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2009-01-24
Suisun City, CA. Court Gives City A New Urbanism Wal-Mart Superstore

On November 11, 2007 Sprawl-Busters wrote that the Solano County, California Airport Land Use Commission had ruled that a proposed Wal-Mart supercenter along the flight path of Travis Air Force Base would pose a safety threat to shoppers. By a 5-2 vote, the commission decided that the 230,000 s.f. Wal-Mart, with gas station, was "inconsistent" with the Travis AFB Land Use Compatibility Plan for "safety" reasons. Commission chair John Foster said the county's assertion that the Wal-Mart project would be within the safety limits allowed by the air base plan was wrong, and said the "risk" to residents was too great to approve the project inside the air base's "safety buffer zone." But roughly three months later, on February 12, 2008, Wal-Mart got another chance to fly. In a unanimous decision, the Suisun, California City Council voted to overturn the Solano Airport Land Use Commission, and approve the Wal-Mart Supercenter. Because of concerns about Wal-Mart building stores, and then leaving them, the Council got Wal-Mart to agree to pay the city at least $300,000 to cover the costs of demolishing the building, although the city might find other uses for the structure. The demolition agreement says that if the store closes and goes dark for 36 months, Wal-Mart will demolish the building or give the city payment for demolishing it. "That agreement is designed to ease fears about future blight," a city official noted. Opponents of the plan, the Suisun Alliance, told the media right after the City Council vote that they were considering litigation against the City Commission, and a recall effort against the five individual members of the Council, including the Mayor. On March 31, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that the Suisun Alliance had followed through on their intentions, and had filed a lawsuit against Suisun City, charging that the city violated the California Environmental Quality Act when approving a Wal-Mart Supercenter. The case was heard in Solano County Superior Court by Judge Paul Beeman. The suit claimed the city ignored the CEQA in environmental documents and failed to address, evaluate and mitigate several impacts on the site. The Suisun Alliance said the project violated the Travis AFB Land Use Compatibility Plan, failed to consider a jet-fuel pipeline in the area, and failed to consider the potential for urban decay directly caused by two Wal-Mart stores in the area. While that court case was unfolding, another legal battle grew from the recall effort. According to the News Blaze, citizens from the Save Our Suisun Coalition who were collecting signatures on a recall petition were threatened with arrest by a shopping center owner. The group went to court to end such harassment. The law firm of Mark Merin of Sacramento argued that the community group had a constitutionally protected right of free speech to collect signatures for the recall of Suisun City Mayor Pete Sanchez, and city council members Jane Day and Michael Hudson. Attorney Merin said the citizens had the right to circulate recall petitions and literature. He said banning or restricting peaceful petitioning is "unconstitutionally restrictive." This week, KCRA TV reports that the court has ruled in the superstore appeal that the Suisun City Council's approval of the Wal-Mart project can stand. In a prepared press release after the court decision, city officials wrote: "Solano County Superior Court Judge Paul L. Beeman has issued a final ruling that the City of Suisun City fulfilled every legal obligation when the City Council considered and approved the Walters Road West Project, which is proposed to house a Wal-Mart Supercenter. 'We are very pleased to have this litigation behind us, and look forward to this project's moving forward,' said City Manager Suzanne Bragdon. The proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter is expected to help Suisun City capture much-needed sales tax dollars that City residents currently spend in other communities. Suisun City currently sees approximately 70 percent of sales tax available from its residents leak to other communities. 'Every time Suisun City residents spend sales tax in another community, they are helping to pave that city's streets and protect that city's residents,' City Manager Bragdon said. 'We want Suisun City residents to buy the goods and services they need in Suisun City, so that those tax dollars can benefit our neighborhoods.' On February 12, 2008, the Suisun City Council unanimously approved the environmental studies and application for the Walters Road Project. The approval included a determination that this project will not negatively impact any Travis Air Force Base operations. 'We are very pleased that Judge Beeman's review of this case supports the diligent work by our staff and consultants to comply with every state and local regulation, including 1,600 pages of analysis,' City Manager Bragdon said."

