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2009-03-05
Hesperia, CA. Lawsuit Likely Following City Council Vote for Wal-Mart.

On February 14, 2009, Sprawl-Busters reported that a lawsuit was in the making in the city of Hesperia, California over a proposed Wal-Mart supercenter. This week, the city council in Hesperia took one more step towards a lawsuit when it rejected a citizen's appeal of a Planning Commission vote in favor of the superstore. This was a vote according to script, and was entirely predictable. One land developer has described Hesperia, California as "an oasis for entrepreneurs." Hesperia, also known as the "Gateway to the High Desert," is located 35 miles north of San Bernardino, and 50 miles northeast of Los Angeles County. It has a population of about 80,000, and, most importantly, 72 square miles of territory. Residents of Hesperia who are addicted to cheap, Chinese imports, currently have to drive 3.7 miles to the nearest Wal-Mart in Victorville, California, or 8 miles to the store in Apple Valley. When a Wal-Mart/Home Depot double feature, called the "Main Street Marketplace" was first unveiled, the then-Mayor of Hesperia could barely restrain his enthusiasm. "The city of Hesperia is excited to announce that a new 450,000 s.f. shopping center will be proposed shortly on property purchased by Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. at the southeast corner of Escondido and Main Street," then-Mayor Tad Honeycutt said. "The shopping center is expected to include a Wal-Mart Supercenter and Home Depot that will further broaden the City's retail shopping and dining opportunities. We are very happy that at last we can announce plans by a private developer to bring the citizens of Hesperia a new Wal-Mart Supercenter and Home Depot for their shopping needs. This Wal-Mart could employ over 500 full and part-time employees and should contribute well over $500,000 in annual revenue to the City. The City Council and staff have been working hard to attract new retail and shopping opportunities for Hesperia residents. I believe Wal-Mart and Home Depot have chosen a superior location that will serve the needs of Hesperia, Oak Hills, Wrightwood, Phelan and the unincorporated county area surrounding our City." The Mayor explained that the developer, Elliot Megdal, will build the project on a 48 acre site. The city's Manager proudly boasted: "Hesperia's time has come." This project came about because last October city staff traveled to Palm Springs, California to attend the International Council of Shopping Center's "Deal Making Conference," and they returned with two national anchor stores as the deal. According to Mayor Pro Tem Ed Pack, "the City will realize significant sales tax revenue from a new shopping center anchored by a Wal-Mart and Home Depot; funds that can be used for vital improvements and services, including roads." But all this celebrating of asphalt and concrete in the High Desert hit a sour note in February when it was announced that a long-time legal foe of Wal-Mart was appealing the January 29th. Planning Commission approval of the project. Attorney Cory Briggs, of Upland, California, who has sued nearby Victorville and Barstow over Wal-Mart projects, has stopped the festivities in Hesperia with an appeal as well. According to The Hesperia Star, Briggs charges that the city failed to adhere to state environmental law when approving the Wal-Mart Supercenter. Briggs is the lawyer representing a group called the Citizens for Responsible Equitable Environmental Development (CREED). Briggs has not made public a list of citizens in this group, saying he wants to protect them from intimidation. In the Victorville case, Sprawl-Busters reported on October 24, 2008 that the citizens group has won at least a temporary victory against Wal-Mart. On March 3, 2009, the City Council unanimously turned away Cory Brigg's appeal. "The citizens of Hesperia want a Wal-Mart here," Mayor Thurston Smith proclaimed. The city claims that it received 251 letters in support of the Wal-Mart, and 4 against. Briggs now has 30 days to sue the city. If the case goes to trial, it could take 5 to 7 months to reach the court. If he loses that appeal, Briggs could file a second appeal, slowing the project down by a year or two. Attorney Briggs did not show up at the hearing, and no one from CREED did either. At the end of the hearing, one city councilwoman said, "Welcome aboard, Wal-Mart."

What you can do: Attorney Briggs now has until April 3rd to file an appeal in this case. The proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter will draw jobs and revenues away from the merchants on Main Street in Hesperia. Despite this latest legal setback, Wal-Mart remains undeterred. "We're going to press ahead and try to finish the process as quickly as possible with the goal of bringing a Supercenter to residents of Hesperia," a Wal-Mart spokesman told the Hesperia Star. "We would like to open the store as soon as possible, and if it were in 2010, then Hesperians could begin shopping in their own Supercenter and saving money." Wal-Mart has claimed that the superstore will mean 'more than 300 jobs' for Hesperia -- not counting the jobs at existing businesses that will be lost. "The community is overwhelmingly in support of the Supercenter as evidenced by the attendance at the planning commission hearing," Wal-Mart said. "The community wants the Supercenter to come along as quickly as possible." But all the letters generated and people who came to hearings were organized by Wal-Mart, evidence of its efforts under its "Customer Action Network." When people sign up for the CAN program, Wal-Mart sends them material about how to participate in a hearing, and write letters to the city council. Briggs knew that the city council would reject his appeal, and did not waste the effort to try and change the vote. His trump card is in filing a lawsuit -- just as Wal-Mart would have done if their proposal had been denied. Readers are urged to email Hesperia Mayor Thurston "Smitty" Smith at: tsmith@cityofhesperia.us with this message: "Dear Mayor Smith, You beckon tourists to visit Hesperia with the image of 'breathtaking sunsets, clear skies and friendly restaurants.' How come you left off your breathtaking big box stores? I don't get the compatibility between High Deserts and Big Boxes? You are expecting an increase in revenues, but all you'll get with Wal-Mart is an increase in traffic and crime. If a superstore is built in Hesperia, most of the sales will come from area grocery stores like Albertsons and Supervalu. The rest will come from cannibalizing their own Wal-Mart store in Victorville. I am hoping that CREED will appeal the City Council vote. I hope you will take the time to research the net impact when a superstore opens. On the surface you see a new building and think you are expanding your sales taxes -- but subtract the taxes lost at other stores that will lose market share. Wal-Mart sounds great to an economic illiterate -- but the City Council should worry about its existing merchant base too -- before its all gone. This is not economic development, its economic displacement."










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

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