On May 14, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that despite the fact that Wal-Mart already has a discount store in Yucca Valley, at 29 Palms Highway, it wants to build a new superstore. The “old” Wal-Mart has been there for roughly 15 years. There are two Wal-Mart supercenters within 25 miles of Yucca Valley in Palm Springs and Palm Desert. When the Wal-Mart arrived in 1993, it did a considerable amount of harm to the local retail economy in this town of roughly 20,400 people. Now Wal-Mart wants to build another store — this time a 229,000 s.f. supercenter — further down the road on Palms Highway, right next to a recently approved Home Depot project. The existing Wal-Mart would be closed down. Yucca Valley is a Southern California high desert community that lies between the San Bernardino Mountains and the Joshua Tree National Park. It’s the hub of the Morongo Basin communities and a host of recreational opportunities and tourist attractions. Wal-Mart’s plans have met with strong opposition in Yucca Valley, but the retailer won the approval of the Town Council for its superstore. The project had been dragging through the review process for four years. In July, 2007, Wal-Mart published an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on the project, and the town’s planners concluded that “all potential impacts associated with the proposed project could be mitigated, with the exception of those impacts associated with air quality and noise.” The town then focused on whether the “economic, legal, social, technological or other benefits outweigh the significant and unavoidable impacts associated with the project.” During the public review process, the town received 31 letters from residents against the project. Wal-Mart responded to the opposition by putting out petitions in its existing store in favor of the supercenter, and getting shoppers to sign the petitions. The town’s Planning Commission wrote a “Statement of Overriding Considerations” that recommended the project to the Town Council. Because of citizen complaints, Wal-Mart had to drop several aspects of the original superstore plan, including a gas station and a drive-through pharmacy. The company also had to find a buyer for their old store. Residents warned of the increased water use demands the store would create, the loss of Joshua trees from construction, the light pollution, increased traffic, and big box and fast food blight. One resident claimed that “85 small businesses closed when the first Wal-Mart opened.” Wal-Mart sent in its public relations staff to try to assuage concerns over the impacts of their new supercenter. On August 5th, Sprawl-Busters noted that a group called the Center for Biological Diversity, along with a consortium of groups in the Morongo Basin, each filed a lawsuit against the Town of Yucca Valley, challenging the town’s approval of a Wal-Mart Supercenter. The lawsuit asks that the town conduct a new environmental impact report. According to the CBD, the lawsuit seeks to force Wal-Mart to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from new store construction as required by California law. Conservationists are challenging Wal-Mart’s failure to implement measures to reduce the carbon footprint of its new Supercenter. “Wal-Mart has stated for years that its goal is to be supplied by 100-percent renewable energy,” said Jonathan Evans of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Yet even for stores proposed in the California desert, it refuses to incorporate cost-effective features like solar panels to reduce its carbon footprint.” The group says that research shows that continued “business-as-usual” greenhouse gas emissions threaten up to 70% of plants and animals worldwide with extinction. A report released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in July says that by mid-century, extreme heat waves from global warming in areas like Los Angeles and San Bernardino are projected to cause two to three times as many heat-related deaths as occur today. The lawsuit is one of a series of court challenges brought by the Center to reduce greenhouse gases from new development through the California Environmental Quality Act. “Business-as-usual big-box sprawl is devastating to our local environment and communities,” said Evans. This week, the group called The Coalition for Environmental Integrity in Yucca Valley says it has gathered 1,296 signatures on petitions to force the Yucca Valley Town Council to repeal its approval of the Wal-Mart Supercenter or put the project on a ballot for Yucca Valley’s voters. Only 957 valid signatures are needed for the county registrar of voters to accept the referendum and send it back to the Town Council for action. The signatures were submitted to the Yucca Valley Town Clerk on September 15th. The signatures are now being checked to verify there are sufficient registered voters. If the signatures are validated, the town will have 88 days to hold a special election. According to the Hi-Desert Star newspaper, the Coalition for Environmental Integrity organized 35 signature gathering sessions and spent over 100 hours in front of Yucca Valley grocery stores to force the Town of Yucca Valley to either repeal its approval of the Supercenter, put the project on hold for one year until the next general election, or put it before voters in a special election. “These signatures were acquired through the blood, sweat and tears of a few volunteers,” said a spokesman for the citizen’s group. Only registered voters in Yucca Valley will be able to vote in the election. The Coalition is still keeping its legal appeal option alive — regardless of the election. “It could delay the project five years,” a Coalition spokesman said. The Center for Biological Diversity lawsuit also is challenging the project’s environmental impact report. Wal-Mart is required by its agreement with the Town of Yucca Valley to cover all legal costs of the supercenter appeal.
In 2007 California passed Senate Bill 97, which affirms the requirement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from land-use decisions. In June 2008 California also provided technical guidance on how to properly calculate and reduce greenhouse gases. The California Environmental Quality Act requirements are in addition to the requirements of the California Global Warming Solutions Act and the governor’s June 2005 Executive Order, which sets a goal of reducing emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. The Center for Biological Diversity is dedicated to ensuring that atmospheric carbon dioxide pollutant levels are reduced to below 350 parts per million, which leading climate scientists warn is necessary to prevent devastating climate change. Business-as-usual sprawl is incompatible with this goal. Without strong action, the group says, the current atmospheric carbon dioxide level of 385 ppm will rise to approximately 500 ppm by mid-century, triggering mass wildlife extinctions, catastrophic global weather and ecosystem changes, and tragic human suffering. The Wal-Mart building alone will take up 22 acres of currently open space. The current Wal-Mart in Yucca Valley is 115,000 s.f. — large enough to be reconfigured as a supercenter. Readers are urged to donate to the legal costs of this lawsuit by calling toll-free the Center for Biological Diversity at (866) 357-3349. Tell them you would like your contribution to go towards the legal expenses in the Yucca Valley Wal-Mart litigation. Activists should note that all communities should have a requirement built into their zoning code that if a developer’s land use permit is appealed for any reason, it is the sole responsibility financially of the developer — not the city or town — to defend its permit in court. Cities and towns should not be paying legal costs to defend Wal-Mart’s permits.