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2007-11-28
Ceres, CA. Wal-Mart Steals Land From Goddess of Agriculture

The City of Ceres, California is located in the central San Joaquin Valley, 80 miles south of Sacramento and 95 miles east of San Francisco. Named after the Roman goddess of agriculture, Ceres describes itself as "a growing community with a heartfelt commitment to retaining its small neighborhood personality." This city of roughly 42,245 people has 4 Wal-Mart's within 20 miles to choose from, including a 124,000 s.f. Wal-Mart store #1983 located on Mitchell Road. In early July, Wal-Mart unveiled a project that will forever change the "small neighborhood personality" of Ceres -- a 208,000 s.f. superstore on the south side of town near Highway 99. The new Wal-Mart project would also be located on Mitchell Road -- less than two miles from the existing Wal-Mart, in an area the developer is calling "Mitchell Ranch Center." The giant retailer has suggested that it will renovate its existing store -- but the smart money says Wal-Mart will abandon the discount store -- just as it did with stores at Rancho Cordova and Sacramento. "Our existing Ceres store is at capacity," a Wal-Mart spokesman told the Modesto Bee. "This is a great opportunity to continue to serve our customers." The city has hired an environmental consultant to review the plan. Ceres Mayor Anthony Cannella told the Bee, "This is a very long process and we're only at the beginning." Almost as soon as the store was announced, local residents began organizing to stop it. The following frontline report was submitted recently to Sprawl-Busters: "The Wal-Mart Corporation wants to build a second store, a supercenter, in Ceres, California. The proposal is controversial for a number of reasons, and the two stores would be located about 2 miles apart, both on Mitchell Road. Wal-Mart is intent on developing a 26.4-acre plot of land containing 16-plus acres of prime farmland. Approximately 15 acres would allow for 1,281 cars on a single-level parking lot. Some residents do not like the idea of a second store, especially a supercenter, in their small town because of the limited land available. Some feel the proposed supercenter will dwarf the town because it is out of scale for the town and the location. The supercenter would serve as the anchor store to a new shopping center development, if approved. It would become the gateway to Ceres, as travelers enter the South end of town, adjacent to the 99 freeway. But as one woman said, "If Wal-Mart is to symbolize the gateway to Ceres, where are we, the Twilight Zone?" Other residents have similar opinions and feel Wal-Mart has oversaturated the area and does not offer anything special. Wal-Mart wants to build the new supercenter with an approximate 20% allotment for groceries, and a garden center. Wal-Mart says it will keep and renovate the existing 124,000 s.f. store -- although not a supercenter, its foundation can apparently support a larger store. Some residents suspect that this will be an empty Wal-Mart promise. History reveals that Wal-Mart opens new supercenters, then closes an older, existing store in the same town. The architectural drawings and layout for the proposed supercenter/shopping center resembles a flat-roofed prison complex, with several semi-truck delivery bays facing a residential area. Besides poor aesthetics, residents fear their property values will decrease and their utility costs will go up. Some residents are concerned with the reduced quality of their lives, and the blight the project will create. One man said, "If you want to know what the new supercenter will look like, just go to the existing Wal-Mart and you will see how run-down the supercenter will be." The excessive traffic associated with supercenters that are open 24/7 has residents worried about an already-congested Mitchell Road with the increase in foul air, and increased noise and light pollution. Residents in Stanislaus county are closely tied to their agrarian roots. But like a lot of farm communities, the county has limited acreage available to accommodate medium to large-sized businesses that supply living-wage jobs. The mostly low-paying, temporary jobs Wal-Mart wants to offer Ceres do not meet the values or needs of the locals. Some taxpayers have tired of footing the bill for Wal-Mart employees who cannot survive without government-funded aid. The Ceres community is in need of alternative shopping and cultural opportunities, not a second Wal-Mart, which basically offers what Ceres already has. One resident summed it up, "Is Wal-Mart's new slogan, 'Save Money. Live Better.' supposed to make us feel better while Wal-Mart has a monopoly in our town and we receive poverty wages?"

What you can do: Wal-Mart came to Ceres promising a "progressive" building that is "environmentally friendly and energy efficient." But a single story building the size of four football fields is, by definition, environmentally wasteful. Placing a Wal-Mart two miles from an existing Wal-Mart is environmentally and economically wasteful. If the original store stays open, it gets cannibalized by its own company. For this reason, expect the "smaller" store to close down and leave an eyesore for public officials to fill. In 1996, Wal-Mart had 2,000 discount stores nation-wide. By 2007, that number had fallen to 1,000, because of the massive closings of the "older" stores. Wal-Mart also promised the supercenter would create new jobs, but gave no figures regarding the number of existing jobs that would be lost as other area businesses close. One study from the Ohio consulting group Retail Forward says two grocery stores will close for every one Wal-Mart supercenter opened. The fact is, there is no market need for a supercenter in Ceres. If they wanted to expand the original store, they are apparently able to do so. But the Goddess of Agriculture will surely frown to see another 16 acres of prime farmland blacktopped. Readers are urged to contact Ceres Mayor Anthony Cannella at (209) 538-5691. Leave this message: "Mr. Mayor, you say that Ceres is not a sleepy little town any more, but you will find that huge Wal-Mart supercenter does not match your vision for Ceres: a community with a revitalized, vibrant downtown. You cannot 'maintain a small town feel,' and encourage sprawl at your gateway in the same breath. If you want your downtown to be a destination point -- don't put Wal-Mart on your perimeter. Your vision for small town Ceres, and Wal-Mart's vision of big stores, are simply not compatible." For local contacts in Ceres, contact info@sprawl-busters.com










 
 
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