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2010-02-13
Lodi, CA. Wal-Mart Superstore Still Stuck in Lodi After Nearly Seven Years

Sprawl-Busters first wrote about Wal-Mart's troubles in Lodi, California on August 28, 2004. At that time, crime was on the minds of local residents. Lodi's existing Wal-Mart discount store was experiencing about four times the number of calls for police service than the Target across the street. Lodi Police Capt. David Main told the Lodi News, "If you have a location where you're going to have a great volume of people, you're going to have more incidents. As the city's growing in that direction, we're going to need more patrol officers." In July of 2002, the existing Lodi Wal-Mart parking lot was the scene of a double homicide. Wal-Mart's plans for building a 216,710 s.f. superstore made all those fears worse. In February of 2005, and again in December of 2008, the City Council gave Wal-Mart a green light. At the 2008 vote, Mayor Larry Hansen predicted the day before the vote that "half the town is not going to be speaking to me anymore." And with good reason: the Mayor made no effort to try to reach a win/win with for residents and developers. Instead, the Mayor backed the development as proposed -- and threw his own Planning Commission under the bus at the same time. This Wal-Mart project was originally proposed in September of 2002. After seven years of lobbying, 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 the 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 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. The proposed Wal-Mart supercenter would be built right across the street from an existing Wal-Mart, which would be shut down. The city said it would charge Wal-Mart a "downtown impact fee" at $4.50 per square foot, which 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. In October, 2008, Wal-Mart finally presented its revised 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 stated: "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." To approve the Wal-Mart, the Lodi City Council had to overrule its own Planning Commission. Attorney Bret Jolley, who represents Lodi First, told The Sacramento 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.'" Despite their own Planning Commission vote against the plan, the City Council allowed Wal-Mart to squeak by. But the City Council's vote on the EIR was not the end of the fight. On April 9, 2009, Wal-Mart appeared before the Lodi Planning Commission once again, this time for approval of a use permit. After the vote was taken, one commission member told the Lodi News, "I had no idea how the vote would come out. I was shocked." The Commission voted 3-3 on the use permit, causing the motion to fail, and the Lodi Shopping Center was not approved. Immediately the developer, Darryl Browman, and Wal-Mart, said they would appeal to the City Council again. Two days after the vote, on April 11th, a law firm representing the developer sent an e-mail letter stating its intention to appeal the Planning Commission decision. On an expected 3-2 vote, the City Council -- by one vote -- again overruled its own Planning Commission. But even this second vote by the Council was not the end of the line. The project had to go before the San Joaquin County Judge who rejected the 2005 environmental report for the project. This week, the Lodi News reports that the sides in the dispute have pleaded their case before the San Joaquin Superior Court. The groups Lodi First and Citizens for Open Government, as well as lawyers from Wal-Mart, presented their arguments to the Judge. Lodi First argued that the environmental report failed to measure the impact of the project on climate change, urban blight and groundwater usage. "Omitting information from the Environmental Impact Report is prejudicial," the Lodi First attorney told the court. Wal-Mart argued that the EIR meets state legal requirements, and has already been decided upon. Now the groups wait for the court's ruling. For now, Wal-Mart superstore remains stuck in Lodi again.

What you can do: Before he voted on Wal-Mart's EIR, Mayor Hansen said he had received nearly 300 e-mails and voicemails -- evenly divided on the issue. One of those emails was from Sprawl-Busters. The Mayor's form response was as follows: "Thank you for taking the time to express your opinion on the Wal Mart Super Center. I have heard from hundreds of Lodi citizens on this matter and I can tell you that there are strong feelings on both sides of this issue. Please rest assured that I am studying this issue very carefully." City council members Susan Hitchcock and JoAnne Mounce, who are still on the Council today, argued against the store, and said the project would cause the loss of Lodi's unique character. The group Lodi First has kept Wal-Mart at bay for almost seven years now. Were it not for this group, the superstore would already be open. Readers are urged to email Lodi Mayor Larry Hansen at lhansen@lodi.gov with the following message: "Dear Mayor Hansen, your key vote to approve the Wal-Mart use permit -- despite your own Planning Commission's objections to the plan -- was a great disappointment to all the people who had hoped you would try to make this project fit better into the city. The idea of building a Wal-Mart supercenter right across the street from an existing Wal-Mart store is absurd, and environmentally indefensible. 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. Wal-Mart admits that their current store on West Kettleman is doing fine -- so why create all these negative impacts? The scale of this superstore is too big for Lodi. Wal-Mart recently took two of its existing stores in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and turned them into supercenters without adding one foot to the building. This could be done in Lodi, and all the controversy would be over. No permits would be needed, no litigation filed. This is the kind of leadership the Mayor's office could provide. Show Wal-Mart how to stop being stuck in Lodi again. Creating a dead store across the street, and shutting down the Food 4 Less adds no value to your city economically. By letting Wal-Mart dominate your growth agenda, you have wasted 7 years of valuable time that could have been used to create a vision for the future of Lodi, instead of another chain store mall. I hope the Judge rules in favor of Lodi First, and that you will take the opportunity to lead growth, instead of just follow it."










 
 
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