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2014-12-26
Atascadero, CA. Wal-Mart In No Rush To Commit To Approved Store

The city of Atascadero, California has been waiting for a Wal-Mart for more than 8 years. It was not easy to get the project approved by the City Council two years ago---given the years of opposition the store faced, and the uncertain millions of dollars the city has to come up with to give to the billionaire Walton heirs. America's richest family apparently doesn't have enough money to make the project happen unless city taxpayers subsidize them.

The project was ultimately approved by the City Council in 2012. But according to the Tribune News, the city will have to wait a few more months to learn if Wal-Mart is actually going to start building its big box store on the north side of Atascadero.

During the long wait, Atascadero's Mayor has been quarreling with some city councilors who don't like the way the project is dragging on. According to the newspaper, Mayor Tom O'Malley had a "verbal scuffle" over whether Councilor Bob Kelley would be allowed to listen in on a phone call between Wal-Mart and the Mayor that took place about two weeks ago.

Despite the fact that the City has been calling Wal-Mart regularly for updates, the retailer has had little to say since June 2012, when the City Council approved construction of the Wal-Mart store. The City was sued by its own citizens, but this past summer an Appellate Court ruled against the citizens, and the formal opposition ended.

But since the summer, nothing has happened on the site. Wal-Mart told the city it would pay for all the traffic mitigations required, but has reneged on that promise. The original developer, the Rottman Group, went bankrupt, and refused to pay anything for the traffic mitigations.

So, the City came up with a scheme to publically finance the lion's share of the infrastructure with taxpayers monies. The real cost, citizens warned, could range anywhere from $4.5 to $11 million dollars. Because much of the property and the 101/Del Rio interchange is state-owned land, Cal Trans, the state transportation agency, must evaluate and assess what will be required and how much it will cost.

In October, taxpayers finally got some financial details---and the picture was not pretty. According to the Tribune News, Atascadero citizens got a bad case of 'sticker shock' over the cost of road improvements to accommodate the Wal-Mart.

The City Council did not have actual costs in hand when it OK'd the store, only cost estimates for the road upgrades. One City Councilor told the Tribune, "The city failed in their negotiations to determine what the fair share was for all parties involved by not having a true, accurate number on what the cost of the project would have been."

Road construction pegged at $4.5 million in 2012, now is estimated at $12 million. "To be that much more expensive was appalling," another Councilwoman told the Tribune. Even worse, the owner of the development is not required to pay for it all. The city's contract split the costs based on the $4.5 million figure, now dramatically outdated. The city has to come up with at least $6 million it did not plan for. The City Council hasn't tried to renegotiate a fairer deal for taxpayers with Wal-Mart to adjust for the much higher cost of the project.

At the December City Council meeting, Councilors asked the Mayor to have city staff report back on his phone call with Wal-Mart. "We won't be voting on it again, and we've already approved it," one Councilor told the Mayor. "But I know that all of us are getting calls from constituents, so we'd like to hear any progress report that we can get out."

Councilman Bob Kelley asked the Mayor if he could take part on the call, but Mayor O'Malley discouraged adding more people to the call. But the Council made it clear that the subject of what's causing the Wal-Mart delay was a "burning issue for everybody." One Councilor suggested that the Mayor just tape the call, but the City's attorney said the question "would be whether or not the parties be, uh, reluctant to say certain things knowing that they're being recorded."

When the call took place, Wal-Mart representatives told the Mayor that their project in Atascadero was in the Wal-Mart Reality "review committee stage" and that the process was on hold while the company focuses on its holiday retail season---which is absurd---because Wal-Mart Realty does nothing with sales.

Opponents of the store are hoping that Wal-Mart is reconsidering its lackluster sales overall, and that the Atascadero project is looking less attractive in the lingering retail recession. Wal-Mart hasn't applied for its building permits yet.

Since 2006, Sprawl-Busters has posted 15 stories about the citizens' battle in Atascadero, California to keep out a Wal-Mart superstore. The group "Save Atasacadero" has fought against this project for eight years. The group was critical of a multi-million corporate welfare deal the city offered Wal-Mart--and now it appears that the cost to taxpayers is much larger than ever imagined. It appears now that the town is on a financial "road to ruin."

The Project has two components. The first consists of a Wal-Mart Supercenter of 129,560 square feet, together with two 5,000 square foot commercial outlots and up to 44 multi-family residential units, to be developed on approximately 26.2 acres. The Project is called the 'Del Rio Road Commercial Area Specific Plan.' It envisions development of two non-contiguous areas totaling approximately 39.3acres located at the intersection of El Camino Real and Del Rio Road in the City of Atascadero. The second consists of approximately 120,900 square feet of various commercial and retail uses and up to 6 new dwelling units.

In 2011, a Wal-Mart spokesperson was quoted by the Tribune as saying: "Wal-Mart's position is clear and has not changed: Wal-Mart, the Annex developer and the owners of the future development -- not taxpayers-- should pay for traffic improvements." Obviously Wal-Mart has reneged on that promise.

