Red Bluff, CA. Wal-Mart Still Engaged In 10 Year Battle
Wal-Mart has suffered through ten years and three separate lawsuits in Red Bluff, California, and still has not been able to clear all the legal roadblocks thrown in front of their superstore project.
Almost four years ago to the day, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart had lost a high stakes wager in Red Bluff, California, a community at the time of roughly 14,000 people.
City officials had approved a Wal-Mart supercenter -- but local residents did not agree. In March of 2008, a Tehama County judge ruled against the city in a lawsuit that had delayed the building of a the Wal-Mart Supercenter on 16 acres of land near an existing Wal-Mart discount store # 1608 on South Main Street, that was slated to close.
Wal-Mart has become accustomed to waiting in Red Bluff, where they initially applied for a permit in the fall of 2003. That's when Wal-Mart filed its site plan. It took the city until June of 2005 to complete its Environmental Impact Report, as required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The EIR was approved in November of 2006, but the following month, a resident's group called "Citizens for a Healthy Community" filed a lawsuit which charged that the EIR failed to meet CEQA standards.
The CHC lawsuit said that the number of parking spaces was 34 spaces too small, the level of noise was unacceptable, and there was a real threat of urban decay because the new supercenter was going to leave the city's current Wal-Mart empty. The citizen's lawsuit created a dispute over the noise and traffic survey. The lawsuit charged that lack of adequate parking would lead to other traffic problems.
"Specifically, individuals who are unable to find an on-site parking space will be forced to leave the site and search for parking either on surrounding streets or in the parking lots of nearby businesses," said a traffic engineer hired by the residents.
County Judge John Garaventa said the city also failed to measure the effect of nighttime deliveries on sleep. The lawsuit claimed that Wal-Mart would receive 7 deliveries at night between 10 pm and 7 am each week. The citizens also noted that "Wal-Mart has left many vacant and deteriorating former stores across the country after opening nearby Supercenters."
Red Bluff City officials knew many of their constituents were against the Wal-Mart, so they reached an agreement with Wal-Mart that the retailer would pay for all the legal costs that resulted from any lawsuit. Instead of appealing the court ruling, Wal-Mart decided to redo the Environmental Impact Statement. Wal-Mart also was forced to shrink the size of their store in order to comply with the parking requirements of the city.
On November 12, 2008, the Red Bluff Planning Commission considered again whether to recommend the Wal-Mart Supercenter project. After the hearing, the Planning Commissioners approved the smaller Wal-Mart proposal on a 4-1 vote, and send it to the City Council for their deciding vote on November 24th. The project was reduced from super huge (228,000 s.f.) to merely mega-huge (211,000 s.f.).
The developer, PacLand, said the 'smaller' store would now be able to meet the city's minimal parking space requirements. It will also create a greater buffer space between the residential properties abutting the superstore, and may protect a couple of old oak trees on the property. "It's a similar floor plan but scaled down," a PacLand spokesman told the Searchlight. "The primary difference and benefit to the smaller building is greater noise separation."
Richard Clapp, one of the early leaders of the citizens group, told the Searchlight newspaper that the revised proposal still didn't address concerns about traffic congestion in south Red Bluff. "Allowing this project in this area makes no sense when there are other sites in the city," Clapp told the Planning Commissioners. "They're twisting the knife. They're saying, 'We want what we want where we want it, or there will be nothing for Red Bluff.'"
Fast forward four years. There is still no Wal-Mart supercenter in Red Bluff. But the Red Bluff Daily News reported this week that on Halloween, the EIR submitted by the city and Wal-Mart now met the court's concerns.
Opponents now have two months to file an appeal. Attorney William Kopper, who represents the opponents, told the Daily News that his group was considering an appeal. Attorney Kopper has represented citizen's groups in at least 7 other California communities, including Redding, Anderson, Yuba City, Linda, Stockton, Gilroy and Santa Rosa.
What you can do: Red Bluff is a city where local officials welcomed a Wal-Mart discount store with open arms, and following that embraced a huge Wal-Mart Distribution Center as well. Just before Halloween this year, Wal-Mart held a ribbon-cutting for a new 1 Megawatt wind turbine to partially power its Distribution Center. The wind turbine will be owned by a private group called Foundation Windpower, and Wal-Mart has signed a 20 year agreement to buy electricity from the Foundation. Despite its wind power -- this Distribution Center remains an environmental folly -- a huge, one story building that wastes land, and routes Chinese made products shipped thousands of miles to reach Red Bluff.
A Wal-Mart spokesman said her company wants to have 100% of is power come from renewable energy. She said the wind project showed Wal-Mart's commitment to renewable energy, and its commitment to providing better lives for its customers and employees. But the retailer neglected to mention that its Warehouse Workers are often temp workers, who recently walked off the job at several California warehouses. Apparently Wal-Mart thinks its employees can be recycled too. Wal-Mart wants cheap power to keep its cheap labor inside working at unsustainable wages.
The "reduced" scale of the Wal-Mart supercenter amounts to only a 7.5% drop in size. Since the store was already one of the biggest models that Wal-Mart builds, dropping the size means nothing in terms of its impact on abutting residences. The smaller footprint only allows Wal-Mart to claim that it meets the city's parking requirements. But the impacts of light, noise, traffic and crime, will not change for this shaving off of store size. It's still a very big box in a very bad location.
This developer, PacLand, is a planning, engineering and development services company with offices in Olympia, Seattle, Portland and Roseville, California. PacLand eats up land like Pac Man. The developer has run into Wal-Mart controversies in several Northwestern states. PacLand has been challenged in Cornelius and Gresham, Oregon, in Cedar Hills, Utah, and in Chelan, Washington.
Readers are urged to email Red Bluff Mayor Forrest Flynn at firstname.lastname@example.org with the following message:
Red Bluff already has one Wal-Mart, and the only new feature your city will get from a larger Wal-Mart superstore is a closed Wal-Mart discount store that will be hard to fill, and another empty grocery store somewhere else in the city. This will result in the closing of existing grocery stores, so what added value does this bring to your city?
This developer, PacLand, is no stranger to controversy. It's Wal-Mart projects have been challenged in Oregon, Washington and Utah. I hope that your constituents will continue to legally challenge this project, which makes no sense economically for your small city.
Wal-Mart has dramatically cut back the production of huge supercenters, and its not too late for the Council to ask Wal-Mart to reformat its existing store into a supercenter. Most of the sales tax increase you are hoping for will merely be transferred from existing merchants. Don't force your citizens to keep fighting you. Good land use decisions don't have to be a win/lose.
If Wal-Mart were not so adamant about building huge stores near residential property, this case would have been resolved years ago. If you are determined to front for this project, you should at least require Wal-Mart to sign a developer's agreement that the company will put money into escrow to pay for demolishing their 'old' store if its sits empty for 12 consecutive months or longer. Otherwise you will be left with a dead store that could sit empty for years until the city tears it down at taxpayer expense."