Citizens in Soledad, California are upset by a developer’s plans for a massive ‘Soledad Plaza’ project on the northern edge of the city, which will be anchored by a 215,000 s.f. Wal-Mart supercenter. The project site has views of agricultural fields, and of the mountain ranges to the east and west. Not only will this site draw shoppers away from Soledad’s downtown, it will draw almost 20,000 car trips on a typical Saturday to the major residential areas abutting the site. The project lies only 42 feet from Nielsen’s Trailer Park, and only 54 feet from the edge of San Vicente Road. The windowless back wall of the building, where the loading docks and storage containers will be, is the only feature the homes across San Vicente will see. The building will throw noise and glare from 30-foot light poles into the neighborhood on a 24/7 basis. The Soledad General Plan says this land is in an “Entry Commercial Expansion Area,” but residents just call it home. Ask homeowners along Gabilan Drive or Goldenrod if they knew a “Regional Commercial Retail Center” would translate into a project bigger than seven football fields, plus a parking lot that will hold 2,000 cars. If Wal-Mart wins, these neighbors lose. Their property values will show the loss. These homeowners are called “sensitive receptors” in the city’s study of the Plaza, but they are really victims in a multi-million dollar land use deal. Soledad has developed a rationale for embracing super projects. “We are the fastest growing city within California.” But many communities have learned the hard way that it’s not how big you grow that matters — but how you grow big. Soledad only has 27,000 people. It was not a first-round pick by Wal-Mart for a store location. The Soledad location is a “fill-in” store — designed to expand the retailer’s dominance in Monterey county. Salinas, with 145,000 people, got the main regional Wal-Mart. Now the giant retailer wants to expand its Salinas store into a supercenter too. Because California has no regional land use planning, cities like Soledad, Gonzales, and Greenfield are left to steal away each other’s malls. The Soledad Plaza is far more than just a superstore. It’s 415,000 s.f. of stores — a total of 14 retail stores and 11 fast food restaurants. The Wal-Mart will include a 50,000 s.f. grocery store. All of it sitting on what is today 45.7 acres of prime farmland. Although the city’s Open Space Policy says Soledad should “discourage leapfrog development” and “avoid adverse effects on agricultural operations,” Wal-Mart’s greenbacks speak louder than greenleaf lettuce. The Environmental Impact Report concludes that Soledad Plaza will result in an unavoidable loss of prime agricultural land; visual impacts on residents living adjacent to the site; air quality impacts resulting from exceeding emissions thresholds for pollutants; noise impacts on residents near the site; and impacts on traffic circulation on local roads and Highway 101. It’s also a kick in the teeth to the downtown, which the EIR says will have to be “re-tenanted… as it transitions away from its historic function.” In other words, the downtown’s only future is in t-shirt shops and boutique stores. The proposed Soledad supercenter will only draw 29% of its customers from Soledad, which doesn’t have the population base to support a superstore. Wal-Mart generates neither tax revenues, nor jobs. Most of Wal-Mart’s sales will come from downtown merchants in Soledad and surrounding communities, like the Supermax in Gonzales, and the Wal-Mart in Salinas. Once again, Wal-Mart will be cannibalizing its own stores.
What city officials in Soledad fail to see is that Wal-Mart brings no added value economically to their city, because they make nothing, and sell mostly Chinese imports. A consultant hired by the city, Bay Area Economics, said that although Wal-Mart will damage or close existing grocery stores, drug stores and hardware stores in the trade area, that there would be no urban blight produced, because new retailers will come to sastify the growing population in Soledad. There will be economic dislocation, the consultant said, but not empty storefronts. There also will be a spike in demand on police and fire services. These malls are not only convenient for shoppers — but for criminals too. There is a simple solution. The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires the developer to present “reasonable alternatives” to the Plaza. The city’s consultant who produced the draft EIR suggests a “reduced scale project” that it says is “environmentally superior.” The city’s consultants proposed to cut the buildings’ total footprints in half to 200,000 s.f., which they say would lower impacts on aesthetics, noise, and traffic, plus create “greater flexibility in site design.” This smaller scale project would lower traffic by 10,161 car trips on a Saturday. Fewer cars means that traffic snarl on Highway 101 “could be substantially reduced or avoided.” Wal-Mart builds 99,000 s.f. superstores today — so this alternative is reasonable. Readers are urged to email Soledad Mayor Richard Ortiz, and Mayor Pro Tem Christopher Bourke at: [email protected], with the following message: “Dear Mayor Ortiz and Mayor Pro Tem Bourke, Your city has been working very hard on revitalizing the downtown, with new facades on Front Street, better parking, trees, lighting, etc. But on the northern edge of the city, you are considering the huge Soledad Plaza, which would be a very large and intrusive neighbor for the people along San Vicente and the trailer park, who will only see the traffic and the back end of the store. This kind of suburban sprawl project, with big box stores, will draw people away from your downtown, and further decimate smaller businesses. Fortunately, you have the right to ask the developer to submit a ‘reasonable alternative’ to this plan, and your consultants have suggested that dropping the total square footage from 415,000 s.f. to 200,000 s.f. would be ‘environmentally superior.’ Wal-Mart builds superstores smaller than 100,000 s.f. I urge you to make the Soledad Plaza fit into Soledad’s plans — and not the reverse. There are more than 4,000 Wal-Mart stores, but only one Soledad, California. Which would you rather protect?”