Save Atascadero member Tom Comar, blasted the city's review of the project, saying that the Council "lacked recognition of the realistic costs of traffic mitigation that the city and taxpayers would be responsible (for). This was a dereliction of duty." Comar fears that city officials will try to come up with the Wal-Mart road work by earmarking funds that were supposed to go to other city roads. During the public hearings on this project, one member of the Atascadero Planning Commission stated publicly that "The project entails costs and risks for Atascadero that greatly exceed the hoped for benefits and rewards... The public's money is not for gambling, especially in such large amounts and on such an unsafe bet."
Readers are urged to contact Atascadero Mayor Tom O'Malley at tomalley@atascadero.org with the following message:

"Dear Mayor O'Malley,
Wal-Mart phone calls are clearly a tribulation for you. It's hard to believe that the giant retailer told you it was too busy focusing on holiday sales to have its Real Estate Division decide what to do with their long-delayed superstore in Atascadero. There are a lot of taxpayers in your city who are hoping that Wal-Mart will pull the plug on this costly project.

Regardless of who low-balled the projected roadwork cost for the Del Rio Road project, it is clear now that there is only one party that has the resources to travel down this expensive road: Wal-Mart.

There was never any justification in giving Wal-Mart any corporate subsidies to build the roadwork necessary to accommodate this superstore and related development. The city was never obliged to literally pave the way for a Wal-Mart.

The retailer told the media three years ago that the developers and Wal-Mart---not the public---should pay for road improvements. If the Waltons cannot afford to build his project without taxpayer welfare, the project should not go forward.

The city may have felt it was necessary to offer Wal-Mart a candy store of tax incentives to seal the deal, but now that the cost overruns are huge, as Mayor of Atascadero you should approach Wal-Mart to pick up the cost of roadwork that enhances their bottom line more than anyone else. This money should not be borrowed from other city accounts or projects.

The next time you call Bentonville, tell the Waltons if they want a store in Atascadero, they should put this cost on their own tab--and leave taxpayer bailouts alone."

What you can do: Since 2006, Sprawl-Busters has posted 15 stories about the citizens' battle in Atascadero, California to keep out a Wal-Mart superstore. The group "Save Atascadero" has fought against this project for eight years. The group was critical of a multi-million corporate welfare deal the city offered Wal-Mart--and now it appears that the cost to taxpayers is much larger than ever imagined. It appears now that the town is on a financial "road to ruin."

The Project has two components. The first consists of a Wal-Mart Supercenter of 129,560 square feet, together with two 5,000 square foot commercial outlots and up to 44 multi-family residential units, to be developed on approximately 26.2 acres. The Project is called the 'Del Rio Road Commercial Area Specific Plan.' It envisions development of two non-contiguous areas totaling approximately 39.3acres located at the intersection of El Camino Real and Del Rio Road. The second consists of approximately 120,900 square feet of various commercial and retail uses and up to 6 new dwelling units.

In 2011, a Wal-Mart spokesperson was quoted by the Tribune as saying: "Wal-Mart's position is clear and has not changed: Wal-Mart, the Annex developer and the owners of the future development -- not taxpayers-- should pay for traffic improvements." Obviously Wal-Mart has reneged on that promise.

Save Atascadero member Tom Comar, blasted the city's review of the project, saying that the Council "lacked recognition of the realistic costs of traffic mitigation that the city and taxpayers would be responsible (for). This was a dereliction of duty." Comar fears that city officials will try to come up with the Wal-Mart road work by earmarking funds that were supposed to go to other city roads.

During the public hearings on this project, one member of the Atascadero Planning Commission stated publicly that "The project entails costs and risks for Atascadero that greatly exceed the hoped for benefits and rewards... The public's money is not for gambling, especially in such large amounts and on such an unsafe bet."

Readers are urged to contact Atascadero Mayor Tom O'Malley at tomalley@atascadero.org with the following message:

"Dear Mayor O'Malley,

Wal-Mart phone calls are clearly a tribulation for you. It's hard to believe that the giant retailer told you it was too busy focusing on holiday sales to have its Real Estate Division decide what to do with their long-delayed superstore in Atascadero. There are a lot of taxpayers in your city who are hoping that Wal-Mart will pull the plug on this costly project.

Regardless of who low-balled the projected roadwork cost for the Del Rio Road project, it is clear now that there is only one party that has the resources to travel down this expensive road: Wal-Mart.

There was never any justification in giving Wal-Mart any corporate subsidies to build the roadwork necessary to accommodate this superstore and related development. The city was never obliged to literally pave the way for a Wal-Mart.

The retailer told the media three years ago that the developers and Wal-Mart---not the public---should pay for road improvements. If the Waltons cannot afford to build this project without taxpayer welfare, the project should not go forward.

The city may have felt it was necessary to offer Wal-Mart a candy store of tax incentives to seal the deal, but now that the cost overruns are huge, as Mayor of Atascadero you should approach Wal-Mart to pick up the cost of roadwork that enhances their bottom line more than anyone else. This money should not be borrowed from other city accounts or projects.

The next time you call Bentonville, tell the Waltons if they want a store in Atascadero, they should put this cost on their own tab--and leave taxpayer bailouts alone."










 
 
"Norman has become the guru of the anti-Wal-Mart movement" ~ 60 Minutes

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