What you can do: In his 4 page decision, the Superior Court judge ruled that the city's decision to override its own Airport Land Use Commission was based on findings that were "reasonable in nature, credible and of solid value... that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support the conclusion." The Judge said that the city's review of the potential urban blight that would result from this project showed that the threat "was less than significant." The Suisun Alliance was representated by Attorney Bill Yeates, of the Sacramento lawfirm of Kenyon Yeates. The citizen's lawsuit has delayed this project almost one year. Save Our Suisun (SOS) says the city council members risked the public safety by approving the Wal-Mart SuperCenter near Travis Air Base over the objections of public safety experts, including the County Airport Land Use Commission, and CalTRANS. SOS says the council members have lost the public trust by raising their own compensation plan, making questionable loans, and other deals with taxpayer monies. On their website, the group charges that Suisun City invested $192,000 worth of improvements into the Walters Road (now the Wal-Mart) property. Despite two information requests using the California Public Records Act, the city failed to show proof of repayment of the developer's share of these extensive improvements. Developer E.O. De Silva made a 900% profit on the improved Walters Road property when he sold it to Wal-Mart in 2006. Jane Day, Mike Segala and Jim Spering were all on the City Council when the city poured money into the Walters Rd property and failed to collect the reimbursement from developer E.O. De Silva. The groups says the Wal-Mart will generate 77,000 new cars and trucks/week on Route 12 from supercenter traffic. Millions in road improvements will be necessary to handle the new traffic -- but there is no funding in place. "Suisun City Council has shown a willful disregard for the safety of Suisun's eastern neighborhoods by voting to approve the Wal-Mart Super Center at Walters Road," the group notes. The Wal-Mart project will also lead to a rise in demands on police and fire services - 24 hour store operations will have a major impact on police and fire services, yet the city claims these services will not be impacted. Declining property values also will be a problem. Homeowners within a 1 mile radius of the super center could see a 15 -- 20% devaluation in the assessed property values of their homes due to traffic, flooding, and crime impacts from the super center project. Many Suisun homes have already fallen in value by $100,000 to $200,000 due to the current plummeting real estate market and recession. The Walters Road Super Center will seriously contribute to the problem of flooding in Lawler Ranch. Wal-Mart's own study raised serious concerns about the ability of Lawler Ranch's aging drainage system to handle the added storm water runoff from 21 acres of new pavement and the soon-to-be filled stream channel that runs through the property. California's State Water Board objected to the super center design, and is refused to approve the permit for the super center. The project also poses a threat to the future of Travis Air Force Base. The Solano County Airport Land Use Commission voted against the Wal-Mart Super Center, stating it violates the safety standards that protect Travis Air Force Base and public safety. Suisun City Council overrode their decision, jeopardizing Travis's high standing as a base with a low level of urban encroachment on its borders."Suisun City Council has chosen to disregard the safety and fiscal problems that the Walters Road Super Center will create," SOS says, "in an ill conceived grab for illusory sales tax revenue. The city has deliberately misrepresented the sales tax revenue that the Walters Road Super Center will generate. Examination of sales tax revenue in Dixon and American Canyon show their Wal-Mart stores generating about $200,000 to $300,000 a year in sales tax revenue. This is far below the $1 million in sales tax revenue that Mayor Sanchez and Councilman Hudson have claimed the Suisun Wal-Mart will generate." This project should never have been approved by the City Council. Suisun City Mayor Pete Sanchez talks about the unique historic character of his city -- and then embraces suburban sprawl. Here's what the Mayor says in his welcoming message: "Suisun City has embraced the promise of the future by not forgetting the distinctive small-town qualities that makes the City one of Northern California's most distinctive communities. Using the pedestrian-friendly philosophy of New Urbanism and the architectural styles consistent with our history, Suisun City has created a unique, vibrant historic downtown and waterfront that has become a national showcase." The city council boasts that "We've worked hard to create a climate where small business owners can thrive." Readers are urged to send an email with the following message to Suisun City Mayor Pete Sanchez at psanchez@suisun.com : "Dear Mayor, Which Suisun City are you living in? The one that talks about its unique, vibrant downtown, and pedestrian-friendly philosophy of New Urbanism, or the suburban sprawl city of Walter Road, with its over-stuffed Wal-Mart? All your rhetoric about small town qualities, and helping small businesses to thrive, has now been exposed by the court decision paving the way for your New Urbanism Supercenter. You can try to explain this schizophrenic vision to your constituents. You have won, for now, your sprawling store -- but the voters of Suisun City will watch in horror as Wal-Mart gobbles up your small businesses and forces your pedestrians to get back in their cars. This decision will be remembered as Sanchez's Sprawl, and even if the voters turn you out of office, your legacy will be this huge expanse of concrete and asphalt in your once-distinctive city."










 
 
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