Wal-Mart is wiping away the cobwebs in Bakersfield, California, and after years of delay, is returning to the construction of two contentious superstores in this city. On March 31, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that there were two half-built Wal-Marts in Bakersfield that were finally allowed to proceed with construction by a state court, after 5 years in a legal sleep. More than five years ago, on February 2, 2004, Sprawl-Busters reported that a Kern County, California Superior Court Judge had stunned Wal-Mart and Bakersfield 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 5 long years. But in March of 2008, 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 Christmas of 2008 — but that never happened either. The initial approval for these projects actually dates back to February of 2003 — so the wait was just over 6 years. Once the Superior Court ruled against the city, Wal-Mart was forced to return with a new environmental impact statement, with a new section addressing urban decay. The new plan 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.” This week, one year after that statement, the developer of the Highway 99 project told the Californian, “It’s slowly ramping up.” The frame of the Wal-Mart has been visible from Highway 99 for five years now. “It’s just not that easy to start a project like that when it’s been stopped that long,” the developer explained to the media this week. The new timetable is that the Highway 99 superstore will take another four months to complete, and two months to stock. Meanwhile, the second superstore on Gosford Road is back under construction, and that store is expected to open in 2010. There are currently 3 Wal-Mart discount stores in Bakersfield, which may all be abandoned when the superstores open. Wal-Mart has already said that the superstore on Highway 99 will replace their discount store on White Lane.
Wal-Mart Realty currently has 3 dead stores for sale in California. The Bakersfield 3 are not listed yet. All of the stores Wal-Mart is selling are over 100,000 s.f. One of the stores being sold in Sacramento is 133,613 s.f. and was built in 2001 — which makes it barely over 7 years old. Just a child. For Bakersfield, the urban decay is just starting. The adverse impacts to be felt in the Bakersfield trade area from these two unnecessary Wal-Marts will begin soon. 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. 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. These 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. Readers are urged to email Bakersfield Mayor Harvey Hall at: [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Mayor Hall, You are soon going to have 3 empty Wal-Marts on your hands. The store on White Lane is already slated to close, with the other two not far behind. What is the city going to do if these properties sit empty for years? To prevent taxpayers from having to demolish the building, Bakersfield should pass a city ordinance requiring any store over 50,000 s.f. to post a “demolition bond” allowing the city to tear down any building that sits empty for more than 12 consecutive months, and restore the site to its ‘green’ pre-development site. Many Wal-Marts have sat for three years or longer on the market. Consider this a lesson in urban decay, and take action now, before the developers absolve themselves of any responsibility for their wasteful hop-scotch building proposals.”