Last month, the Butte County Board of Supervisors unloaded a list of objections to a proposed 210,000 s.f. Wal-Mart in north Chico, California. Wal-Mart wanted to annex land from the county into the city, the site of a golf course. But according to the Chico Enterprise-Record, the county has a “Specific Plan” for North Chico that includes a “village” scale shopping center — not a superstore. The county assumed that any commercial activity on that site would serve only people in the immediate area, not a regional market. The county’s Planning Staff gave the project poor marks, noting that it would make it harder for other business to take root in that part of the city. Planners also took a dim view of placing a big box store close to agricultural land. Wal-Mart’s proposal to build a 5 or 6 foot high sound wall to mitigate impacts on a nearby mobile home park, also was frowned upon. County fire officials also stated that more traffic could make fire services harder to deliver on time. The county’s planner simply conclude that the plan was out-of-scale for the area. Meanwhile, activist in Chico sent Sprawl-Busters an alert today outlining their battle against the superstore — especially a “survey” of economic impacts that they say is highly misleading. Here is their report: “Chico Advocates for a Responsible Economy (C.A.R.E.) has shared its insights into Wal-Mart’s deceptive tactics with other communities fighting to protect their quality of life. Supercenters have been a major issue in Chico, CA since 2004 when courts sided with residents demanding that Wal-Mart comply with the California Environmental Quality Act and conduct a full environmental impact study on a proposed Supercenter. Opposition grew when Wal-Mart announced plans for a second Supercenter just 7 miles away. Now, C.A.R.E. is taking action to share information with California communities about a Wal-Mart survey bearing Chico’s name. Responding to widespread opposition to the Chico Supercenter proposals, Wal-Mart paid the Chico Economic Planning Corporation (CEPCO), a private organization with no experience in polling, to conduct a survey of California communities with Supercenters. The survey, first released to the Chico media in December 2006, claimed economic development leaders surveyed in communities with Wal-Marts believe their Supercenter has had a positive impact on the community and economy — a misleading claim according to C.A.R.E. In 2007, Wal-Mart began using the CEPCO survey in communities throughout California, calling it “a tool that benefits local planners and community leaders.” That’s when C.A.R.E. knew they had to do something. “Because this survey bears Chico’s name,” said C.A.R.E.’s founder Heather Schlaff, “we want to be sure other communities hear both sides of the argument and more importantly, have the facts that show why the CEPCO survey has no value — except as a tool for Wal-Mart.” C.A.R.E. has released a fact sheet outlining major concerns about the Wal-Mart CEPCO survey, including information from actual statistically-based academic studies. C.A.R.E.’S concerns include the fact that findings were based solely on interviews with 22 individuals, many of whom advocated for the Supercenters during the development process and whose job it is to support such projects. Community members, business owners and economic leaders in cities that have rejected Supercenter proposals were not surveyed. “The CEPCO survey is not a scientific survey. More accurately, it is a letter of reference from 22 individuals whose names are being kept confidential,” Schlaff said.
C.A.R.E. points out that most of the cities surveyed have had a supercenter open less than one year, and that in one case, Stockton, public officials are now considering a big box ordinance to prevent the further development of supercenters within their borders. The group notes that CEPCO has no expertise in land use issues, and is not even a professional polling firm. The only subjects interviewed were from Chambers of Commerce and city development staff who were pro-Wal-Mart. Schlaff said she hopes the C.A.R.E. fact sheet will help community coalitions like hers make the best planning choices for their cities. Chico Advocates for a Responsible Economy (C.A.R.E.) is a grassroots groupof over 3,000 Chico residents who oppose Wal-Mart’s plan to build two Supercenters in Chico. For more information about C.A.R.E. and to download the CEPCO Survey Fact Sheet, please go to: http://www.chicocares.org/images/CEPCOWalMartSurvey.pdf. To voice your opposition to the two Wal-Mart’s proposed for Chico, email Mayor Andy Holcombe, at: [email protected]