A free market battle over a Wal-Mart supercenter has turned into a free speech battle instead. On November 11, 2007 Sprawl-Busters wrote that the Solano County, California Airport Land Use Commission had ruled that a proposed Wal-Mart supercenter along the flight path of Travis Air Force Base would pose a safety threat to shoppers. By a 5-2 vote, the commission decided that the 230,000 s.f. Wal-Mart, with gas station, was “inconsistent” with the Travis AFB Land Use Compatibility Plan for “safety” reasons. Commission chair John Foster said the county’s assertion that the Wal-Mart project would be within the safety limits allowed by the air base plan was wrong, and said the “risk” to residents was too great to approve the project inside the air base’s “safety buffer zone.” But roughly three months later, on February 12, 2008, Wal-Mart got another chance to fly. In a unanimous decision, the Suisun City Council voted to overturn the Solano Airport Land Use Commission, and approve the Wal-Mart Supercenter. That controversial vote clearly was worked out before the meeting, because on the Council’s agenda was Resolution 2008-13 to override the Airport Commission. Because of concerns about Wal-Mart building stores, and then leaving them, the Council got Wal-Mart to agree to pay the city at least $300,000 to cover the costs of demolishing the building, although the city might find other uses for the structure. The demolition agreement says that if the store closes and goes dark for 36 months, Wal-Mart will demolish the building or give the city payment for demolishing it. “That agreement is designed to ease fears about future blight,” a city official noted. Opponents of the plan, the Suisun Alliance, told the media right after the City Council vote that they were considering litigation against the City Commission, and a recall effort against the five individual members of the Council, including the Mayor. On March 31, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that the Suisun Alliance had followed through on their intentions, and had filed a lawsuit against Suisun City, charging that the city violated the California Environmental Quality Act when approving a Wal-Mart Supercenter. The case will be heard in Solano County Superior Court by Judge Paul Beeman. The Suisun Alliance, said the lawsuit is likely to take months before being heard. The suit claims the city ignored the CEQA in environmental documents and failed to address, evaluate and mitigate several impacts on the site. The Suisun Alliance says the project violates the Travis AFB Land Use Compatibility Plan, fails to consider a jet-fuel pipeline in the area, and fails to consider the potential for urban decay directly caused by two Wal-Mart stores in the area. While that court case is unfolding, another legal battle is stemming from the recall effort. According to the News Blaze, lawyers will be in a Solano County Superior courtroom this week in a free speech case. Citizens from the Save Our Suisun Coalition who were collecting signatures on a recall petition were threatened with arrest by a shopping center owner. The group has gone to court to end such harassment. The court hearing will decide if the Suisun shopping center owner should be given a restraining order to prevent residents from gathering signatures at the Heritage Mall. The law firm of Mark Merin of Sacramento will argue that the community group has a constitutionally protected right of free speech to collect signatures for the recall of Suisun City Mayor Pete Sanchez, and city council members Jane Day and Michael Hudson. Attorney Merin says the citizens have the right to circulate recall petitions and literature. He said banning or restricting peaceful petitioning is “unconstitutionally restrictive.”
According to the News Blaze, Save Our Suisun says the city council members have risked the public safety by approving a Wal-Mart SuperCenter near Travis Air Base over the objections of public safety experts, including the County Airport Land Use Commission, and CalTRANS. SOS says the council members have lost the public trust by raising their own compensation plan, making questionable loans, and other deals with taxpayer monies. On their website, the group lists out the reasons for a recall: “Self-Serving – Suisun City Council recently voted themselves a 118% pay raise and a 42% travel expense increase, despite a supposed fiscal crisis in Suisun. Suisun City Council was already making more than Fairfield City Council and Vacaville City Council before the recent pay raise, although Fairfield is a city four times larger than Suisun City and Vacaville is three times larger; Missing Money — Suisun City invested $192,000 worth of improvements into the Walters Road (now the Wal-Mart) property. Despite two information requests using the California Public Records Act, the city has failed to show proof of repayment of the developer’s share of these extensive improvements. Developer E.O. De Silva made a 900% profit on the improved Walters Road property when he sold it to Wal-Mart in 2006. Jane Day, Mike Segala and Jim Spering were all on the City Council when the city poured money into the Walters Rd property and failed to collect the reimbursement from developer E.O. De Silva; Incompetence — 77,000 new cars and trucks/week on Route 12 from supercenter traffic. Millions in road improvements necessary to handle the new traffic — but funding not in place; Public Safety Ignored — Suisun City Council has shown a willful disregard for the safety of Suisun’s eastern neighborhoods by voting to approve the Wal-Mart Super Center at Walters Rd; Traffic – The Wal-Mart project will add 11,000 new car and truck trips per day to State Route 12 and surrounding streets. Millions in road improvements are required, and the funding is not in place. According to the city’s own General Plan, the money for these road improvements may be taken from the General Fund; Rise in demands on police and fire services – 24 hour store operations will have a major impact on police and fire services, yet the city claims these services will not be impacted; Declining property values will be a problem — Homeowners within a 1 mile radius of the super center could see a 15 — 20% devaluation in the assessed property values of their homes due to traffic, flooding, and crime impacts from the super center project. Many Suisun homes have already fallen in value by $100,000 to $200,000 due to the current plummeting real estate market and recession; Flooding problems – The Walters Rd Super Center will seriously contribute to the problem of flooding in Lawler Ranch. Wal-Mart’s own study raised serious concerns about the ability of Lawler Ranch’s aging drainage system to handle the added storm water runoff from 21 acres of new pavement and the soon-to-be filled stream channel that runs through the property. California’s State Water Board has objected to the super center design, and is refusing to approve the permit for the super center at this time; Threat to the future of Travis Air Force Base — The Solano County Airport Land Use Commission voted against the Wal-Mart Super Center, stating it violates the safety standards that protect Travis Air Force Base and public safety. Suisun City Council overrode their decision, jeopardizing Travis’s high standing as a base with a low level of urban encroachment on its borders. Encroachment (from unsafe development) is the main reason for military base closure across America. Suisun City Council has chosen to disregard the safety and fiscal problems that the Walters Rd Super Center will create, in an ill conceived grab for illusory sales tax revenue; Wasted Tax Dollars — The city has deliberately misrepresented the sales tax revenue that the Walters Rd Super Center will generate. Examination of sales tax revenue in Dixon and American Canyon show their Wal-Mart stores generating about $200,000 to $300,000 a year in sales tax revenue. This is far below the $1 million in sales tax revenue that Mayor Sanchez and Councilman Hudson have claimed the Suisun Wal-Mart will generate.” Readers are urged to email Save Our Suisun at [email protected], for more information, and to make a contribution to the group’s legal bills. SOS has until August 8 to submit about 2,030 signatures to force the recall election against Hudson, Mayor Pete Sanchez and Vice-Mayor Jane Day.