There are four Wal-Marts within 19 miles of Galt, California, a community whose motto is “planning for the future.” According to the Lodi News-Sentinel, Wal-Mart has plans for Galt’s future, even though there is already a Wal-Mart in Lodi 9 miles away. Galt is located in Northern California, in the heart of the Delta Recreation Area. “We offer affordable housing,” the city says on its website, “and a small town atmosphere perfect for raising young families as well as a great opportunity for new businesses. We are well known in Northern California for our Galt Market held every Tuesday and Wednesday. The Galt Market is known for the great deals on fresh fruits and vegetables, clothing, home furnishings and much more.” The “small town atmosphere” and local market in Galt seem to be incompatible with a big box retail store — and it is. In fact, the proposal from Wal-Mart will be the first major test of the city’s big box law, which is still under review. Wal-Mart applied last week to build a 132,000 s.f. store at Twin Cities Road. This is the second site that Wal-Mart has scouted in Galt, when the company began researching sites back in 2005. The City Council in Galt has delayed its review of a proposed ordinance, but the city’s director of Community Development told the News-Journal he believes the new ordinance will apply to the Wal-Mart application — if the ordinance is adopted. The law under consideration would ban any retail stores larger than 140,000 s.f., if it has more than 10% of its interior retail space devoted to non-taxable goods, like groceries. This is the so-called “California cap” model that applies to food stores, but leaves other warehouse and home improvement big boxes unaffected. The proposed law also requires stores between 100,000 to 139,999 s.f. to apply for a conditional use permit. Developers would also have to produce impact studies on the project’s effect on crime, urban decay, the economy and the project’s general compatibility within a neighborhood. City Commissioners have said they want more time to review the proposed ordinance, and will take up the new zoning plan at their September 27th meeting, but will not vote on it until later in the fall. A Wal-Mart spokesman encouraged City Commissioners to look favorably on his company’s proposal, and estimated the store would “create” 450 “new” jobs. “These are great jobs,” he added. But Commissioner Eugene Davenport, who has worked against big box stores in the past, said Galt isn’t prepared for this kind of retail growth. “Those roads are not ready for this and the community is not ready for this,” he said. He suggested retail stores in Galt should be capped at 100,000 s.f.. Commissioner Lori Heuer said big box stores need to be very carefully studied. “I think we do need to look at the effect retail establishments have,” she said.
A growing number of communities in California, from small towns to big cities, are putting a cap on the scale of retail buildings. In this case, if Galt is truly “planning for the future,” it will quickly pass this ordinance. Wal-Mart filed its most recent plan to try to “beat the clock,” and get a vested interest in their project before this new cap ordinance takes effect. Knowing that the city is moving towards a cap, Wal-Mart chose not to respect that wish — but to defy it. While most businesses would back off when a city was expressing its growth vision, Wal-Mart openly challenges it with a store that is just under the size cap, but would still require a conditional use permit. The Galt cap needs to be lowered to 100,000 s.f. if the city hopes to retain its small town atmosphere. Readers are urged to contact Galt Mayor Tim Raboy at [email protected] with the following message: “Keep Galt’s small town atmosphere. Pass the cap on store size, but make it a 100,000 s.f. cap. Galt residents have lots of places to find big box stores nearby, but there is only one Galt, and one Galt Market. Keep your city unique, and keep the Wal-Mart’s out.”