The city of Barstow, California is located in the Inland Empire North region of San Bernardino County, midway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. The city, with a population close to 25,000, says it has “all the major conveniences of small town living with the resources of major metropolitan areas only a short drive away.” The city describes itself as a major transportation corridor with more than 60 million people in 19 million vehicles traveling through Barstow each year. Barstow also has 20 Wal-Mart stores within 100 miles, and, if city officials get their way, Barstow could become a distribution hub for Wal-Mart logistics for as many as 100 of the retailer’s stores. The Barstow city council hopes soon to become the site of California’s eighth Wal-Mart distribution center-“the brain of the retailer’s logistics system. Wal-Mart currently has 112 distribution centers in the U.S., including than 40 Regional Distribution Centers. Each of these regional DC’s is over 1 million square feet in size”that’s roughly 20 football fields, or the size of 5 mammoth superstores under one roof. They operate 24/7 to keep Wal-Mart’s tractors and trailers rolling. Each facility has five miles of conveyor belts funneling 9,000 different lines of merchandise into trucks, with more than 8,000 drivers pounding out 850 million miles per year on public roadways. The typical DC supports between 75 and 100 stores within a 250-mile radius. Whatever small town living remains in Barstow will soon come to an end. According to the Desert Dispatch newspaper, the city council in Barstow has given Wal-Mart a green light to build a mammoth DC in Barstow. The Council voted unanimously to approve a 1,078,000 s.f. food distribution center on 143 acres of open land. The approval came with little discussion on July 21st, according to the newspaper. Wal-Mart brought its employees over to testify in support of the DC, along with the President of the Barstow Community College, who told the Council to stand by Wal-Mart. “They have been as faithful to us as we need to be to them,” the college president said. The Planning Commission in Barstow voted 5-0 in favor of the plan on June 9th. The City Council took up the plan on July 21st, but had to continue the hearing in order to respond to a ??late arriving comment letter’ from the Briggs Law Corporation in opposition to the project. City staff determined in a 25 page letter that the opposition was not warranted, and that the project should be approved. The Briggs lawfirm letter raised a wide range of objections to the plan based on the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), including air quality, water supply, greenhouse gases, traffic, and other site problems. The city had to change the zoning of the land for Wal-Mart, repeal two existing Specific Plans for the area, approve a new Specific Plan for the area, and vote that the provisions of CEQA had been met. The city also had to vote that the “proposed project will result in unavoidable significant impacts to air quality, noise and traffic.” The 6 page letter from the Briggs Law Corporation was written on behalf of a group called “Citizens for Responsible Equitable Environmental Development” that outlined concerns about the project and the environmental impact report. Barstow Mayor Lawrence Dale criticized the Briggs lawfirm, submitting into the record a newspaper article and a editorial column critical of Attorney Cory Briggs. The Mayor introduced a list of 12 legal actions takes by the Briggs Law Corporation against developments in other communities from the firm’s Web site. Of the 12, the Mayor said, the courts ruled in favor of Briggs in only one case. Three were settled and one was only partially rejected by the court. “The review we’ve been through with the Briggs report has been nothing but a delay,” the Mayor complained. Briggs was not available to attend the city council meeting. Wal-Mart hopes to begin building the DC in the fall, and open the center in 2009. The DC is located near a mobile home park known as the High Desert Estates. Wal-Mart has told city officials the DC will “create” 500 new jobs in the first year of operation, and as many as 900 jobs within the next two years later. According to the Desert Dispatch, there was some opposition at the hearing. The issue of Wal-Mart’s anti-union practices came up, and a spokesman for Wal-Mart told the Council that Wal-Mart has worked with unionized construction trades on past projects and focuses on creating a positive working environment for employees with access to management. “Wal-Mart is not anti-union; we’re pro-associate,” the spokesman said. During the hearings, a number of Wal-Mart employees testified in favor of the DC project. Residents from the High Desert Estates will now find it difficult, if not impossible to sell their homes and get out.
The City of Barstow says its Vision of its community is of “a progressive High Desert community with small-town advantages that preserves and promotes a quality environment in which to live, work and play.” This project will convert the small community of Barstow into “the Wal-Mart exit” for truck drivers. The community will become known as the place where the Wal-Mart distribution center is located. The enormous facility will take over the identity of the city. The city had to “override” many impacts to the environment that were called “unavoidable.” Such impacts could have been avoided if the project had been reduced in scale. A huge network of superstores, like the one Wal-Mart has built, must be fed by a huge distribution system. The entire operation is scaled inappropriately, from DCs to stores. Local communities are not required to accept projects that are one million square feet on one floor. This is how the company designs its stores — but this is not how communities passively have to accept them. Another 143 acres of land will be paved over to satisify Wal-Mart customer”s demands for cheap goods. This DC will fuel the food shelves of superstores in California”largely putting other existing grocery stores out of business. All that is happening here is retail musical chairs. More distribution centers being built to supply more stores that ruin more land to destroy more existing stores. Somewhere else in California, a distribution center will close, grocery stores will close, and existing workers will lose their jobs because of this Barstow facility. To Barstow this may look like economic development, but its really just helping to shift market share. Readers are urged to email Barstow Mayor Lawrence Dale at [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Mayor Dale, I certainly hope that the Council’s decision this week to rezone land for Wal-Mart and to allow ??unavoidable” environmental impacts to the Barstow area, will be challenged by the Briggs Law Company. I know it is an annoyance to allow citizens to question the wisdom of this corporate juggernaut, but the fact is Wal-Mart had no right to a rezoning for this project, and the impact on local residents at the High Desert Estates was shrugged off. These homeowners are basically in the way of progress. The council should never have allowed a project of this scale to dominate the landscape of your little city. The ‘small town advantages’ you mention in your Vision Statement will disappear, swallowed up by this monumental symbol of out of control consumption.”