When Sprawl-Busters last looked in on Lodi, California on January 6, 2006, we reported that a San Joaquin County judge had ruled that the city’s approval of a Wal-Mart Supercenter was invalid because the company’s environmental impact report failed to take into account other Wal-Mart stores and energy consumption. The judge ruled that the city’s EIR did cover air quality and agricultural land, but left out how the new supercenter would affect Lodi, given the fact that there are already two other Wal-Mart supercenters nearby. This Wal-Mart project was originally proposed three and a half years ago. This week, the News-Sentinel in Lodi updates the story. This Wal-Mart has still not been built, and city officials in Lodi plan to charge Wal-Mart and its developer Darryl Browman a ‘big box’ development fee, which would run $4.50 per square foot, to offset losses that downtown businesses could face if their 226,868 s.f. supercenter opens. Wal-Mart still has not submitted new environmental reports or gained final approval from the Lodi City Council. The city’s Planning Commission chairman told the newspaper that it was about time the city collected such a tax from “big box” stores. “We’ve got to be a little more proactive and be like some of the other cities in the Valley that are already doing this,” the chairman said. Apparently the cities of Tracy, Modesto and Ripon, California all charge a big box fee. Proceeds from the fee would be used for downtown improvement programs, such as loans or grants for new business facades, employee training, or credits towards the cost of sewer charges. Lodi’s Community Development Director was quoted as saying, “We want to continue to have energy and continue to have improvements — a place citizens can be proud of.” Bringing in a Wal-Mart supercenter is a bizarre way to improve the downtown. As it stands today, downtown Lodi has several dilapidated storefronts.
The city council approved this plan in February of 2005, and now two years later, the store still has many hurdles facing it. Wal-Mart plans to submit new environmental reports in roughly a month, and the city review process will continue to face opposition from local citizens. Anti-Wal-Mart activists should oppose this new fee, because it will be used as further economic justification for approving big box stores. Instead of assessing Wal-Mart a fee for the harm it will create in the downtown area, Lodi would do better to simply impose a limit of 1,500 s.f. of retail building per acre, to limit the size of stores, and avoid the damage in the first place. Lodi officials will claim the fee on big boxes makes such projects even more desireable.