On May 14, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart wanted to turn Yucca Valley, California into Yukky Valley. Wal-Mart already has a discount store in Yucca Valley, at 29 Palms Highway. It’s been there for roughly 15 years. There are two Wal-Mart supercenters within 25 miles of Yucca Valley in Palm Springs and Palm Desert. When the Wal-Mart arrived in 1993, it did a considerable amount of harm to the local retail economy in this town of roughly 20,400 people. Now Wal-Mart wants to build another store — this time a 229,000 s.f. supercenter — further down the road on Palms Highway, right next to a recently approved Home Depot project. The “old” Wal-Mart would be closed down. Yucca Valley is a Southern California high desert community that lies between the San Bernardino Mountains and the Joshua Tree National Park. The town boasts of its moderate temperatures, clean air and “amazingly starry nights.” Yucca Valley is the hub of the Morongo Basin communities and a host of recreational opportunities and tourist attractions. Wal-Mart’s plans have met with strong opposition in Yucca Valley, but the retailer won the approval of the Town Council for its superstore. The project that involves the Wal-Mart had been dragging through the review process for four years. In July, 2007, Wal-Mart published an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on the project, and the town’s planners concluded that “all potential impacts associated with the proposed project could be mitigated, with the exception of those impacts associated with air quality and noise.” The town then focused on whether the “economic, legal, social, technological or other benefits outweigh the significant and unavoidable impacts associated with the project.” During the public review process, the town received 31 letters from residents against the project. Wal-Mart responded to the opposition by putting out petitions in its existing store in favor of the supercenter, and getting shoppers to sign the petitions. The town’s Planning Commission wrote a “Statement of Overriding Considerations” that recommended the project to the Town Council. Because of citizen complaints, Wal-Mart had to drop several aspects of the original superstore plan, including a gas station and a drive-through pharmacy. The company also had to find a buyer for their old store. Environmental advocates have testified that Wal-Mart should come up with a plan to use its existing land and buildings in a more sustainable way. “Building an entirely new store is not sustainability,” one resident testified. “Learn to retrofit your current buildings!” Residents warned of the increased water use demands the store would create, the loss of Joshua trees from construction, the light pollution, increased traffic, and big box and fast food blight. One resident claimed that “85 small businesses closed when the first Wal-Mart opened.” Wal-Mart sent in its public relations staff to try to assuage concerns over the impacts of their new supercenter. This week, a group called the Center for Biological Diversity, along with a consortium of groups in the Morongo Basin, each filed a lawsuit against the Town of Yucca Valley, challenging the town’s approval of a Wal-Mart Supercenter, the Hi-Desert Star newspaper reports. The lawsuit asks that the town conduct a new environmental impact report. According to the CBD, the lawsuit seeks to force Wal-Mart to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from new store construction as required by California law. Conservationists are challenging Wal-Mart’s failure to implement measures to reduce the carbon footprint of its new Supercenter. “Wal-Mart has stated for years that its goal is to be supplied by 100-percent renewable energy,” said Jonathan Evans of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Yet even for stores proposed in the California desert, it refuses to incorporate cost-effective features like solar panels to reduce its carbon footprint.” The group says that research shows that continued “business-as-usual” greenhouse gas emissions threaten up to 70 percent of plants and animals worldwide with extinction. A report released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in July says that by mid-century, extreme heat waves from global warming in areas like Los Angeles and San Bernardino are projected to cause two to three times as many heat-related deaths as occur today. The lawsuit is one of a series of court challenges brought by the Center to reduce greenhouse gases from new development through the California Environmental Quality Act. “Business-as-usual big-box sprawl is devastating to our local environment and communities,” said Evans. “Forty-three percent of U.S. greenhouse pollution is tied to buildings, but the good news is that with today’s technology green buildings can be a major part of solving the climate crisis.”
In 2007 California passed Senate Bill 97, which affirms the requirement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from land-use decisions. In June 2008 California also provided technical guidance on how to properly calculate and reduce greenhouse gases. The California Environmental Quality Act requirements are in addition to the requirements of the California Global Warming Solutions Act and the governor’s June 2005 Executive Order, which sets a goal of reducing emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. The Center for Biological Diversity is dedicated to ensuring that atmospheric carbon dioxide pollutant levels are reduced to below 350 parts per million, which leading climate scientists warn is necessary to prevent devastating climate change. Business-as-usual sprawl is incompatible with this goal. Without strong action, the group says, the current atmospheric carbon dioxide level of 385 ppm will rise to approximately 500 ppm by mid-century, triggering mass wildlife extinctions, catastrophic global weather and ecosystem changes, and tragic human suffering. “The choices we make today will determine the future we leave to our children and grandchildren,” said Evans. “If we do a good job reducing greenhouse emissions, we can save as much as 70 percent of California’s snowpack, our reservoir for water supply. But if we continue with business-as-usual emissions, we’ll lose up to 90 percent of that snowpack by the end of the century.” The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit conservation organization with more than 180,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places. The Wal-Mart project in Yucca Valley is symbolic of unsustainable, environmentally wasteful projects that should never be approved. The building alone will take up 22 acres of currently open space. The current Wal-Mart in Yucca Valley is 115,000 s.f. — large enough to be reconfigured as a supercenter. Readers are urged to donate to the legal costs of this lawsuit by calling toll-free the Center for Biological Diversity at (866) 357-3349. Tell them you would like your contribution to go towards the legal expenses in the Yucca Valley Wal-Mart litigation.