On July 21, 2007, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart had submitted plans to build a 220,012 s.f. supercenter in Oakley, California. The superstore would be located on 76 acres of land near Highway 160. Wal-Mart called its project “River Oaks Crossing.” It has no oaks in it. Wal-Mart said the new store in Oakley would ” generate about 450 local jobs.” Oakley was created as a city in 1999, so it is one of the youngest cities in America. Its population is around 26,000. The city, which is only an hour’s drive from San Francisco, boasts of its “bountiful agricultural” heritage, and describes the community as “a fishing and boating paradise.” Part of its tourist pitch outlines the “gently rolling hills, crisscrossed by country lanes and patch-worked with vineyards and orchards.” They don’t mention Wal-Marts in that description. In fact, the city’s leadership says its “working to maintain Oakley’s small town character while strongly encouraging the development of new industries to employ the growing local workforce.” But Oakley already has 8 Wal-Marts within 25 miles, including the Antioch store on Lone Tree Way less than 4 miles from this site. The city has already enacted an ordinance that bans construction of supercenters. But Oakley Mayor Kevin Romnick seems to be oblivious to any concerns about Wal-Mart. “The proposed project will generate much-needed sales tax revenue for Oakley to fund police and fire services, and to maintain and upgrade streets, parks and other infrastructure. The venture will also stimulate Oakley’s commercial development, create new jobs in the community, and provide additional shopping opportunities for our residents.” But some residents say that Oakley is already saturated with Wal-Marts. “I do not want Wal-Mart here in town because Wal-Mart brings crime and extra traffic to towns,” one resident told the Brentwood Press. “Wal-Mart has a history of closing down grocery stores and other stores, and we don’t need to lose small businesses here. We can handle going to Antioch to buy our big purchases and leave our town without a big box. We don’t need any of it.” The group Save Oakley Now has been formed, and has collected 1,000 signatures from residents against the Wal-Mart. The group has been going door to door to collect signatures. A Wal-Mart “senior public affairs manager” told the Contra Costa Times, “Unfortunately, there are some divisive special interests that are seeking personal benefit at the expense of Oakley residents. Wal-Mart is focused on moving forward and becoming a strong community partner that has a positive impact throughout Oakley.” But an economic impact study paints a less rosy picture. According to the study, Oakley’s CentroMart and Raley’s grocery store could both close if Wal-Mart opens. The Kmart store in nearby Antioch could also close. City Councilman Bruce Connelley has already taken Wal-Mart’s side.”There is a strong union backing to fight Wal-Mart,” he told the Times.”I’m not concerned about those people. I’m concerned about the citizens of Oakley. Legally, the city cannot say ‘no, you can’t open your business doors here.’ They are a legitimate business, and the area is zoned for that.” No point in applying California’s Environmental Quality Review Act, or weighing the impacts of traffic. Local officials think they’ve got a mandate.
City officials in Oakley would do well to inquire why the nearby city of Antioch rejected an effort by Wal-Mart to expand its discount store into a 24 hour superstore. Wal-Mart says, “That application is still pending, and we are still actively pursuing the expansion. Of course, there are special interest groups out there that have participated in the process in Antioch and Concord, too.” The next step for the Oakley store is to go before the city’s Planning Commission, which may not happen until after the New Year. The absurdity here is that city officials in Oakley issued a joint press release with Wal-Mart, in which they said “City officials are committed to making this location a signature development for Oakley and the region, as well as an economic engine for its residents. This project will be located on property zoned for commercial uses and will provide community benefits that go far beyond its commercial footprint.” With such a ringing endorsement, how can city officials now ensure that “the proposal will undergo thorough environmental and economic reviews in addition to a detailed and comprehensive public review process?” The city has already decided the outcome of this process. To give Mayor Romick your views on Wal-Mart, drop him an email at [email protected] or send one to the City Council at: [email protected] Tell Mayor Romick: “Wal-Mart is not a form of economic development. You will see lost jobs and lost revenues when you add more redundant retail. And what about your commitment to small town character? This store will be nearly 4 times the size of a football field! Do you think grabbing sales tax from Antioch is going to solve your financial problems? Have you factored in the increased cost of police and fire monitoring of this store? Welcoming Wal-Mart will be the biggest mistake your little community has made in its eight year history. Open one superstore, and close down two grocery stores. Does that sound like progress to you? And, by the way, the people your councilor called a ‘divisive special interest,’ are Oakley residents, and the taxes they pay are worth the same as anyone else in town.”