Wal-Mart is going nowhere fast in the city of Ventura, California, following the recent vote by officials to enact a one year moratorium on retail development along heavily-used Victoria Avenue. The 12 month freeze was designed to give planners a chance to carefully plot out development goals for the six lane roadway. The city’s goal is to change Victoria Ave to more of a pedestrian-friendly corridor with residences and smaller shops. A Wal-Mart supercenter just doesn’t fit into that kind of a vision. “This is not about Wal-Mart the company. This is about big boxes in places they don’t belong,” one city official told the Los Angeles Times. “That said, we don’t think it would be the worst thing in the world to be the first ones in Southern California to break the Wal-Mart mold.” A coalition of citizens and merchants in Ventura had asked the city to rewrite its zoning code to require more thorough study of development impacts, like traffic, cost of city services, etc. “Quality-of-life issues are important in Ventura,” one local merchant told the Times. “My worry is that they don’t involve themselves with the community; they take out, but they don’t put back in.” Wal-Mart had proposed a 109,000 s.f. discount store for Ventura, on the site where a Kmart now stands. There are already two other Wal-Marts in Ventura County. Ventura Mayor Carl Morehouse said that the city needs to clearly define what the development goals are going to be along this important corridor in the city. “Developers like clarity, so we better be clear about what we want there. Wal-Mart can decide whether to play by our rules after we have defined them.”
The choice facing communities is this: Plan, or be planned upon. If a city or town does not lay out a clear development plan, then they will be inundated with the plans of outside developers. Ventura could lead growth, or follow it. The Mayor’s common sense approach is to lead developers, not be lead by them. This allows the citizens of Ventura to create their own vision of where the city wants to go, rather than leaving it to a retailer from Arkansas, or a few private developers, to call the shots. Moratoriums are also time-limited, and in this case provide enough time to restate the vision, and then let developers fit Ventura’s vision, rather that Ventura fitting into some developer’s vision. Wal-Mart can kick and fuss about being put on hold, but Ventura is using its legal right to plan for the future. If Wal-Mart wants to be part of that future, it will be on Ventura’s terms. That’s real local control. City’s across the country have fallen into Wal-Mart’s “mold” by default, because they had no vision of their own. Ventura is just another reminder of whose hands should be on the steering wheel.