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2008-12-26
Lompoc, CA. City Wants Wal-Mart To Expand Existing Store, Not Build New Supercenter

In 2006, Wal-Mart approached the city of Lompoc, California to super-size its discount store. The current Wal-Mart store #1989 is located on West Central Avenue. At the time, Wal-Mart was seeking to take the 109,838 s.f. store and expand it to roughly 207,505 s.f. According to MSNBC, Wal-Mart has finally submitted an expansion plan to the city, but scaled the store back to 'only' $151,271 s.f., or 73% of the original plan. "We've seen strong consumer response to our grocery offerings," a Wal-Mart spokesman told MSNBC. "We're looking forward to helping Lompoc customers save money on their groceries." But the added grocery store component isn't going to open up any time soon. The city has to conduct an environmental impact report under state law, and the proposal must be reviewed by the city's Planning Commission. The plan Wal-Mart gave the city this week would expand the existing building from the rear of the building, give the building a new 'skin' on the front, and remodel the insides. Wal-Mart says the expansion will create about 100 jobs -- but this is a gross figure, and does not net out the jobs that will be lost at existing grocery stores in the city, such as Albertsons, Safeway and Vons. Wal-Mart wanted to get a liquor license to go with their expanded store, but state officials told the retailer that Lompoc was "oversaturated" with liquor stores. The state's ruling gave the Lompoc Police the discretion to grant or oppose the liquor license for Wal-Mart. The cops said no, arguing that there are already 13 liquor licenses in Lompoc, and the community can only support 7, according to a "crime map." Back in 2006, when Wal-Mart first approached the city about a supercenter, the retailer had a completely different 37 acres of land in mind. Wal-Mart had chosen one of the only pieces of industrial land left in the city. The city realized that if they allowed Wal-mart to build a new superstore -- they were going to be left with the 'old' discount store -- and the empty box could sit unoccupied for years. By expanding their existing store, Wal-Mart would also not have to ask for a rezoning, which could have led to a contentious battle in the city. Lompoc Mayor Dick DeWees concurred that an expanded store on site made a lot more sense than leaving the city with a dead box. "Expanding on the existing site is much more preferable than building a brand new store," the Mayor told MSNBC. "The last thing we want is to have them build a new store and have the old store stand vacant."

What you can do: But that's what the Mayor is going to end up with anyway: empty stores. Communities are starting to understand the trade-offs involved in a Wal-Mart supercenter. When Wal-Mart builds a new supercenter, they abandon their discount store nearby. In the same week that this Lompoc story appeared, another story was told in American Canyon, California, where a new supercenter was celebrating its one year anniversary. The opening of the American Canyon store was accompanied by the closing of the nearby Vallejo store -- a reality that opponents of the American Canyon store pointed out at the time. Vallejo officials ended up losing their store, watching sales tax revenue decline, and doing nothing about it -- because in California the idea of regional land use planning is undermined by the search for sales tax revenues. Because California has a limit on property tax levy increases, and sales taxes are kept locally, communities engage in 'cash box zoning,' which is just an elaborate game of retail musical chairs, in which one city tries to steal the other city's mall away. Even though California has a revenue-adjusting law to prevent communities from stealing their neighbor's stores -- it does not seem to have made much of a difference in places like American Canyon, where Wal-Mart's opening cause a Wal-Mart closing the next city over. This leapfrog development by Wal-Mart has been going on for a least ten years, when the giant retailer began a deliberate strategy of shutting down its discount stores in favor of more profitable supercenters. During the early 2000s, Wal-Mart had as many as 350 "dark stores" on the market. The number of dead stores today is around 200. In Lompoc's case, city officials were right to steer the retailer towards expansion -- and this is consistent with Wal-Mart's latest growth plans, which call for expansion of stores instead of new construction of supercenters. Yet the factor that Lompoc officials have ignored is that another big grocery store will lead to one or two empty grocery stores anyway. The "saturation" in Lompoc is not just liquor licenses -- its grocery stores as well, and adding the new supercenter brings no added value to the Lompoc economy. Readers are urged to email Lompoc Mayor Dick DeWees at d_dewees@ci.lompoc.ca.us, with the following message: "Dear Mayor DeWees, You've been Mayor now for a decade. You've watched the big box stores come, and you know they can go too. You were right to urge Wal-Mart not to build a new supercenter, but to reuse their existing store on West Central Avenue. Lompoc needs some decent-paying industrial jobs -- not more retail. Not only is your city saturated with liquor licenses -- but you are saturated with grocery stores as well. Your population since 1990 has grown by less than 3,000 people. You don't have the demand to support major additions to your food sale supply. Whether the empty store ends up being a Safeway, Albertson's or Von's doesn't really matter to taxpayers -- the fact is the Wal-Mart supercenter adds no real value to the Lompoc economy. Wal-Mart today builds supercenters that are 99,000 s.f., and the company says it wants to focus on these smaller stores instead of the huge dinosaur footprints of the past. The existing store in Lompoc is large enough to simply be reformatted into a supercenter. You should ask Wal-Mart to remodel the store it has -- not add another acre's worth of store to its footprint. A larger store means more traffic and crime. Your leadership is needed to make Wal-Mart realize that their existing store is big enough already to switch over to a superstore. Make them use what they have responsibly, and not always be asking for more and bigger projects."










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

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