Democracy can be very messy. Wal-Mart now has an unplanned mess on its hands in its on-going battle to push a superstore into Atascadero, California. The recent election last week for City Council in Atascadero did not bode well for Wal-Mart. The election of Planning Commissioner Ellen Beraud and retired police officer Mike Brennler cast a shadow over Wal-Mart’s superstore dreams. The citizen’s group Oppose Wal-Mart says that both Beraud and Brennler have pledged that they will vote against a proposed rezoning that must precede any Wal-Mart plans for the city’s north side. “Both candidates are very principled,” Oppose Wal-Mart spokesman Tom Comar told The Tribune newspaper. “They’ve taken a stand, and they’ve made it clear they’re opposed to rezoning. I feel very confident.” These two new Councilors, along with Councilman George Luna, represent the three votes needed to stop rezoning. According to The Tribune, Luna is likely to be named Mayor, and has indicated his support for an ordinance that limits the sale of groceries inside supercenters, similar to ordinances enacted in Turlock, California and several other California communities. Wal-Mart has legally challenged the Turlock law — but lost twice in court. The retailer has turned to voter referendums to overturn a similar law in Contra Costa, and is using the same tactic in Long Beach. The developer of this Wal-Mart, Rottman, has tried to woo local residents with promises of a wave of new businesses to follow the giant retailer into Atascdadero — but they are all national chains or restaurants, like Linen ‘n Things or the Olive Garden — that are already found in many California towns.
Wal-Mart supporters in Atascadero have suggested that the only way the community can increase its commercial tax base and increase sales tax revenues, is by trying to attract the same cast of characters that are trying to build everywhere else in Atascadero. Rather than trying to create a more diverse, longer-range plan that is unique for the city, the big box proponents have a one-size-fits-all approach to retail development. Wal-Mart opponents want something that is in scale with Atascadero, and that does not decimate existing merchants. They also understand that locally-owned businesses invest more of their profits back into the community than the big chains. Someone addicted to big box stores can find them within a short drive of almost anywhere in California. The new City Council would do well to simply place a cap on the size of buildings, and send a clear message to developers that Atascadero wants them to think outside of the box. For earlier stories, search by “Atascadero.”