A lot can happen in five years — or nothing at all. In Bakersfield, California, two half-built Wal-Marts can finally start to finish building — after 5 years in legal limbo. On February 2, 2004, Sprawl-Busters reported that a Kern County, California Superior Court Judge had stunned Wal-Mart and Bakersfield, California officials by ruling that two Wal-Mart Supercenters had to go on hold until the city studied the economic impact these giant stores would bring to the city. Judge Kenneth Twisselman allowed other stores in the malls to proceed (a Kohl’s and a Lowe’s) but he cast a spell on the two Wal-Marts. According to the Bakersfield Californian newspaper, the Judge ruled that the City Council failed to study the urban decay that could be caused by the Wal-Mart superstores. A local anti Wal-Mart group, the Bakersfield Citizens for Local Control, attempted to keep the judge from allowing any of the stores to go forward. They did such a good job, that the Wal-Mart projects were placed in a deep sleep for 4 long years. But this week, the same Superior Court judge finally awoke the Wal-Marts, ruling that their environmental paperwork was now adequate. The developer estimated that construction would begin again in three to four month’s time, and that the stores would be open by next Christmas. The initial approval for these projects actually dates back to February of 2003 — so the wait was just over 5 years. Once Superior Court ruled against the city, Wal-Mart was forced to return with a new environmental impact statement, which was not approved by the city until November, 2007. One project is located on Highway 99, the other on Gosford Road. The lawyer for the city of Bakersfield told the Bakersfield Californian newspaper, “I think its really over.”
For Bakersfield, it’s really just starting. The adverse impacts to be felt in the Bakersfield trade area from these two unnecessary Wal-Marts are just beginning. Bakersfield already has 3 Wal-Mart discount stores: one on Fashion Place, one on White Lane, and a third on Rosedale Highway. As the new supercenters open, Wal-Mart will shut down these “old” discount stores, leaving Bakersfield with three dead properties on its hands. The city’s Battle with Blight is just getting underway. This Bakersfield Sprawl Brawl began in October of 2002, when opponents first began to organize against the supercenters. Both projects were approved by the City Council 5 years ago, so together citizen action resulted in 10 years of delay, or roughly $1 billion in lost sales to Wal-Mart. That’s an accomplishment that the Bakersfield Citizens for Local Control can feel proud of. The lawsuit the residents filed in March, 2003, kept these projects in sleep mode. As a result of the citizen’s actions, the city of Bakersfield Planning Commission ruled that future big box stores have to do an analysis of their impact on urban decay. Because of this litigation, the developers ended up having to produce 30,000 pages of environmental impact reports, according to the Californian. By November, 2007, both impact reports had been approved by the city, and four months later by the Judge. But this entire project has become a financial sinkhole for Wal-Mart and its two developers. This two stores had to be delayed year after year, and it will take years for these projects to dig themselves out of the deep financial hole that citizens helped Wal-Mart dig. The city may think this chapter is over — but it’s hard to see any victory here for Wal-Mart.