Sprawl-Busters first wrote about Wal-Mart’s battle to get into American Canyon, California on July 11, 2004. Now, almost three years later, and a costly court battle, it looks like Wal-Mart has got the approval to build. But is this really a victory? By the time the final court ruling was handed down by Judge Ray Guadagni, the controversial superstore was nearly built — but sitting empty. Opponents of the Wal-Mart made the city and the developer jump through many hoops. Most recently, the city was forced to conduct new traffic and economic studies after the First District Court of Appeal ruled in November that American Canyon violated the California Environmental Quality Act and local regulations when it approved the Wal-Mart project in 2004. In April of 2007, the American Canyon City Council re-approved permits for the 194,000 s.f. building. The city and Wal-Mart argued that they had fulfilled their legal obligations, and they should be allowed to finish their almost-completed store. Attorney Timothy Taylor, representing resident Stacy Su, and the Citizens Against Poor Planning, testified during the two hour hearing, charging that the city’s new studies were still inadequate. Another group, American Canyon Community United for Responsible Growth, had dropped out of the case earlier, and did not participate in the May 14th court hearing. The Judge wanted to know if the city had considered the cumulative impacts of a separate proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter in Vallejo and whether the city was required to address greenhouse gas emissions. The citizens argued that the city did not take into consideration the cumulative economic impacts of the American Canyon proposal plus the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Vallejo. Attorney Taylor also told the judge the city should have studied the effects of the project’s greenhouse gas emissions under a California law passed last year to address global warming impacts. Wal-Mart noted that the empty store it left in Vallejo has now been rented to Home Depot. About a week after the hearing, the Judge ruled in favor of Wal-Mart, ending the long-standing legal battles.
Citizens in American Canyon forced Wal-Mart to wait almost three years for its approvals. This is about ten times the amount of time that Wal-Mart would normally budget for such an approval. I recently watched one community in Massachusetts approve a Wal-Mart in two meetings. That case is now under a Zoning Board appeal — but the American Canyon case is a victory for residents who said the city had made mistakes, and took officials to court to prove their case. They forced American Canyon to rewind the tape and do the whole thing again, this time with new studies. This came at great hardship to local residents, who did not have the financial deep pockets that the developer and Wal-Mart had. When citizens intervene for their rights, and throw Wal-Mart off schedule for nearly three years, I count that as a grassroots victory. Just the sight of Wal-Mart’s nearly completed store standing empty, was reminiscent of the case in Bakersfield, California, where Wal-Mart construction was also halted midstream. Wal-Mart will open its store in American Canyon, but the first two years of operation will only be making up for lost time. And residents caught the city cutting corners and reaching conclusions that were not warranted by state law. For earlier stories, search Newsflash by “American Canyon.”