Galt, CA. Wal-Mart Tries Again To Squeeze Under Size Limit
The city of Galt, California is perhaps best known for the Galt Market, which began as a farmer's market at the old Sacramento County Fairgrounds in the 1950's, and today is an expansive open-air collection of over 400 vendors covering ten acres of great deals.
As the city says, "the Galt Market is an inviting place to spend a relaxed day, looking for bargains, having some good food and taking home fresh produce for dinner. There is truly nothing like it anywhere else, as it's over three quarters of a million annual customers can testify." In this context, a suburban sprawl Wal-Mart makes no sense at all. It is incompatible with the 'nothing like its anywhere else' character of Galt.
On September 18, 2007, Sprawl-Busters reported that the City Council in Galt was reviewing a proposed zoning ordinance that would ban any retail stores larger than 140,000 s.f., if it had more than 10% of its interior retail space devoted to non-taxable goods, like groceries. This is the so-called "California cap" model that applies to food stores, but leaves other warehouse and home improvement big boxes unaffected.
The proposed law in Galt also would require stores between 100,000 to 139,999 s.f. to apply for a conditional use permit. Developers would also have to produce impact studies on the project's effect on crime, urban decay, the economy and the project's general compatibility within a neighborhood.
In late September of 2007, the city's Planning Commission approved by a vote of 4-1 the proposed big box ordinance, which officials said would apply to the proposed Wal-Mart supercenter in Galt. The commission lowered the size limit for certain stores to 120,000 s.f. that devote 10% of their floor space to selling groceries, or non-taxable goods. The Lodi News said the supercenter has 19% of grocery space, but usually a supercenter has 35% to 45% grocery space.
On their way out of the Planning Commission, a Wal-Mart spokesman told the News, "We weren't expecting this outcome today. Our current application would be out of compliance with this ordinance. The recommendation would prevent us from building a store identical to the ones we have in Elk Grove and Lodi. We are looking forward to the City Council further reviewing and listening to the public comment. We will have to regroup with our team."
Planning Commissioner Eugene Davenport told the newspaper he didn't trust companies like Wal-Mart. "It's unacceptable that we are letting these corporations come in and tell us what they are going to do," he said. "It is our job to protect the citizens of Galt with smart planning."
Within weeks after the Planning Commission vote, the Galt City Council voted 4-1 to adopt the big box ordinance. Two and a half years later, the Lodi News reports this week that the Wal-Mart proposal will come again before the Galt Planning Commission on Thursday, March 25th.
Wal-Mart is being careful not to call this store a "supercenter, " and has convinced the local newspaper that "it is not as big as a Wal-Mart supercenter." Wal-Mart actually has supercenter formats as small as 78,000 s.f.
The Planning Commission has to review Wal-Mart's Conditional Use Permit, Final Environmental Impact Report, Compliance with the Big Box Ordinance, and appeal of the Community Development Director's Notice of Decision on Site Plan and Design Review. The staff analysis of the project looks like it was written by Wal-Mart.
As part of its proposal, Wal-Mart agreed to conduct a crime survey of the area to evaluate the security needs for the store and based upon the crime survey, to establish a parking lot patrol that assists customers, ensures safety and takes action to identify and prevent any suspicious activity. Wal-Mart will establish a "Risk Control Team," which is a team of associates responsible and trained to identify and correct safety and security issues at the site, including patrolling the inside of the store, and having associates regularly "patrol" the parking areas while collecting shopping carts, and report any inappropriate
activity to the store managers.
This project violates one of the key provisions of Galt's General Plan: "Local-Serving Commercial -- The City should pursue locally-oriented commercial uses and prioritize those uses that are underserved in Galt. The City should also expand upon the existing base of local-serving retail and service establishments as population increases create additional market demand." Incredibly, planning staff concluded that "The proposed project would expand and provide new retail options in close proximity to local consumers by providing daytime and nighttime shopping opportunities."
Staff also concluded that Galt is "underserved by retail options" despite the easy access to other Wal-Mart stores in the area. This project is also only 60 feet from the nearest residential home. A 12 foot sound wall has to be erected to buffer nearby homes from the noise of this project. In Galt, projects also have to show a positive fiscal balance for the city, and staff concluded that Wal-Mart would generate $497,624 annually in revenues from property and sales taxes, and cost only $37,890 in city costs. Staff says the project will create another "$230,000 per year in sales tax revenue that is ear marked for police services only."
The city's General Plan also says that "smart growth principles... shall be incorporated into development project proposals." Staff could not find any smart growth principles, so instead praised the project's use of "ozone friendly refrigerants" and "energy-efficient HVAC units."
Finally, developments in Galt are supposed to be "compatible with neighboring uses." The planning staff found that "impacts related to cumulative traffic and cumulative
aesthetics would remain significant and unavoidable."
What you can do: In terms of impact on other stores, the staff report found that "At worst, $6.5 million in food store sales will be diverted away from existing primary market area retailers... the Project would not result in adverse impacts to retailers because although some stores would experience reduced sales in the short-term, these stores are expected to achieve stabilized sales within three years."
As this project heads to the Commission, it is suprising that Wal-Mart has not shrunk the store even smaller, given the company's statement to stock analysts that it is comfortable with smaller formats. As one Galt City Councilor said two years ago, "I'm sure if Wal-Mart really wanted to come into the community, they would scale back to 120,000 (square feet)."
Readers are urged to email Galt Mayor Randy Shelton at firstname.lastname@example.org with the following message: "Dear Mayor Shelton, Please communicate with your Planning Commission members before they vote on the latest Wal-Mart plan, that this project is way too big, and in its suburban layout is incompatible with the character and built environment in your distinctive city. Wal-Mart is trying to game your Big Box ordinance by building as big as they can. But as you have told voters in Galt, "We need to... bring responsible Smart Growth" to Galt. Your residents have lots of places to find big box stores nearby, but there is only one Galt Market. Keep your city unique, and keep the Wal-Mart's out." This project is too close to nearby houses, needs a massive wall to block noise, is not an example of smart growth, and will harm locally-serving retail uses. The project is inconsistent with your General Plan in many areas. Wal-Mart may need Galt -- but Galt does not need a Wal-Mart."