Wal-Mart’s long, twisted journey in Bakersfield, California may soon be over. It wasn’t the way Wal-Mart wanted, and they have lost as much as one billion in sales and legal costs already — but the city of Bakersfield appears ready to approve not one — but two — new Wal-Mart supercenters. On June 12, 2005, Sprawl-Busters reported that a deal approved in court had left a Wal-Mart supercenter in Bakersfield half-built. The developer, Lee Jamieson, and the citizen’s group, Bakersfield Citizens for Local Control, agreed that nothing would happen on the site until June 1, 2006. The city approved the project back in February of 2003, but citizens challenged the way the process was conducted, took their case to the California 5th District Court of Appeals, and the court overturned the first city approval, saying the city had done a poor job of figuring out if building the project would harm the environment. At the same time, the court also overturned approval for a second Wal-Mart Supercenter project in Bakersfield, this one proposed by Castle & Cooke. For more than a year, these projects have lurked half-built on the site. But this week, two years after the court stalemate, the stores received the support of the City Planning Commission after a four-hour meeting. One of the supercenters is located at Panama Lane and Highway 99, and the other at Pacheco and Gosford roads. One Bakersfield City Planning Commissioner couldn’t contain his exuberanace over the prospect of two new supercenters. “You just mix together people with jobs with income buying up the real estate. I don’t think there’s a finer example of the American dream going on,” he was quoted as saying. But the “jobs” coming from two Wal-Mart supercenters are going to be drawn from existing, unionized grocery stores in Bakersfield, which translates into a loss of buying power, because the Wal-Mart pay less. The American Dream is, in fact, unraveling in Bakersfield. The City Council will meet on November 21st to consider the recommendations of the Planning Commission.
The state’s 5th District Court of Appeal said in 2004 that city officials in Bakersfield didn’t properly conduct public hearings and didn’t consider the environmental, social and economic impacts of the retail development. The impact of urban decay was a key issue in the court ruling. The Court directed the city to do another environmental review in the Wal-Mart case. The court’s decision was a major victory for the citizens’ group which filed the lawsuit in March, 2003 against two developments, each containing a 220,000 s.f. Wal-Mart Supercenter as its primary anchor tenant. The two developments are less than 4 miles apart, but Bakersfield city officials failed to consider the effect the projects would have on each other. The court also ruled that the city didn’t consider what impact the projects would have economically on the rest of the city. Sprawl-Busters has been writing about this battle since the first public hearing on October 3, 2002. The citizens group Bakersfield Citizens For Local Control have managed to keep Wal-Mart on ice for five, long years, and forced the company to lose as much as one billion in lost sales at these two locations combined over that five year period, not to mention enormous legal costs. All Wal-Mart has produced in five years is the Bust of Bakersfield. Readers can email Mayor Harvey Hall and the Bakersfield City Council at [email protected] Tell them, “Wal-Mart will not bring new jobs to Bakersfield, it will merely shift sales from cash registers at existing stores. No one needs two supercenters 4 miles apart. Even Wal-Mart admits it needs to stop cannibalizing its own stores. This is not a form of economic development for the city, but a form of economic displacement.” Regardless of what happens in November, citizens have used their legal rights to hold off the world’s largest retailer for half a decade.