of Main Street, which would have been just a few blocks away from where this fast food joint would've been located. The last thing we need in this area is a line of cars on Main Street waiting to get their burgers…adding even more traffic obstacles.

    Moreover, on the Geary side, you have people blocking the intersection on Geary and Main because they want to get into the Sprouts parking lot.

    Don't get me wrong, I do like In-N-Out, but this location is the worst possible place to put this franchise knowing what kind of traffic it causes.

    Also Nama Sushi and Pasta Primavera are always packed in the evenings with people waiting outside to get in. The problem that those places have is that there is limited parking lot space and those restaurants aren't very large to begin with.


  4. Dear Anon 11:08,
    I'm with 12:49 in saying I, too, like In-N-Out (though my waistline says I shouldn't like it too much!), and had written previously about how great it would be for Walnut Creek to get an In-N-Out. In fact, In-N-Out eyed the location where Chick-Fil-A went in but turned it down, perhaps because that wouldn't have been as visible-from-the-freeway location. That would have been a perfect location! And welcomed, too.


  5. Martha, I fail to understand why you keep saying the Dome was beloved by many. I have lived in the Northgate area of WC for nearly 30 years and I've found few (approx. 5 out of 20) of my neighbors and friends that care about the Dome. The overwhelming majority of people I've spoken with don't care that it's gone. Maybe the folks in your neck of the Creek feels differently.


  6. What everyone doesn't understand, is the whole area would have been redeveloped so that it would fix the traffic problem currently plaguing the Contra Costa Blvd-North Main transition. Everyone fought against Black Angus when it was originally put up for development. When it first opened, the parking lot was completely packed and people would be waiting outside to go in; there was no problem with noise and crime.

    The main issue appears to be the traffic problems. If there was an INO and Pleasant Hill paid for the traffic renovations, then that would be a moot point and it couldn't be an argument against INO. When I drive by, there are many possibilities (but I have lived with a PE for the past 25 years).

    I think Pleasant Hill should have just put it in and not been push overs like they always are.


  7. @anyno0nimous (June 21, 2013 at 2:46 PM) Northgate is a newer area of Walnut Creek with a higher turnover of residents than many more established local neighborhoods.. In Walnut Heights where the average family has over 25 years of residence the feelings are quite opposite! Towns like Danville, Pleasanton, Lafayette are charming because they kept the flavor of their heritage. When you lose your landmarks and history you lose your identity as a community. Concord is a great example, there is nothing special about Concord as a destination.. I will not patronize Dick's out of principle (Nor any other store in that center) We all vote with our pocketbooks,Neiman Marcus is another good example that will never get money from me. I also would not have visited the In-n-Out if they bullied their way into a community that didn't want them. Sell out your own neighborhood, not someone elses.


  8. All you anonymous's who think Pleasant Hill didn't do enough to encourage In-N-Out to build at the North Main location are crazy. City planners were jumping through hoops trying to get around provisions in the zoning ordinance and municipal code. They even lowered the minimum number of required parking spaces from 1 per 50 square feet of floor area to 1 per 100 square feet of floor area. Of course, In-N-Out requires far more parking than 1 per 100 square feet of floor area.

    Many of you also could benefit from a history lesson. Black Angus did result in noise, parking and crime issues back when they had the disco (early 80's or so). I don't remember when they finally closed the disco. But, I do know they were up there in the top three or so of all Pleasant Hill restaurants on the police incident report list. In-N-Out also would have been a huge nightmare with the lack of sufficient parking, teenagers from all the high schools staying out way past curfew, noise associated with the outdoor seating and the cars going through the drive-thru, etc. In-N-Out was smart to pull the application. It had little, if anything, to do with the protests from the neighborhood group.


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