On September 28, 2005, Sprawl-Busters reported that a homeowner in Ripon, California had sent out this SOS: “Wal-Mart is currently quietly seducing our local officials into building a Super Wal-Mart near my house. This is a small 11,000 person community and I feel this will change our quality of life in this town forever.” The seduction in Ripon has apparently not gone so well for Wal-Mart. According to the Manteco Bulletin this week, Wal-Mart could see at least another year before a supercenter is built in this small city. That’s four years after citizens learned the company wanted to expand its presence in Ripon. According to the newspaper, Wal-Mart bought property near the site where they originally wanted to build — but there are no plans in the near future to submit plans for permitting. The Bulletin explains that original seduction plan didn’t go very well. Wal-Mart was forced to withdraw is first plans after “fierce” community opposition, which included an angry city hall confrontation with Wal-Mart officials, and the passage of a city ordinance that restricted the placement of the huge box stores to certain designated areas within tight criteria. The restrictions could have been worse, but the city’s lawyer urged residents not to pass a tougher size cap on stores, which he described as “exclusionary,” even though dozens of such size cap ordinances have been passed and withstood legal challenges. Instead, Ripon established a series of “ground rules” for the location of large stores, limiting the location of where such facilities can go. The first site that Wal-Mart purchased became ineligible due to its abutting on residential property under the new ordinance. Over time, Wal-Mart has sat on its second parcel, not submitting plans yet. The city’s Planning Director told the Bulletin that there have been no conversations yet with Wal-Mart about a superstore since the ordinance was adopted. But until this kind of conversation is broken off, Ripon is not safe.
In August of 2006, the Ripon City Council minutes show that a prominent businessman told the Council that “Ripon has created a restrictive ordinance, but a big-box retailer has an option on a piece of property on Jack Tone Road. He said that this is not what the community desired. He said that Turlock’s (California) ordinance has held up in court… the current growth is positive, and good retail will go on the location where Wal-Mart had planned to go. A big-box store will create an impact that will change the community forever. The traffic impact will be tremendous. A super-center needs 25,000 households for support. Ripon has only 5,000 households, so 80% of the business has to come from outside the community. This would bring 6,000 to 7,500 cars from out of town each week. Schemper said that a super-center is not the end of growth, but the beginning. He said that members of the community will not benefit, and even the City may not benefit because the cost of services may outweigh the sales tax coming in.” In 2005, the Ripon Citizens Against Ripon Establishing Superstores (CARES) pushed the city to adopt a Turlock style size cap ordinance. The group collected more than 4,100 signatures from Ripon residents favoring an ordinance restricting big-box stores. In November of 2005, Ripon council members reviewed a proposal by Councilman Mike Restuccia to explore an ordinance to ban large shopping centers or big retail buildings from being constructed within 2,000 feet of homes. Restuccia also has called for the city to determine the size and type of businesses that should be built in Ripon and wants the city to define a big-box retailer. By April of 2006, opponents of the proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter said they still might sponsor a ballot measure to ban big-box retailers from the city, despite the fact that the company had decided not to build on its first site. “I think a lot of people like to see them not in Ripon at all,” a leader of Citizens Against Ripon Establishing Superstores told The Stockton Record. But the issue is still unresolved, as Wal-Mart could try to move forward with a superstore project on its second parcel. Readers are urged to email Ripon Mayor Chuck Winn at: [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Mayor Winn, Ripon likes to describe itself as a ‘relatively small community whose Quality of Life shines like a small jewel in the middle of California’s central San Joaquin Valley.’ Your small city will make a big mistake unless you tighten up your current big box restrictions. The legal advice you received back in 2005 was flawed. There is no legal impediment to enacting a clear cap on the size of retail stores, as was done in Turlock. In fact, what many communities have done, is simply limit the size of stores — regardless of the square footage use inside. This is straightforward, and a legally protected zoning measure. Just as most communities limit height, they also can limit bulk. Do not wait for Wal-Mart to submit a second superstore plan. A big box format does not fit into your small city, and your jewel can be stolen if you do not plan well. You must consider Wal-Mart as a direct assault on your Quality of Life, and take the precautions needed to keep growth compatible with Ripon. As one Mayor from Minnesota once said, ‘It’s not how big you grow, but how you grow big, that matters.’ Update your ordinance now, or you will surely have a superstore on your front door again.”