Milpitas, CA. Planning Commission OK of Wal-Mart Expansion Likely To Be Appealed
A store two times the size of a football field is not big enough for Wal-Mart. The giant retailer decided that its existing discount store in Milpitas, California, which is 131,725 s.f., was not big enough. So the retailer approached city officials with a plan to add 18,457 s.f. to its existing store on Ranch Drive. "It's a pretty small expansion," a spokesperson for Wal-Mart told the Milpitas Post, trying to downplay the unnecessary expansion. "It will be a Wal-Mart store with a supermarket."
But for many residents in Milpitas, a 150,182 s.f. store is completely frivolous -- and they urged city officials to make Wal-Mart live within its existing store. But Wal-Mart wanted the extra space to add fresh produce, baked goods, a deli and other grocery items.
There are already 7 Wal-Mart stores within 15 miles of this Milpitas location -- none of them supercenters. Wal-Mart has been trying to push supercenters in California, but has run into a Wal of opposition at almost every turn. The retailer claims that expanding the store will create 85 "additional" jobs, but this is a gross figure that fails to net out the jobs that will be lost elsewhere in the Milpitas trade area, especially at existing grocery stores.
The new Wal-Mart application was initially approached cautiously by Milpitas Mayor Bob Livengood. The Mayor told the Post that he wanted to see more information on the plan before reaching a decision to support it or not. "I'm going to stay open minded until we get more information," the Mayor said. "I want to be fair to them." City officials may also be concerned about the impact of another grocery store coming to Milpitas. There already is a Nob Hill, Lucky's, and Safeway in the city.
Ironically, the 'expansion' is not even needed. Wal-Mart has been building 80,000 s.f. supercenters, and converting existing stores the size of the current Milpitas store into supercenters, merely by reformatting the interior of the store, avoiding the need for any zoning permits. Wal-Mart could have avoided this confrontation entirely.
On March 24th, the Milpitas Planning Commission reviewed the Environmental Impact Report, and took a vote on the conditional use and site plan permits for the project, including the operation of the store on a 24/7 basis.
When the Wal-Mart expansion came before the Commission this week, they spent six hours discussing the plan. At 1:30 a.m. the Commission voted 5-2 to approve an expansion.
According to the Milpitas Post, there were "hundreds of people" in City Hall at the hearing. The Milpitas Coalition for a Better Community was represented at the session, and the crowd was so large not everyone could fit into the Council chamber. The public was not allowed to comment until after 10 p.m., only after Wal-Mart and the city staff presented their case.
"Instead of approving more expansion, the city needs to focus on stores we do have," said an employee of Nob Hill Foods. One of the Wal-Mart's co-managers told the Commission, "We talk about Wal-Mart and we treat it as an inanimate object. But they're people who live in this community with you, they're your neighbors ... they're real people." And so are the people who will lose their jobs when Wal-Mart expands into groceries.
Wal-Mart also boasted about the donations it makes to local non-profits, and about the 85 'new' jobs the expansion will bring -- but these are arguments which have nothing to do with zoning. The Planning Commission focused more on the Environmental Impact Report, and the potential environmental impacts on air quality, land use, biological resources, hazardous materials, water quality and hydrology, noise, public services and utilities, transportation and the project's building aesthetics.
One Commissioner said the expansion did not sufficiently deal with the added traffic that would result from a larger store with groceries. A second Commissioner who voted against the plan worried about the alcohol sales and crime in the parking lot late at night. "Would that be a benefit for the community?" the Commissioner asked. "I just don't see the benefit of a 24-hour operation."
What you can do: One Commissioner in favor of the expansion said consumers should have the "freedom of choice" to shop where they want to shop. "I don't want Save Mart to close," he said, but added, "A business succeeds or fails on its customers."
When the votes were taken, no limits were put on the store's operating hours, and the expansion was approved. But the residents opposed to this plan have one more important option. The decision of the Planning Commission can be appealed to the City Council within 12 days of the Commission's ruling, and then the city has up to two months to hold an appeal hearing.
One worker from the Save Mart grocery store told The Post that Wal-Mart would consume jobs in the community -- not create them. "I do feel that the Wal-Mart will have a great impact on myself and my co-workers," the Save Mart employee explained. There are 65 jobs at the Milpitas Save Mart that could disappear if the market does not survive Wal-Mart. "As Wal-Mart has gone into other communities they were able to take away business," the worker explained. "They put other businesses out of business and that's not good."
The Planning Commission's decision this week can be appealed by unhappy residents. Once an appeal is filed, the City Council would have to hold a hearing within two months.
Readers are urged to help the Milpitas Coalition by sending an email to Mayor Robert Livengood at firstname.lastname@example.org with the following message: "Dear Mayor Livengood, The 'small' expansion of Wal-Mart brings no added value to your local economy. You will see no net gain in jobs, because according to a study by Retail Forward, for every Wal-Mart superstore that opens, two other grocery stores will close. So this is a net loser for Milpitas. Don't be lulled by Wal-Mart's claim of new jobs, or your Chamber of Commerce's shallow statements. If you want to find where Wal-Mart jobs come from, go to Safeway, or Lucky's, or any of the smaller merchants that pay their workers more. Wal-Mart could reformat their store internally without any permits, and could have spared the city the time and expense of processing this plan. As Mayor, you should direct the energies of your office into creating real economic development -- not just retail cannibalism. When the Planning Commission ruling is appealed, the City Council will have its chance to promote real economic development -- not just shift jobs and revenues from existing cash registers. One Wal-Mart in Milpitas is one more than enough. Wal-Mart doesn't need to expand to diversify its product offerings -- and the resulting traffic problems will be your headache to solve, not theirs. Vote NO on the expansion when it comes before the Council. Make Wal-Mart fit into Milpitas -- not the reverse."