It’s going to be a long winter for Wal-Mart in Barstow, California. Citizen action has barred the door at least until the spring, on one of the largest Wal-Mart projects in the nation. On July 23, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that the city council in Barstow, California, had approved an enormous Wal-Mart distribution center. Wal-Mart already has 7 distribution centers in California. Barstow 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, the Barstow distribution center would become a hub for as many as 100 of the retailer’s stores, 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. The city council gave 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 21, 2008. Wal-Mart brought its employees into Barstow 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 City Council 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 by attorney Briggs was not warranted, and that the project should be approved. The Briggs 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 law firm, 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 taken 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 at the city council meeting when the project was approved. 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. At the project 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 mobile homes and get out. On September 1, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that Attorney Briggs had filed his lawsuit against the city, charging that Bartsow officials mishandled the environmental reviews for the project and did not adhere to the California Environmental Quality Act. The lawsuit was filed in San Bernardino Superior Court. Briggs indicated that he filed the lawsuit on behalf of a group called Build Barstow Smart, which is an environmental advocacy group. Briggs said that he’s filed at least six similar lawsuits against Wal-Mart since 2004, including suits filed in Rialto, Rosemead, Ontario, and Murrieta. He would not name any members of Build Barstow Smart who are plaintiffs. Briggs said he wanted to protect them from being threatened. “I’m not going to make it easier for some people to harass and intimidate other people just for exercising their constitutional rights,” Briggs explained. Mayor Lawrence Dale of Barstow did not mince his words about the litigation. “This lawsuit has every appearance of legal extortion. It is my opinion that the Briggs Law Corp. is no better than an ‘ambulance chasing’ attorney, but instead of chasing accident victims they’re chasing the deep pockets of Wal-Mart.” The lawsuit would require the city to go back and redo some of the environmental reports to better protect the air and water quality issues, as well as traffic concerns. “We could be starting on this right about now,” one frustrated city official complained. This week, the Desert Dispatch newspaper reports that the lawsuit field on behalf of Build Barstow Smart will not come up for trial until May 8, 20009. A Wal-Mart spokesman and city officials confirmed that this means work on the DC will be on hold for the next five months. “We definitely won’t do anything until we go through the legal process,” the Wal-Mart spokesman told the newspaper. A second lawsuit was filed in October on behalf of a Bartow resident by Attorney Briggs, whose lawfirm helped stop a Wal-Mart approval in Victorville, California in 2005. Briggs said the goal of the Build Barstow Smart lawsuit is to force a “legally adequate environmental review,” and to look at the energy consumption issues raised by this project. “They’re not using any renewable energy, and their own environmental document said this project could cause blackouts,” Briggs said. “Why they wouldn’t put solar on something that’s basically a box that’s perfect for solar, I don’t know.” The city of Barstow has called the lawsuit a baseless waste of taxpayer’s money. But it’s the only thing that is keeping Wal-Mart from beginning its massive changes to Barstow.
The City of Barstow says the 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 distribution centers — but this is not how communities passively have to accept them. Another 143 acres of land will be paved over to satisfy Wal-Mart customer demands for cheap goods. This DC will stock 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 am pleased to hear that the lawsuit filed by Build Barstow Smart against the city for its approval of the Wal-Mart distribution centers has tied up this project until at least May. 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. Barstow has, in fact, lost its Vision because of this project. It’s the wrong size, the wrong place, and will only end up in lost jobs at other distribution centers that are already operating. I hope the litigation drags out long enough for the city council to pass an ordinance that limits the size of superstores, and limits the size of the distribution centers that feed them.”