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2009-12-30
Barstow, CA. Wal-Mart Settles Distribution Center Lawsuits

Two controversial lawsuits over a huge Wal-Mart Distribution Center in Barstow, California have been settled -- but the public is in the dark as to what the settlements really mean. Unfortunately, it means that Wal-Mart is now clear to build this mammoth project. On July 23, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that the city council in Barstow, California had given Wal-Mart a green light to build a Distribution Center (DC). The Council voted unanimously to approve a 1,078,000 s.f. food distribution center on 143 acres of open land. The approval came with little discussion. At that time, Wal-Mart owned 112 distribution centers in the U.S., including than 40 Regional Distribution Centers. Each of these regional DC's is over 1 million square feet in size -- that's roughly 20 football fields, or the equivalent of 5 mammoth superstores under one roof. They operate 24/7 to keep Wal-Mart's trucking system rolling. Each facility has five miles of conveyor belts funneling 9,000 different lines of merchandise into trucks, with more than 8,000 drivers pounding out 850 million miles per year on public roadways. The typical DC supports between 75 and 100 stores within a 250-mile radius. On September 1, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that Attorney Cory Briggs of Upland, California had filed a lawsuit against the city, charging that Barstow officials had mishandled the environmental reviews for the project and did not adhere to the California Environmental Quality Act. The lawsuit was filed in San Bernardino Superior Court. Briggs indicated that he filed the lawsuit on behalf of a group called Build Barstow Smart, which is an environmental advocacy group. Briggs said that he's filed at least six similar lawsuits against Wal-Mart since 2004, including suits filed in Rialto, Rosemead, Ontario, and Murrieta. Then-Mayor Lawrence Dale of Barstow did not mince his words about the litigation. "This lawsuit has every appearance of legal extortion. It is my opinion that the Briggs Law Corp. is no better than an 'ambulance chasing' attorney, but instead of chasing accident victims they're chasing the deep pockets of Wal-Mart." The lawsuit would require the city to go back and redo some of the environmental reports to better protect the air and water quality issues, as well as traffic concerns. "We could be starting on this right about now," one frustrated city official complained. In January of 2009, the Desert Dispatch newspaper reported that the lawsuit filed on behalf of Build Barstow Smart would not come up for trial until May 8, 2009. A second lawsuit was filed in October, 2008 on behalf of a Bartow resident by Attorney Briggs, whose lawfirm helped stop a Wal-Mart approval in Victorville, California in 2005. Briggs said the goal of the Build Barstow Smart lawsuit was to force a "legally adequate environmental review," and to look at the energy consumption issues raised by this project. "They're not using any renewable energy, and their own environmental document said this project could cause blackouts," Briggs said. "Why they wouldn't put solar on something that's basically a box that's perfect for solar, I don't know." The city of Barstow has called the lawsuit a baseless waste of taxpayer's money. But it became the only thing that was keeping Wal-Mart from beginning its massive changes to Barstow. This week, however, the local media in Barstow is reporting that Wal-Mart has reached a settlement with plaintiffs in the DC lawsuits. On December 18th, a California judge dismissed both lawsuits at the request of the Briggs Law Corporation, with no right to appeal. Neither Briggs, nor Wal-Mart have commented on the terms of the settlement reached in the case. A spokesman for the city said the massive construction project can now proceed. All that Wal-Mart would say is, "We're glad the matter has been resolved and we appreciate both the city and the community's continued support." In September of 2009, the courts denied a petition filed by Jason Hodge, whose appeal was based on the fact that the city did not provide proper public notice of the final city council hearing at which the DC was approved. The judge also issued a 'tentative ruling' against Build Barstow Smart, which charged that the city had failed to perform an adequate analyses of the water supply to the distribution center and failed to consider the project's affect on greenhouse gases, climate change and energy impacts. Build Barstow Smart charged that the council had rejected a smaller, but environmentally superior, project.

What you can do: Wal-Mart first announced this project back in December of 2005 -- so it has taken the process 4 years to unwind. This project will convert the small community of Barstow into "the Wal-Mart exit" for truck drivers. The community will become known as the place where the Wal-Mart distribution center is located. The enormous facility will take over the identity of the city. The city had to "override" many impacts to the environment that were called "unavoidable." Such impacts could have been avoided if the project had been reduced in scale. A huge network of superstores, like the one Wal-Mart has built, must be fed by a huge distribution system. The entire operation is scaled inappropriately. This DC will stock the food shelves of superstores in California -- largely putting other existing grocery stores out of business. All that is happening in Barstow is a game of retail musical chairs. More distribution centers being built to supply more stores that ruin more land to destroy more existing stores. Somewhere else in California, a distribution center will close, grocery stores will close, and existing workers will lose their jobs because of this Barstow facility. To Barstow this may look like economic development, but its really just helping to shift market share. Readers are urged to email Barstow Mayor Joe Gomez at jgomez@barstowca.org with the following message: "Mayor Gomez, you are a small business owner. Your bio says you are 'acutely aware of the challenges that small business owners face to be successful.' Yet your small community is now hosting on the largest feeder sytem for a big box chain store in all of California. You say you want Barstow to be a 'business-friendly city,' but the Wal-Mart distribution center is just part of a corporate network that will continue to chew through the small retail businesses in Barstow and elsewhere. Wal-Mart had no right to a rezoning for this project, and the impact on local residents at the High Desert Estates was shrugged off. These homeowners are basically in the way of progress. The council should never have allowed a project of this scale to dominate the landscape of your little city. The 'small town advantages' Barstow mentions in its Vision Statement will disappear, swallowed up by this monumental symbol of out of control consumption. Barstow has, in fact, lost its Vision because of this project. It's the wrong size, the wrong place, and will only end up in lost jobs at other distribution centers that are already operating. Now that the lawsuits have been settled, the city still can insist that this store be scaled down, and protect the neighbors from the worst impacts of this sprawling project."










 
 
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