For years, Wal-Mart has tried to drape itself in environmental correctness, promoting its image as a ‘green’ developer. Despite its environmentally wasteful habit of building stores that consume far more land than necessary, and its inefficient habit of shutting down hundreds of stores — only to build bigger ones across the street — Wal-Mart has spent millions of dollars in advertising boosting itself as environmentally sensitive. Frequently the company tells local officials that its use of features like skylights, and its insistence that its vendors reduce redundant product packaging, is proof of its sustainability. The company has been producing annual ‘sustainability’ reports that reinforce the notion that Wal-Mart is shrinking its carbon footprint — while it continues to propagate one of the world’s most convoluted supply chains, stretching from China to the United States. But from time to time, prominent court cases remind the public that Wal-Mart is not a green company at all. This past week, the San Bernardino County, California Superior Court handed down two decisions in one case that has Wal-Mart seeing red, not green. Judge Donald R. Alvarez rejected the city of Rialto’s approval of a huge, 284,000 s.f. Wal-Mart supercenter on the grounds that the city did not sufficiently study the project’s impact on the environment. This case would never have turned this way had it not been for a lawsuit filed by a citizen’s group, and a related suit filed by officials in the neighboring city of Colton, California. The Judge ruled that Rialto’s approval did not meet the requirements of California’s Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). On May 15, 2009, Sprawl-Busters reported that another San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge rejected the town of Yucca Valley’s approval of a Wal-Mart supercenter. Judge Barry Plotkin found the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) written by Wal-Mart failed to adequately address the store’s impact on greenhouse gas, and faulted the EIR for failing to discuss all feasible air quality mitigation measures. In the Rialto case, the judge faulted the EIR for failing to include a discussion of a ‘green’ Wal-Mart supercenter alternative, for failing to use solar panels in the design, and for failing to make the necessary findings to reject the EIR’s environmentally superior alternative. Judge Alvarez also ruled that the project was not consistent with the city’s general plan and a specific plan. The Yucca Valley and Rialto cases are embarrassing to the giant retailer, which recently unveiled a plan to require many products carried in its stores to display a “sustainability index.” But when it comes to building the stores which will house such products, Wal-Mart has run into its own set of eco-problems. These California court cases are upsetting Wal-Mart’s green image, and show the growing importance of considerations like greenhouse gas emissions when reviewing such huge, automobile dependent projects.
The Rialto lawsuit was brought by the group Rialto Citizens for Responsible Growth, who were represented by Attorney Cory Briggs, who has also represented citizen’s groups in Ontario, Vista, Barstow, Victorville, Hesperia, and other California towns. “Wal-Mart argued that global warming science doesn’t yet allow it to reduce its carbon emissions,” Briggs said of the Rialto case. Briggs told the Los Angeles Times that two years ago Wal-Mart said it was going to deploy solar projects in 22 of its stores in California and Hawaii. The court’s decision also indicated that Wal-Mart’s EIR had failed to “analyze and mitigate” potential impacts on five special-status plant species, including Plummer’s mariposa lily, and on the San Bernardino and Stephens’ kangaroo rats and the Western burrowing owl. This week’s court ruling is not the end of the Rialto Wal-Mart. In these cases, the court’s ruling can mean a one or two year setback. But the case will go back to Rialto, a new EIR will be written — by Wal-Mart — and the project will begin to move again. There are 17 Wal-Mart stores within 25 miles of Rialto, including a Wal-Mart discount store on South Riverside Avenue in Rialto, which will close down when the superstore opens. Of the 17 Wal-Marts near Rialto, only two of them are superstores, including a superstore 16 miles away in Moreno Valley, Calfornia. Wal-Mart’s future growth in this area is dependent on converting these discount stores into superstores — or building new superstores, as in Rialto — and shutting down the existing discount store. The Rialto trade area is clearly saturated with Wal-Mart stores, and this new superstore will get most of its sales from ‘captured’ sales at other stores. This project does not translate into jobs and revenues for Rialto. It only means one or two more ‘dead stores’ to contend with — including Wal-Mart’s own store on South Riverside Avenue. Readers are urged to email Rialto Mayor Grace Vargas at [email protected] with this message: “Dear Mayor Vargas, You know what it’s like to work at hard jobs for very low pay. You also know that the proposed Wal-Mart supercenter will cause the existing Wal-Mart discount store to close. You say you want ‘the best for people and their families,’ but encouraging more Wal-Mart jobs is not the future for Rialto. Wal-Mart kills off as many jobs as it creates. Other merchants will suffer. Now that your own citizens, through their lawsuit, have shown that the Environmental Impact Report for the superstore was inadquate, the city should insist that Wal-Mart give the city the funds needed to conduct an independent EIR — not one produced by Wal-Mart’s consultants. Let the city hire an independent contractor to take a look at the environmental effects of this project. In the meantime, you should ask Wal-Mart to put funds into escrow to pay for the demolition of its South Riverside Avenue store — because if you ever finally approve this superstore, you are going to have an empty Wal-Mart on your hands — and they are not easy to dispose of. This project is not the ‘best for people and their families,’ and you should take a hard look this time at whether or not it makes any economic or environmental sense. The courts have done you a great favor: given you the chance to say No to this project the second time around.”