Wal-Mart says its not “dormant” in Lodi, California — but after six years of waiting — who can blame the retailer for dozing off? On August 18, 2007, nearly one year ago, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart was still stuck in Lodi again. After six years, Wal-Mart has yet to begun work on its proposed supercenter. We noted on February 16, 2007, that a San Joaquin County judge had overturned the city of Lodi’s approval of a Wal-Mart Supercenter. The judge ruled that the company’s environmental impact report (EIR) failed to take into account the impact of other Wal-Mart stores and energy consumption. In response to a lawsuit filed by Attorney Steve Herum and the group Lodi First in March, 2005, the judge ruled that the city’s EIR left out how the new supercenter would affect Lodi, given the fact that there are already two other Wal-Mart supercenters nearby. This Wal-Mart project was originally proposed in September of 2002, and was not approved until February of 2005 on a 3-1 vote of the City Council. After the judge’s ruling, Lodi officials decided to charge Wal-Mart and its developer, Darryl Browman, a ‘big box’ development fee, which would run $4.50 per square foot, to offset losses that downtown businesses could face if the 226,868 s.f. supercenter opens. A number of neighboring communities, like Stockton, Galt and Elk Grove have all voted to limit the size of superstores. Stockton has voted to ban superstores larger than 100,000 sf. with major grocery store square footage. Lodi has resisted putting a cap on store size, because voters there rejected Measure R, a 125,000 s.f. cap in November of 2004. The proposed Wal-Mart supercenter would be built right across the street from an existing Wal-Mart, which would close. “We had a vote,” then-Mayor Bob Johnson told the Lodi News-Sentinel. “Am I supposed to second guess the citizenry?” The city’s “downtown impact fee” at $4.50 per square foot, would generate just over $1 million. Officials said this money would be used for new business loans, employee training, and other programs to help downtown businesses. Wal-Mart would also be required to compensate for the loss of agricultural land. City planners have suggested a “one-for-one ag easement” plan, in which Wal-Mart would have to preserve one acre of agricultural land for one acre of land converted to commercial use. This week, the Lodi News-Sentinel says that the city and Wal-Mart are still talking with each other — but it’s not clear where the superstore project is going. The plan was supposed to be reviewed this past spring by the Lodi Planning Commission, but no vote was taken. Wal-Mart claims that it’s not dragging its feet, but admits that it still has some site-specific issues to work out with the city. “We’re not dormant … we have a genuine interest in Lodi and we’re doing everything we can to make this work,” a company spokesman said. The city also says that its not holding up the show either — but that Wal-Mart’s own growth plans are the key. “It’s a corporate decision based upon profitability,” a city official told the News. “That’s what I understand the issue to be.” Since June of 2007, Wal-Mart has scrubbed more than 70 planned superstores. Superstore plans in Clovis, Chico and Selma, California have also been put on ice in the past year. A Wal-Mart project in nearby Galt, California is also mired in controversy. Lodi continues to insist that Wal-Mart pay the city for damage to downtown businesses, and they want Wal-Mart to find a tenant for the store it will leave empty — or to pay for its demolition. City officials also want to be compensated for loss of farmland that will be destroyed by the new supercenter. This week a Lodi official acknowledged that the city has a draft version of a final environmental report — but has no plans to release it to the public until Wal-Mart makes clear its intentions to move forward with the plan. “We’re waiting for Wal-Mart,” the Lodi official told the News. And that’s why the giant retailer is still stuck in Lodi, again.
Lodi’s “draft” Environmental report is not a private document. Activists in Lodi should insist that it be made public — regardless of Wal-Mart’s next step. This report is part of the public record, and the city should not be coy with the report. The News reported last year that when Lodi started talking about fees, Wal-Mart began meeting individually with City Council members — which is not ethical or legal. Wal-Mart got the green light in 2005, but because of the dogged effort of the citizens’ group Lodi First, the store’s plans were found “legally deficient.” The city’s proposed impact fee and agricultural preservation fee caught Wal-Mart by surprise. “Historically, Wal-Mart’s policy is to avoid paying public costs of their projects,” said Steve Herum, the attorney who brought Lodi First’s case to court. City officials say the impact fee and agricultural preservation are measures they have already imposed on other commercial projects. “Everybody plays by the same rules,” one Councilor said. After five years, the giant retailer has little to show for the time and money it has spent while stuck in Lodi. Readers are urged to email Lodi Mayor JoAnne Mounce at [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Mayor Mounce, the idea of building a Wal-Mart supercenter right across the street from an existing Wal-Mart store is pure folly. This kind of leap-frop sprawl may make sense to Wal-Mart, but it adds no value to the economy of Lodi. You open up a Wal-Mart superstore, and you cut sales and jobs at the Safeway or Food 4 Less. It’s just a game of retail musial chairs, with market share shifting. Your insistence on impact fees makes sense — but why not avoid the impact in the first place, and look for real economic development and better paying jobs instead? You have the chance as Mayor to lead growth, or follow it. Why not do as a number of other California communities near you have done: put a cap on the size of retails stores, and prevent this kind of frivolous proposal from happening again? Revisit Measure R with the voters. Wal-Mart admits that their current store on West Kettleman is doing fine — so why create all these negative impacts? Finally, if the city is sitting on a draft version of the final environmental report, make it public. This is not a private document, and the public should be given full access to such reports.”