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2008-06-02
Vallejo, CA. Waterfront Wal-Mart Becomes 68th Project To Sink

On September 26, 2006, Sprawl-Busters described the beauty of a proposed Wal-Mart superstore by the water's edge in Vallejo, California: the shimmering shadow of its vast, blank walls, the reflected neon of its white logo, the auto exhaust gently comingling with the mists by the water. This plan, which was originally floated in 2004, was all wet from the beginning. City officials raised issues with Wal-Mart's plan, saying that a huge superstore would violate the city's land use plan for the area. Wal-Mart submitted a 206,000 s.f. superstore on just under 13 acres of land, where a Kmart once stood. The land is next to the White Slough, a body of water with a marsh that runs into the Napa River. Wal-Mart paid little attention to the fact that their proposal flies in the face of the White Slough Specific Area Plan, developed by the city, which requires a much less intense use of the land, including clustered buildings, open space onto the water, with windows, terraces and entryways that front on the water. In other words, a plan that maximizes the scenic value of a waterfront, rather than blockading it from public use with a big box the size of four football fields. The city's staff recommended that the Council require Wal-Mart to study the impacts of the project. Various other stores in the proposed complex bring the entire plan to 393,000 s.f. The project was designed to sit atop a first floor garage which occupies nearly half of the project's total square footage, because with only 13 acres, the project must build up, not out. Two of the seven City Councilors came out against the plan before the vote. The superstore would have caused the existing Wal-Mart discount store in Vallejo to shut down, but the store ended up closed anyway, when another Wal-Mart discount store was approved in nearby American Canyon. This is Wal-Mart's second attempt to build a supercenter in Vallejo. The first version, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, was 160,000 s.f. When local officials threw that plan out because of conflicts with the White Slough, Wal-Mart came back with an even bigger project. By way of changes, Wal-Mart turned the building to face the water, so shoppers sorting through cheap underwear and diapers, could take in views of the water. The 173,000 s.f. parking area on the first floor is almost as big as the supercenter itself. To top it off, Wal-Mart added arched entries to break the visual boredom of the typical Wal-Mart box. But a citizens group called Vallejoans for Responsible Growth, said the new plan was "a finger in our eye. They are being terribly arrogant and disrespectful of Vallejo. They assume we're poor and stupid and they can push through whatever they want." The Council had to amend the specific plan to allow for a Wal-Mart. The city's planner asked for a one-year development moratorium in the area, pending consideration of whether to change the specific plan. The Council voted in 2005 to require big box stores to conduct economic and environmental impact studies. "I think it's going to crush our downtown revitalization,'' one city councilor told the newspaper. Vallejo has already spent millions of dollars to restore its historic downtown. The city council eventually gave Wal-Mart permission to conduct an environmental impact study -- but a final commitment to approve the plan was never given. But this week, after years of wrangling, Wal-Mart quietly withdrew its plans for the superstore near the White Slough. "Wal-Mart had hoped to open a new store in Vallejo," a Wal-Mart spokesman told the Vallejo Times-Herald newspaper, "but current growth plans, coupled with the increased costs since the project was first proposed in 2004, have made the project infeasible at this time." One resident against the store told the Times-Herald, "We're thrilled. Extremely happy. It wasn't an appropriate project for the site, anyway." City Councilman Tom Bartee told the newspaper that he had heard of Wal-Mart canceling plans across the country. He did not know that Vallejo is the 68th community where Sprawl-Busters has noted a Wal-Mart cancellation or delay in the past 12 months. "Wal-Mart looks at their bottom line ... they probably realized that the current economy wouldn't support a few stores within a couple of miles of each other," Bartee explained. It was exactly one year ago today that Wal-Mart first announced to shareholders its intention to cut back on new store growth. Wal-Mart's claims that its new projects are being more carefully triaged, so the company can make the "most efficient use of capital resources." In a prepared statement to the Vallejo media, Wal-Mart said it was "reducing cannibalization of existing stores via our more strategic selection of U.S. real estate projects." Vallejo already has one dead Wal-Mart. Last September, the Vallejo Wal-Mart closed when the controversial American Canyon, California supercenter opened -- a mere 6 miles away. "We are appreciative of the support we received from so many of Vallejo's small businesses, residents, families, shoppers and city leaders - and thank them for the years of loyalty and encouragement," a Wal-Mart spokesman said. "Vallejo was a great home for Wal-Mart for many, many years. We hope to one day open a new store in Vallejo to serve our local customers and keep tax dollars in Vallejo."

What you can do: It hasn't been a banner year for Vallejo financially. On May 23, 2008, the City of Vallejo filed for bankruptcy protection in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of California, Sacramento Division. The City intends to continue normal business operations throughout the bankruptcy process. Vallejo is now a California Main Street city, and is focusing its energy on revitalizing its downtown area. Waterfront redevelopment, and resuse of the Mare Island Naval Shipyard, which closed 12 years ago, are major projects the city has undertaken. The land Wal-Mart purchased for its proposed superstore in Vallejo is an old Kmart site. "Wal-Mart owns the land," the company's spokesman said, "and will determine the next steps for a new opportunity at this location." But some city officials already see the silver-lining in Wal-Mart's cloud. Councilwoman Stephanie Gomes said the city can now seek a more site-appropriate mixed-use development. "Let's really focus on getting new development projects pushed forward and in the queue so we can make use of them when we come out of bankruptcy and are recovering and getting healthy again. If they don't want to develop it, they should let it go." Readers are urged to email Vallejo Mayor Osby Davis, at mayor@ci.vallejo.ca.us with the following message: "Your community has 200 years of proud history behind it, and your Victorian homes, waterfront location and downtown areas all present many opportunities for the city. Now that Wal-Mart has left you at the altar, and shut down its existing store, Vallejo should make the changes necessary in its zoning code to prevent national big box stores from changing the character of your city. Use this opportunity to put a cap of 50,000 s.f. on the size of any future retail building, and require any large commercial development to put up a demolition bond to tear down any building that they leave, just as Wal-Mart has done in Vallejo. You will see that in the absence of Wal-Mart, more small businesses will grow, and your reliance on big box stores will weaken. But first, you should pass the size cap provision, before another big box comes sailing into your city."










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

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