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2008-03-21
Fontana, CA. Mayor Calls Wal-Mart A “Menacing Beast.”

The city of Fontana, California is caught in a Wal-Mart vise: a proposed superstore on the North, and on the South of Town. But the Mayor of this city is not about to get squeezed -- even under legal threats. On March 10, 2008, the City Council in Fontana, California voted 3-2 to approve a "master-planned" community of homes, retail stores, restaurants and entertainment on 125 acres of land near the freeway. The so-called "Fontana Promenade" includes roughly 24 acres of land on its northern edge that has been owned by Wal-Mart since the end of 2004 -- after plans for the Promenade were announced. Wal-Mart already has a 125,000 s.f. store in Fontana a short distance away. It took the City Council more than 3 hours of debate to pass the plan -- but the debate over the Promenade, and Wal-Mart's role in it -- has been going on for four years now. The proposal for a supercenter in the Promenade has prompted the Mayor of this city to call Wal-Mart's proposal "insane." The City Council, in narrowly approving the plan, had to change the land's zoning, and accept an environmental study as done. Although this vote has been taken, the major controversy has just begun. City officials say the Promenade was meant to be pedestrian-oriented, with smaller stores, a movie theater -- a project meant to be human in scale, and encouraging of strolling, and street activity. Just the opposite, in other words, of what a big box store brings. The plan that was approved by the Council also has a provision that limits the size of any retail building to 75,000 s.f. Wal-Mart's superstore is twice that size: 150,000 s.f. It actually started off at 235,000 s.f., but under pressure from the city, the company came in with its "smaller" version -- still three times the size of a football field. The building would have a "Tuscan theme," according to Wal-Mart. Right after the vote, Wal-Mart told the Press-Enterprise newspaper that they were not happy with the Council's plan, and played the legal card. "We're still evaluating what we're going to do, but as property owners, we're certainly going to enforce our rights," a Wal-Mart spokesman said. The retailer had been trying to get the city to delay a vote so Wal-Mart could make more concessions. The company already dropped their drive-through pharmacy, cut back the number of loading docks, moved the store further away on the site from a nearby Middle School -- but size was still the sticking point. "We made a number of concessions to show that we're willing to collaborate with the city, to show the city that we're flexible," Wal-Mart explained. But they weren't flexible enough, according to Fontana Mayor Mark Nuaimi. Sprawl-Busters reported on December 27, 2006, that Wal-Mart had proposed a second location on the south side of the city, and that Mayor Nuaimi described Wal-Mart's plans as "insane." The Mayor said the southern site was not appropriate for a big-box retailer on the corner. "The vision for that was hotels and smaller development. It was definitely not a super Wal-Mart," the Mayor said. "To put them south of the 10 (Freeway) in the midst of traffic congestion already is insane." This week, nine days after the City Council's vote, the Mayor wrote an open letter to the community in the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, responding to charges from Wal-Mart that the Mayor would not meet with them to discuss the Promenade. "I'm a pretty unreasonable person. Pigheaded, some might even say. But what the latest spokesperson for Wal-Mart failed to share was that I informed him I don't meet with companies threatening litigation against the city. And, if I'm not mistaken, [Wal-Mart] has been quoted in local newspapers as saying the company will enforce its property rights. Your company's representative at all City Council meetings was not an architect or a professional planner, it was your attorney. So forgive me if my litigation detector isn't pegged with Wal-Mart not getting its way in the Promenade." The Mayor says he has met with Wal-Mart at least 5 times, "imploring your company to work with our community and council to develop where it makes sense to our community and to Wal-Mart. You purchased the Promenade property after we had already initiated the Specific Plan process and after we had already begun talking about a walkable, mixed-use development. Come to think of it, you also purchased your site in south Fontana against the advice and opinions of city officials, after a Specific Plan for the area had already been completed. Am I seeing a trend here? Does the $200 billion gorilla simply march into every jungle and get its way?" Wal-Mart had asked the city to delay the Promenade project so it could return with a "dramatic proposal that would fit in with the vision of the City Council," Mayor Nuaimi wrote. "And after granting the continuance, you bring forth a proposal that is twice the size of the maximum building size allowed in the specific plan, with a sea of 1,200-plus parking spaces in front of your 'downsized' super-duper, almost-larger-than-a-middle-school Super Wal-Mart. You then have the audacity to "present" 5,000 signed cards from residents stating that they want to save $2,500 on their groceries duh! I want to save $2,500 on my groceries. But I'm not willing to sell the vision of this community down the road simply because Wal-Mart isn't willing to move to another viable site." The Mayor then turned to what he says is the "really offensive" deal Wal-Mart offered. "There are representatives of Wal-Mart implying that if the city accepts the store in the south Fontana location, then the company will move the store in the north. Sounds a lot like extortion to me, and I'm not willing to sacrifice the quality of life of my residents in the southern end of town to realize the vision in the north." The Mayor then ends his letter with some direct advice to Wal-Mart: "Read the Specific Plans for the Promenade and the Empire Center projects. Take a gorilla-size Q-tip from aisle 55, clean out your ears, and re-watch the numerous council meetings and State of the City addresses where the vision for Fontana has been presented. And please stop the push-polling and threatening of political activism. Clearly, you didn't do your homework when you decided to land in this jungle. We've dealt with beasts far more menacing than you in the past."

What you can do: Don't fret for the 5,000 people who were handed cards to sign inside Wal-Mart stores. If neither of the north or south superstores are built in Fontana, Wal-Mart addicts are still amply supplied with Chinese imports. The current Fontana Wal-Mart discount store on Foothill Boulevard is still open for business -- although it would likely close if these superstores were built. Readers are urged to email Mayor Mark Nuaimi at mnuaimi @ fontana.org with this message: "Mr. Mayor, Thank you so much for standing up to the Wal-Mart Gorilla. You are correct, that the Vision plan for your city does not include a big box store in either of the areas Wal-Mart covets. It is not your fault that they can't read the specific plan for these sites. I encourage you to make Wal-Mart fit Fontana, not the reverse. Your size limit is legal, responsible, and in harmony with the land use goals for Fontana. We need more Mayors like you to think of all residents in their town when they make land use decisions -- not just Wal-Mart shoppers."










 
 
"Norman has become the guru of the anti-Wal-Mart movement" ~ 60 Minutes

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