On November 12, 2008, Sprawl-Busters updated a Wal-Mart story from Red Bluff, California. Roughly 8 months ago, Wal-Mart lost a high stakes wager in this small California city. Red Bluff only has around 14,000 people. City officials had approved a Wal-Mart supercenter — but local residents did not agree. Last March, a Tehama County judge ruled against the city of Red Bluff in a lawsuit that has delayed the building of a the Wal-Mart Supercenter on 16 acres of land near an existing Wal-Mart discount store that will close. Wal-Mart has gotten use to waiting in Red Bluff, where they initially applied for a permit in the fall of 2003. That’s when Wal-Mart filed its site plan. It took the city until June of 2005 to complete its Environmental Impact Report, as required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The EIR was approved in November of 2006, but the following month, a resident’s group called “Citizens for a Healthy Community” filed a lawsuit on charges that the EIR failed to meet CEQA standards. The CHC lawsuit charged that the number of parking spaces was 34 spaces too small, the level of noise was unacceptable, and there was a real threat of urban decay because the new supercenter was going to leave the city’s current Wal-Mart empty. The citizen’s lawsuit created a dispute over the noise and traffic survey. The lawsuit charged that lack of adequate parking would lead to other traffic problems. “Specifically, individuals who are unable to find an on-site parking space will be forced to leave the site and search for parking either on surrounding streets or in the parking lots of nearby businesses,” said a traffic engineer hired by the residents. County Judge John Garaventa said the city also failed to measure the effect of nighttime deliveries on sleep. The lawsuit claimed that Wal-Mart would receive 7 deliveries at night between 10 pm and 7 am each week. The citizens also noted that “Wal-Mart has left many vacant and deteriorating former stores across the country after opening nearby Supercenters.” Red Bluff City officials were smart enough to reach an agreement with Wal-Mart that the retailer would pay for all the legal costs that resulted from this lawsuit. Instead of appealing the court ruling, Wal-Mart decided to redo the Environmental Impact Statement. Wal-Mart also was forced to shrink the size of their store in order to comply with the parking requirements of the city. On November 12th, the Red Bluff Planning Commission considered again whether to recommend the Wal-Mart Supercenter project. After the hearing, the Planning Commissioners approved the smaller Wal-Mart proposal on a 4-1 vote, and send it to the City Council for their deciding vote on November 24th. The project has been reduced from super huge (228,000 s.f.) to merely mega-huge (211,000 s.f.). The developer, PacLand, said the ‘smaller’ store would now be able to meet the city’s minimal parking space requirements. It will also create a greater buffer space between the residential properties abutting the superstore, and may protect a couple of old oak trees on the property. “It’s a similar floor plan but scaled down,” a PacLand spokesman told the Searchlight. “The primary difference and benefit to the smaller building is greater noise separation.” The action now moves to the City Council, which two years ago also voted in favor of the larger store.
The citizens who brought their successful lawsuit had charged that the environmental review for this huge superstore did not adequately address parking and noise impacts and the project’s potential to cause urban decay. Richard Clapp, one of the leaders of the citizens group, told the Searchlight that the latest proposal still doesn’t address concerns about traffic congestion in south Red Bluff. “Allowing this project in this area makes no sense when there are other sites in the city,” Clapp told the Planning Commissioners. “They’re twisting the knife. They’re saying, ‘We want what we want where we want it, or there will be nothing for Red Bluff.'”
The “reduced” scale of the Wal-Mart supercenter amounts to only a 7.5% drop in size. Since the store was already one of the biggest models that Wal-Mart builds, dropping the size means nothing in terms of its impact on abutting residences. The smaller footprint only allows Wal-Mart to claim that it meets the city’s parking requirements. But the impacts of light, noise, traffic and crime, will not change for this shaving off of store size. It’s still a very big box in a very bad location. This developer, PacLand, is a planning, engineering and development services company with offices in Olympia, Seattle, Portland and Roseville, California. PacLand eats us land like Pac Man. The developer has run into Wal-Mart controversies in several Northwestern states. PacLand has been challenged in Cornelius and Gresham, Oregon, in Cedar Hills, Utah, and in Chelan, Washington. Readers are urged to email Red Bluff Mayor Forrest Flynn with the following message: “Mayor Flynn, I was pleased to hear last March that a judge had ruled against Wal-Mart — and I hope this time around the city has learned something from the court case. Red Bluff already has a Wal-Mart, and the only new feature your city gets is a closed Wal-Mart that will be hard to fill, and another grocery store. This will result in the closing of existing grocery stores, so what added value does this bring to your city? I’m glad that Wal-Mart is footing the bill for your legal costs, because citizens shouldn’t have had to bring this lawsuit at all. This developer, PacLand, is no stranger to controversy. It’s Wal-Mart projects have been challenged in Oregon, Washington and Utah. I urge the Council to reject Wal-Mart this time around, and tell the retailer to be content with the discount store they already have in Red Bluff. The company is already dramatically cutting back its new supercenters, a small community of your size does not need the larger store. Most of the sales tax increase you are hoping for will merely come from existing merchants. Don’t force your citizens to keep fighting you. Good land use decisions don’t have to be a win/lose. If Wal-Mart were not so adamant about building huge stores near residential property, this case would have been resolved years ago. While you’re reviewing these plans, ask Wal-Mart to sign a developer’s agreement that requires them to put money into escrow to pay for demolishing their ‘old’ store if its sits empty for 12 consecutive months or longer. The Planning Commission Chairman was right to vote against this project, and I hope that the City Council will not squander its second chance to ‘just say no’ to this out-of-scale plan.”