There’s nothing like a Wal-Mart by the water’s edge: the shimmering shadow of its vast, blank walls, the reflected neon of its white logo, the auto exhaust gently comingling with the mists by the water’s edge. It’s enough to quicken the pulse of any City Council member in Vallejo, California. But wait. City officials, who are expected to vote on the plan this evening, have apparently objected to Wal-Mart’s proposal, saying that a huge superstore would violate the city’s land use plan for the area. Wal-Mart has submitted a 206,000 s.f.superstore on just under 13 acres of land, where a Kmart once stood. The land is next to the White Slough, a body of water with a marsh that runs into the Napa River. Wal-Mart paid little attention to the fact that their proposal flies in the face of the White Slough Specific Area Plan, developed by the city, which requires a much less intense use of the land, including clustered buildings, open space onto the water, with windows, terraces and entryways that front on the water. In other words, a plan that maximizes the scenic value of a waterfront, rather than blockading it from public use with a big box the size of four footballs fields. The city’s staff has recommended that the Council require Wal-Mart to study the impacts of the project. Various other stores in the proposed complex bring the entire plan to 393,000 s.f. The project would sit atop a first floor garage which occupies nearly half of the project’s total square footage, because with only 13 acres, the project must build up, not out. Two of the seven City Councilors have already come out against the plan. The superstore will cause the existing Wal-Mart discount store in Vallejo to shut down. This is Wal-Mart’s second attempt to build a supercenter in Vallejo. The first version, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, was 160,000 s.f. When local officials threw that plan out because of conflicts with the White Slough, Wal-Mart came back with an even bigger project. By way of changes, Wal-Mart turned the building to face the water, so shoppers sorting through cheap underwear and diapers, could take in views of the water. The 173,000 s.f. parking area on the first floor is almost as big as the supercenter itself. To top it off, Wal-Mart added arched entries to break the visual boredom of the typical Wal-Mart box. But a citizens group called Vallejoans for Responsible Growth, said the new plan was “a finger in our eye. They are being terribly arrogant and disrespectful of Vallejo. They assume we’re poor and stupid and they can push through whatever they want.” The Council may decide tonight whether it wants to amend the specific plan to allow for a Wal-Mart. Were the Council to do that, Wal-Mart would pay for a consultant hired by the city to produce detailed analyses, but the city would not be committed to approving the proposed development. The city’s planner has asked for a one-year development moratorium in the area, pending consideration of whether to change the specific plan. But the Council has a third option as well: to reject the proposal outright. That would be consistent with the Council’s vote last year to require big box stores to conduct economic and environmental impact studies. “I think it’s going to crush our downtown revitalization,” one city councilor told the newspaper. Vallejo has already spent millions of dollars to restore its historic downtown.
City officials know this plan is the wrong size, and the wrong place. They would have to change their land use plan for the waterfront in order to approve this project. Wal-Mart should be made to fit the city’s plans, not the reverse. All Vallejo gets out of this plan is an empty Wal-Mart discount store. The city already has plenty of grocery stores. So Wal-Mart’s waterfront project is all wet. It brings no added value to the Vallejo economy.