It’s nothing but delay in Delano. Wal-Mart’s plans to build a supercenter in Delano, California are tied up in litigation, brought by two local supermarket workers. This city lies about 28 miles north of Bakersfield, along Route 99. The closest Wal-Mart today is in Porterville, some 25 miles away. This community has been engaged in Wal-Mart Wars since at least 2003, when Wal-Mart announced it wanted to build a store on County Line Road across the street from Kmart. This site caused significant controversy, because Delano would have had to share the sales tax revenue from the superstore with the County of Tulare. Five years later, there is no Wal-Mart on County Line Road, and the giant retailer is mired in two lawsuits over the proposed Delano Marketplace. The developer, YK America, held a public meeting recently to give its side of the controversy to local residents. The Marketplace sits on 200 acres of land near Highway 99, and will dump more than 1 million s.f. of new retail space into Delano, including Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, Starbucks, Chili’s Restaurant, and other smaller retail shops and restaurants — and its own consumers: 1,000 units of multi-family housing. (The housing portion of the project was later dropped). Delano’s population has more than doubled since 1990, but whatever sales taxes this new project will bring, will also come with the burden of paying for the police and fire costs of patrolling the Marketplace. The whole project is under the shadow of two lawsuits. A group called Citizens for a Better Delano, and a resident, Barbara Kulukjian, filed a lawsuit against the plan last September in Kern County Superior Court. Kulukjian told the Californian newspaper she is not against sales tax, “But I’ve lived in Delano a long time, and I’ve seen the city make errors. And I wanted to make sure that the environmental impact (report) was correctly done.” The developer has stated for the record, “If the (environmental impact report) is found to be deficient, it will be corrected and made adequate. If it’s found (to be) adequate, the lawsuit will be dismissed. It’s just a function of time when it will be built.” But that “function of time” could mean many month’s delay. The developer is using economics to sell the project. They estimate 800 ‘new’ jobs will be created, and $1 million in revenue to the city. That revenue figure has ranged as high as $2.5 million, depending on the developer’s numbers. These numbers are gross figures, not net of retail losses elsewhere in the city as Lowe’s and Wal-Mart force other retailers out of business. The revenues also do not account for the municipal costs of providing the Marketplace with services. The city manager told the newspaper that Delano loses $200 million in sales a year when residents leave Delano to shop in Bakersfield. “This town is dying for quality commercial developers,” the city manager told the Californian. “We believe the developer is capable of constructing the project and getting it going here. We need these lawsuits to be settled or dismissed so we can get going with our project.” The second lawsuit was filed by Inspire Properties LLC, a retail site near the proposed marketplace. But this second lawsuit is apparently in settlement discussions. “We’ve got to make certain that our project isn’t going to be compromised by whatever they’re doing at the Delano Marketplace,” said the attorney for Inspire Properties. Delano’s city manager says everything is fine with the project, and criticized the plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit. “The impacts are mitigated adequately, but not in the eyes of the people who are suing the city,” he said.
These lawsuits have clearly frustrated city officials, who think they have got the golden goose by the neck. But plaintiff Barbara Kulukjian has told the newspaper she would remove her name from the lawsuit if an independent analysis showed that the environmental review was properly done. Residents in Delano are fully aware that anti-Wal-Mart activists in nearby Bakersfield delayed two Wal-Mart supercenters over the issue of improper environmental studies. The courts actually halted work on the Wal-Marts due to citizen appeals. The Citizens for a Better Delano is made up of residents Mike Young and Rick Vasquez, who work at State Market and Save Mart Supermarket, respectively, in Delano. Their lawsuit charges that the city of Delano violated provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act when it approved the center in August 2007, and it challenges the adequacy of the environmental impact report. This project was approved last summer, but six months later, all that’s been created is a pile of legal briefs. No court date has been set. Readers are urged to call the Save Mart Supermaket in Delano, at (661) 725-2733 to congratulate Rick Vasquez for filing his lawsuit. Then do the same for State Market, by calling (661) 725-0630 and encouraging Mike Young to continue fighting the big box project.