Costco’s reputation fuels gas-pump frenzy

When resident C.J. Redmond went to the Sunnyvale Costco’s gas station with her husband last winter, she found motorists willing to line up for 30 minutes just to save four cents on a gallon of regular gas.

They counted 40 cars idling at the Costco fuel pumps to pay $2.85 a gallon, while at the Chevron across the street, four people pumped $2.89-a-gallon gas into their cars.

Now that Costco plans to expand its Redwood City store and add 16 pumps, Redwood Village residents fear that the same long lines will come to their neighborhood, too.

“There’s something about people believing that Costco has cheaper gas,” resident Kathy Soulard said. “The customer draw is huge, even if nearby stations have competitive prices.”

Costco submitted plans in 2005 to raze and rebuild its Redwood City store. The new warehouse would be 148,663 square feet — 27,000 square feet bigger than the existing Middlefield Road store — and Costco plans to add a 16-pump gas station and 131 parking spaces, for a total of 776 parking spots. Costco is also proposing a 160,000-square-foot alternative.

Redwood Village residents delivered a 600-signature petition in April supporting the expansion plan but opposing the gas pumps. Those residents turned out in force Tuesday night at a Planning Commission session devoted to the project’s environmental review, as well as a meeting last Thursday to learn more about that review.

The environmental study, conducted by consultants this summer, found that the expansion would have no significant impacts on local traffic, air quality, noise or aesthetics. Fiscal studies showed the new store would add 35 full-time and 32 part-time jobs, and the gas station would provide an additional $320,730 to $381,830 per year in sales-tax revenues to the city.

Costco is proposing a traffic reconfiguration that would route gas-station traffic onto Charter Street and Woodside Road. “It would improve traffic on Middlefield more than will be added by expanding the site,” Costco traffic consultant Chris Stanley said.

If motorists obey that reconfiguration, which some doubt, they will instead spill onto Redwood

Village’s neighborhood streets and pose safety risks for kids, according to Soulard.

“Hoover School has 875 kids and is 400 feet from the property, and it’s right near Hoover Park, the second-most-used park in the city. It’s ludicrous to put a gas station there,” Soulard said.

The Planning Commission is expected to vote on the project in January, according to commission Chairman John Seybert.

Is Costco the cheapest?

Residents who live near a proposed new fuel station at the Costco in Redwood City say cheap gas prices will bring a stampede of traffic-snarling motorists. Nearby gas station owners say they can’t compete. How much cheaper is Costco gas? As it turns out, not that much:

Price for one gallon of unleaded gasoline:

» $2.45: Costco, South San Francisco

» $2.48: First Chevron, 2215 El Camino Real, Redwood City

» $2.48: Shell, 1667 Woodside Road, Redwood City

» $2.48: 76 Station, 975 Woodside Road, Redwood City

» $2.50: Valero, 503 Whipple Avenue, Redwood City

* Source: Fuel stations and CSAA, week of Dec. 3.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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