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2008-02-27
Oakley, CA. Wal-Mart Blames Economics For Project Cancellation

Wal-Mart says business is blossoming as the nation slides into a recession, but the company keeps pruning off supercenter projects like dead limbs. The economic development director in Oakley, California is disappointed and obviously frustrated this week. She joins a long line of city and town officials who have been abandoned by Wal-Mart, as the giant retailer continues to drop superstore plans. Sprawl-Busters last updated the Oakley story on December 10, 2007. Wal-Mart had submitted in the summer of 2007 plans to build a 220,012 s.f. supercenter in Oakley. The superstore was slated for 76 acres of land near Highway 160. Wal-Mart called its project "River Oaks Crossing." It has no oaks in it, but Wal-Mart said the new store would "generate about 450 local jobs." Oakley was created as a city in 1999, so it is one of the youngest cities in America. Its population is around 26,000. The city, which is only an hour's drive from San Francisco, boasts of its "bountiful agricultural" heritage, and describes the community as "a fishing and boating paradise." Part of its tourist pitch outlines the "gently rolling hills, crisscrossed by country lanes and patch-worked with vineyards and orchards." They don't mention Wal-Mart in that description. In fact, the city's leadership says its "working to maintain Oakley's small town character while strongly encouraging the development of new industries to employ the growing local workforce." But Oakley already has 8 Wal-Marts within 25 miles, including the Antioch store on Lone Tree Way less than 4 miles from this site. The city has already enacted an ordinance that bans construction of supercenters. But Oakley Mayor Kevin Romick appeared to be oblivious to any concerns about Wal-Mart. "The proposed project will generate much-needed sales tax revenue for Oakley to fund police and fire services," the Mayor said at the time, "and to maintain and upgrade streets, parks and other infrastructure. The venture will also stimulate Oakley's commercial development, create new jobs in the community, and provide additional shopping opportunities for our residents." An opposition group, Save Oakley Now was formed, and collected 1,000 signatures from residents against the Wal-Mart. A Wal-Mart "senior public affairs manager" told the Contra Costa Times, "Unfortunately, there are some divisive special interests that are seeking personal benefit at the expense of Oakley residents. Wal-Mart is focused on moving forward and becoming a strong community partner that has a positive impact throughout Oakley." But an economic impact study painted a less rosy picture. According to the study, Oakley's CentroMart and Raley's grocery store could both close if Wal-Mart opens. The Kmart store in nearby Antioch could also close. Officials in Oakley issued a joint press release with Wal-Mart, in which they said "City officials are committed to making this location a signature development for Oakley and the region, as well as an economic engine for its residents. This project will be located on property zoned for commercial uses and will provide community benefits that go far beyond its commercial footprint." But this week, Wal-Mart's footprint disappeared. Blaming "unforeseen economic factors" as the biggest reason, Wal-Mart announced it is shutting down its plans for the supercenter at River Oaks Crossing. A spokesman for Wal-Mart said, "...Unfortunately, unforeseen economic factors have rendered this project economically infeasible at this time." No details on the "factors" were given. As always, Wal-Mart left the back door open, saying they hoped to "eventually bring a store to Oakley."

What you can do: The city is now scrambling around trying to salvage what they can of the River Oaks Crossing. According to the East Bay Business Times, Wal-Mart was purchasing the entire 76 acres parcel for the project, with its superstore taking up 20 of those acres. "The city is disappointed with the change of plans, as this project would be a strong anchor for River Oaks Crossing and provide significant amount of sales and property taxes for Oakley," the city's economic development director told the media. "...This was a major strike against the project since Wal-Mart would have to initially front the cost of the entire site which tipped the scales to not be in the project's favor." City officials told the media that Oakley was one of 140 supercenter projects being scratched by Wal-Mart. This cancellation gives Mayor Romick a new chance to influence the future character of this small community. Give Mayor Romick your views on Wal-Mart. Drop him an email at kevin@romick.net or send one to the City Council at: council@ci.oakley.ca.us. Tell Mayor Romick: "Now that Wal-Mart has left Oakley at the altar, it's a great time to amend your zoning code to limit the size of retail stores to 65,000 s.f. The River Oaks Crossing was way out of scale with the rest of Oakley. If you are trying to promote your city for its 'gently rolling hills, crisscrossed by country lanes and patch-worked with vineyards and orchards,' then Wal-Mart is completely incongruent. Oakley can have a vital retail economy -- but you can do it without huge supercenters. When you open one superstore, you close down two grocery stores. That's not economic development, that's just retail musical chairs. Take advantage of what Wal-Mart has left you: a chance to grow your small business sector, and to amend your zoning to make the retail economy reflect the gently rolling hills that you cherish."










 
 
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