A vaguely written proposal has cost Wal-Mart a multi-million land use deal. On September 1, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that a judge in Sonoma County, California had dealt Wal-Mart a blow in its quest to build a superstore in Santa Rosa, California. This community is used to big box battles, having fought off a Home Depot in 1999 that tried to destroy a mobile home park. On August 29th the court agreed with anti-Wal-Mart residents that the environmental review done for the southwest Santa Rosa location was flawed. The lawsuit was brought by five Santa Rosa residents in 2007, seeking to overturn the 2006 approval of the Wal-Mart in the Roseland neighborhood of the city. During the hearings on the project, residents criticized Wal-Mart’s “predatory business and labor practices,” its low pay and employee benefits, and its impact on other businesses in Santa Rosa. Judge Robert Boyd said the study of parking and noise from the project were “especially problematic.” During the court hearing on August 29th, the city and opponents argued over the number of parking spaces, and the issue of noise impacts on abutting homes. The city said the store was 106,00 s.f., but the documents filed with the project ranged from 210,000 s.f. to 198,000 s.f. “What you’re seeing is a constantly changing project description,” said Attorney William Kopper, the lawyer for the Santa Rosa plaintiffs. Attorney Kopper has represented Wal-Mart opponents in at least half a dozen cities in California. The city described the lawsuit as being “a case which is about trivialities.” On the issue of noise, Wal-Mart told the court that there would be no noise higher than 45 decibels emanating from the store’s operations. “That’s what most people in Santa Rosa enjoy inside their homes,” Wal-Mart’s attorney said. Kopper countered that the forklifts and diesel delivery trucks would exceed those levels and be a problem for residents living in the adjacent Casa Del Sol town homes. Instead of living in the “House of the Sun,” these town homes will live in the Casa Del Wal-Mart. But the judge’s ruling supporting the residents was not final. Lawyers from the city and Wal-Mart were given a chance to impact that final court ruling. Judge Boyd indicated that the environmental review done for the store made it “hard for the public to determine what is being proposed.” The city’s lawyer said the Santa Rosa City Council must now determine its next steps. To redo parts of the environmental study will set the project behind in its timetable. Redoing the EIR will not be enough, because the project does not have enough parking spaces to accommodate the Wal-Mart and existing merchants. So some reduction of the size of the store is necessary. The Wal-Mart would be located in the Stony Point Shopping Center, on the site of a former home improvement store. This week, KPIX TV/CBS reports that Judge Boyd has finalized his ruling — and again has come down on the side of citizens opposed toWal-Mart. The Judge concluded that the Roseland neighborhood Wal-Mart project was vague inconsistent on such key issues as traffic impacts, parking and noise levels. “The court cannot find any stable project description or comparison to a baseline. Nothing indicates clearly and certainly what the project is going to be,” the Judge wrote. “The record reveals no consistency or clarity over the number of parking spaces or the size of the project or even the size of the center as a whole.” Attorney Kopper reacted to the latest ruling by saying, “The judge’s decision was well thought out and accurately applies the law to the facts of the case. The EIR was clearly inadequate.” The court’s ruling said that the environmental impact report contained no evidence “that could allow a meaningful determination regarding the impacts of forklifts, sound system or delivery trucks.” Citizens Against Wal-Mart says the giant retailer will now have to go back to square one and file a new environmental impact report. Wal-Mart and the city of Santa Rosa will have 60 days to appeal the Judge’s ruling once it is filed — but now the shoe is on the other foot. The city would not comment to the media about whether or not it will choose to appeal.
City officials like to say that Santa Rosa is “where you can find everything California has to offer in one beautiful location!” The city calls itself the “chosen spot as far as nature is concerned,” and notes that “we are blessed with warm and generous citizens… abundant parks and our bike trails to our wonderful wine and fabulous shopping experiences.” Apparently Wal-Mart will be considered part of the “fabulous” shopping in Santa Rosa. The city is currently engaged in a planning process called “Santa Rosa 2030: Envisioning The Future.” One of the key features of the 2030 plan is “creating a vibrant downtown,” and “creating breath-taking stretches of open space.” The introduction to that plan says, “Imagine a city defined by a vibrant downtown, thriving neighborhoods, a multi-cultural community, and breathtaking stretches of open space, creeks, and greenbelts. Imagine Santa Rosa in 2030.” It is impossible to imagine a Wal-Mart supercenter fitting into this Vision of Santa Rosa. Mayor John Sawyer should be able to envision a Santa Rosa without this kind of retail sprawl that will pull people away from the downtown. The Mayor has been involved in past business efforts to create what he calls “a vital city center.” He currently runs the family business, which has been located in downtown Santa Rosa since 1945, and has served as the President of Santa Rosa Main Street. Readers are urged to email Mayor John Sawyer at [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Mayor Sawyer, Given your background as a small businessman in downtown Main Street, please continue to speak out in opposition to this Wal-Mart supercenter in the Roseland neighborhood. Not only is a huge, sprawling single story building incompatible with your 2030 Vision for ‘a vibrant downtown,’ you’ve already got a Wal-Mart in Rohnert Park less than 7 miles away, and another Wal-Mart in Windsor 7 miles away. The Judge in Superior Court has asked the city to do a better job of protecting the residents in Casa Del Sol. This project is too big to live comfortably next to a residential neighborhood, and forced neighbors ro suing the city. Now that Judge Boyd has ruled against Wal-Mart, the city should move on, and not appeal. If Wal-Mart wants to appeal to get their permit, let them do it without Santa Rosa staff time or taxpayer’s money. Instead, Santa Rosa should put in place a cap on the size of retail stores to prevent this kind of win/lose land use situation from happening again. You should also explain to the voters that a Wal-Mart in the Roseland neighborhood is not going to help create a vibrant downtown. You have a chance to envision a smaller-scale, more neighborhood-friendly Stony Point Shopping Center, instead of just another Wal-Mart mall. Now that the court has spoken, please don’t prolong the battle at your taxpayer’s expense.”