If there’s a middle ground in Tracy, California, Wal-Mart can’t find it. Wal-Mart wants to expand its store #2025 on W. Grant Line Road in Tracy into a superstore. The store is currently 125,000 s.f. and was built in 1993. The only thing that stands in the way of expansion is the residents of the community. According to the Tracy News, Wal-Mart has been trying to expand its store for five years. On October 21, 2008, the city council in Tracy voted 3-1 to allow Wal-Mart to add an 82,000 s.f. expansion plans to its Tracy store, converting it into a supercenter larger than 200,000 s.f. But according to the Bay Area News Group, a citizen’s group, Tracy First, is challenging the city’s vote in court. The group charges that the Wal-Mart expansion that will result in the closure of at least one local grocery store. This battle to stop the superstore has been going on in Tracy for at least two years. The Oakland Tribune reported in February of 2006 that local businesses in Tracy had organized into Tracy First, and were challenging Wal-Mart. “What they take away from the community is (that) none of the money (spent there) stays in town,” the Tribune quoted one small merchant as saying. “The money I spend is here in town. Its not like what you see with the Wal-Marts and big conglomerates.” Another merchant added: “Tracy is letting these guys come in and take out all the little businesses downtown. The city spent all that money beautifying downtown, and all these mom-and-pop places are going to be sitting empty.” The owner of a hair salon told city officials that the environmental impact report prepared by Wal-Mart did not address the superstore’s economic impact on the city’s small businesses. “These projects will have a ripple effect throughout our community and significantly impact our locally owned and operated businesses,” she wrote. Tracy First submitted a legal brief to San Joaquin Superior Court just before Thanksgiving, elaborating on their claim that the project’s environmental study was flawed, and failed to review the impacts on traffic, energy consumption and urban decay on the community. Impact on urban blight was the key issue that hung up Wal-Mart superstores in other California communities, most notably Bakersfield. “The City Council was presented with substantial evidence that the Project would result in significant environmental effects that had not been adequately studied or mitigated in the EIR,” the Tracy First lawsuit said. The environmental impact report released earlier this year for the proposed expansion forecast that at least one supermarket could be forced to close if the project was approved, a point project opponents have rallied around. The city reportedly received more than 400 pages of comments, letters and studies concerning the expansion of this Wal-Mart. The group Tracy First also sued the city after the approval of a WinCo supermarket in the Tracy Pavilion shopping center, charging that the City Council made a procedural mistake when they failed to gain the approval of the city’s Planning Commission before it approved the Council voted to approve the Winco project last April. The group lost that case when a judge in San Joaquin County Superior Court judge ruled that the city was not required to refer an environmental impact report back to the Planning Commission to reconsider its recommendation, and that residents were not denied due process or a fair hearing after two council members discussed the project with members of the public outside the hearing. The Winco case is still being challenged in the California Third Court of Appeals.
The legal appeal in Tracy is being handled by Attorney Steve Herum, of the Stockton-based lawfirm of Herum and Crabtree. Herum has represented a number of other California communities in their Wal-Mart battles. Herum charges that the city’s decision was “legally deficient,” and the study improperly defined how big the project was by not including the 11,000-s.f. garden center. Herum says the environmental report failed to evaluate and possibly cut air pollution, traffic, energy use and how it could spread urban decay in other shopping centers in Tracy. If the lawsuit is successful, the Wal-Mart supercenter will not be dead. The city would have to conduct a new environnmental impact study. Wal-Mart has told the media that the city’s environmental report is fine, and that after five years of working with city officials, the Council’s October vote was “valid approval” of the environmental study. “We’ve appreciated the support we’ve received,” a Wal-Mart spokesman told the Tracy News. Tracy Mayor Brent Ives says the city will defend itself against this latest lawsuit. “We think we did a good job with the (environmental impact report),” Mayor Ives said. Readers are urged to email the Mayor at [email protected] with the following message: “Mayor Ives, the city of Tracy has brought itself nothing but controversy by embracing stores that are too big for your small community. You’ve been on the City Council for 17 years, and served on the Downtown Revitalization Task Force. You know that building chain stores on the edge of the city does nothing to enhance the main commercial corridor, and undermines the local businesses in the city. Merchants have told you that repeatedly, but the Council has insisted on promoting a win/lose process on these local entrepreneurs. Now that a lawsuit has been filed to challenge the Wal-Mart expansion, its time for the Council to sit down with your constituents and try to reach a settlement that does not cram another 82,000 s.f. of big box stores down the community’s throat. The city says its primary retail trade area is 198,000 people, but you have 8 existing Wal-Marts to your south, north and west — so no one is going to travel far to come to the Tracy supercenter. If Wal-Mart opens a superstore, the city will be dealing with an empty Safeway or a Save Mart. This is not economic development, it’s just a game of retail musical chairs. Let Wal-Mart defend its environmental report. The city should not spend one penny defending a company that didn’t know what size store they wanted in 1993. You realize that Wal-Mart is building 99,000 s.f. superstores today. Go to Wal-Mart and urge them to convert their existing footprint into a supercenter. They could have what the want without adding a single square foot. But the city would have to take the lead to make that kind of compromise happen, instead of lining up more lawsuits.”