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2008-12-10
Lodi, CA. Wal-Mart Tries To Get Unstuck In Lodi Again

On October 8, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart was getting desperate in Lodi, California. They have agreed not to leave their existing store empty if they get to build a new superstore, and are willing to pay a hefty fee to the city to help repair some of the damage their proposed superstore will do to other merchants in the downtown. But after six years, Wal-Mart has yet to begin work on its proposed supercenter. On February 16, 2007, a San Joaquin County judge overturned the city of Lodi's approval of a Wal-Mart Supercenter. The judge ruled that the company's environmental impact report (EIR) failed to take into account the impact of other Wal-Mart stores and energy consumption. In response to a lawsuit filed by Attorney Steve Herum and the group Lodi First in March, 2005, the judge ruled that the city's EIR left out how the new supercenter would affect Lodi, given the fact that there are already two other Wal-Mart supercenters nearby. This Wal-Mart project was originally proposed in September of 2002, but was not approved until February of 2005 on a 3-1 vote of the City Council. After the judge's ruling, Lodi officials decided to charge Wal-Mart and its developer, Darryl Browman, a 'big box' development fee, which would run $4.50 per square foot, to offset losses that downtown businesses could face if the 226,868 s.f. supercenter opens. The proposed Wal-Mart supercenter would be built right across the street from an existing Wal-Mart, which would close. The city's "downtown impact fee" at $4.50 per square foot, would generate just over $1 million. Officials said this money would be used for new business loans, employee training, and other programs to help downtown businesses. Wal-Mart would also be required to compensate for the loss of agricultural land. City planners have suggested a "one-for-one ag easement" plan, in which Wal-Mart would have to preserve one acre of agricultural land for one acre of land converted to commercial use. Wal-Mart's plan was supposed to be reviewed this past spring by the Lodi Planning Commission, but no vote was taken. Lodi continued to insist that Wal-Mart pay the city for damage to downtown businesses, and they want Wal-Mart to find a tenant for the store it will leave empty -- or to pay for its demolition. The city expects Wal-Mart to either fix up old buildings in Lodi's downtown, or ante up $680,000 in fees so the city can do the upgrades itself, or make loans to downtown landowners. City officials also want to be compensated for loss of farmland that will be destroyed by the new supercenter. At the end of July, a Lodi official acknowledged that the city had a draft version of a final environmental report -- but had no plans to release it to the public until Wal-Mart made clear its intentions to move forward with the plan. "We're waiting for Wal-Mart," the Lodi official told the News. On October 8, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart had finally presented its plan to the Lodi Planning Commission -- but the Commission rejected the Environmental Impact Report. The Planning Commission voted 5-1 to deny the report, saying more information was needed regarding how the superstore would affect small businesses and grocers in the trade area. Less than a week later, on October 14th, two appeals were filed from the Planning Commission's decision -- one by Wal-Mart, the other by the landowner. The appeal letters state: "City staff and its team of expert consultants have worked on the EIR for over two and a half years. We believe that the EIR complies with the December 19, 2005, Superior Court ruling and that there is substantial evidence in the record to support a finding by the City that the EIR complies with the California Environmental Quality Act." Tonight, the Lodi City Council will be asked to approve the Wal-Mart project, and overrule the Planning Commission. Lodi Mayor Larry Hansen told The Sacremento Bee this week that he expects the council's vote to end up in court for the second time. "The issue before the City Council is not, 'Do you love or hate Wal-Mart?' " the Mayor said. "They have applied, as they have the legal right to, for building permits and the opportunity to construct a new store." Hoping to overcome opposition to its superstores in California, Wal-Mart funded an economic study, which concluded that the 21 superstores studied in California have resulted in more sales tax revenue and an increase in business permits. But Wal-Mart has never funded a study that did not reach positive conclusions about the company. Attorney Bret Jolley, who represents Lodi First, told The Bee: "We're very pleased at this point because the Planning Commission voted 5-1 to refuse to certify the EIR. That's meaningful because you had a supermajority saying, 'We did not have enough information before us to even understand the environmental effects of this project.'" The Mayor told the newspaper that he has been studying hard to prepare for this evening's hearing. "I don't know that I've studied any issue more thoroughly," Mayor Hansen admitted. "When this decision is made, half the town is not going to be speaking to me any more."

What you can do: It's clear from the Mayor's comments that he has long ago made up his mind to support this project. Anytime a public official begins by saying that the issue is not Wal-Mart, but the company exercising its legal right to apply for a building permit, you know you're dealing with someone looking for ways to support the application. After all, Lodi has approved this project once already -- but city officials were slapped down by the courts. Tonight, the Lodi City Council could vote to approve Wal-Mart's EIR. If that happens, the project would go back to the Planning Commission for review of the land-use permit. The media reported last year that when Lodi started talking about fees, Wal-Mart began meeting individually with City Council members -- which is not ethical or legal. Wal-Mart got the green light in 2005, but because of the dogged effort of the citizens' group Lodi First, the store's plans were found "legally deficient." The city's proposed impact fee and agricultural preservation fee caught Wal-Mart by surprise. "Historically, Wal-Mart's policy is to avoid paying public costs of their projects," said Steve Herum, the attorney who brought Lodi First's case to court. City officials said the impact fee and agricultural preservation are measures they have already imposed on other commercial projects. "Everybody plays by the same rules," one Councilor said. After six years, the giant retailer has little to show for the time and money it has spent while stuck in Lodi. Readers are urged to call Lodi Mayor Larry Hansen at 333-6800 x9280 and then email him at lhansen@lodi.gov with the following message: "Dear Mayor Hansen, the idea of building a Wal-Mart supercenter right across the street from an existing Wal-Mart store is pure folly. This kind of leap-frog sprawl may make sense to Wal-Mart, but it adds no value to the economy of Lodi. You open up a Wal-Mart superstore, and you cut sales and jobs at the Safeway or Food 4 Less. It's just a game of retail musical chairs, with market share shifting. Your insistence on impact fees makes sense -- but why not avoid the impact in the first place, and look for real economic development and better paying jobs instead? Wal-Mart admits that their current store on West Kettleman is doing fine -- so why create all these negative impacts? Wal-Mart's latest 'economic impact' study has reached the same conclusions that all Wal-Mart-funded studies have reached. Now that the Lodi Planning Commission has rejected the EIR, the Lodi Council should support its Planning Commission, and insist that Wal-Mart and its developer go back and more fully scope out the negative impacts that this superstore will have on the economy of the city. Don't overrule your own review board. You told the media that you have done your homework to prepare for your meeting with Wal-Mart. Now make Wal-Mart do its homework."










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

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