R.I.P. for another Wal-Mart superstore. On October 10, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that a vaguely written proposal had cost Wal-Mart a multi-million land use deal. A judge in Sonoma County, California dealt Wal-Mart a blow in its quest to build a superstore in Santa Rosa, California. This community is used to big box battles, having fought off a Home Depot in 1999 that tried to destroy a mobile home park. On August 29, 2008, the court agreed with anti-Wal-Mart residents that the environmental review done for the southwest Santa Rosa location was flawed. The lawsuit was brought by five Santa Rosa residents in 2007, seeking to overturn the 2006 approval of the Wal-Mart in the Roseland neighborhood of the city. During the hearings on the project, residents criticized Wal-Mart’s “predatory business and labor practices,” its low pay and employee benefits, and its impact on other businesses in Santa Rosa. Judge Robert Boyd said the study of parking and noise from the project were “especially problematic.” During the court hearing on August 29th, the city and opponents argued over the number of parking spaces, and the issue of noise impacts on abutting homes. The city said the store was 106,00 s.f., but the documents filed with the project ranged from 210,000 s.f. to 198,000 s.f. “What you’re seeing is a constantly changing project description,” said Attorney William Kopper, the lawyer for the Santa Rosa plaintiffs. Attorney Kopper has represented Wal-Mart opponents in at least half a dozen cities in California. The city described the lawsuit as being “a case which is about trivialities.” On the issue of noise, Wal-Mart told the court that there would be no noise higher than 45 decibels emanating from the store’s operations. “That’s what most people in Santa Rosa enjoy inside their homes,” Wal-Mart’s attorney said. Kopper countered that the forklifts and diesel delivery trucks would exceed those levels and be a problem for residents living in the adjacent Casa Del Sol town homes. Instead of living in the “House of the Sun,” these town homes will live in the Casa Del Wal-Mart. But the judge’s ruling supporting the residents was not final. Lawyers from the city and Wal-Mart were given a chance to impact that final court ruling. Judge Boyd indicated that the environmental review done for the store made it “hard for the public to determine what is being proposed.” Redoing the EIR would not have been enough, because the project did not have enough parking spaces to accommodate the Wal-Mart and existing merchants. So some reduction of the size of the store would have been necessary. The Wal-Mart would have been located in the Stony Point Shopping Center, on the site of a former home improvement store. In October, 2008, Judge Boyd finalized his ruling — and came down on the side of citizens opposed toWal-Mart. The Judge concluded that the Roseland neighborhood Wal-Mart project was vague and inconsistent on such key issues as traffic impacts, parking and noise levels. “The court cannot find any stable project description or comparison to a baseline. Nothing indicates clearly and certainly what the project is going to be,” the Judge wrote. “The record reveals no consistency or clarity over the number of parking spaces or the size of the project or even the size of the center as a whole.” Attorney Kopper reacted at the time by saying, “The judge’s decision was well thought out and accurately applies the law to the facts of the case. The EIR was clearly inadequate.” The court’s ruling said that the environmental impact report contained no evidence “that could allow a meaningful determination regarding the impacts of forklifts, sound system or delivery trucks.” Citizens Against Wal-Mart said the giant retailer would have to go back to square one and file a new environmental impact report. Wal-Mart and the city of Santa Rosa had 60 days to appeal the Judge’s ruling. This week, ABC 7 News in San Francisco reports that Wal-Mart did not file an appeal to the Judge’s ruling. “They’re not going to appeal,” an attorney for the anti-Wal-Mart group told Channel 7. “They don’t have the approval to continue.” A Wal-Mart spokesman admitted that the company “made the difficult decision not to proceed with the project.” A city official noted that Wal-Mart no longer has an active file, and has not applied for another permit or design review.
City officials like to say that Santa Rosa is “where you can find everything California has to offer in one beautiful location!” The city calls itself the “chosen spot as far as nature is concerned,” and notes that “we are blessed with warm and generous citizens… abundant parks and our bike trails to our wonderful wine and fabulous shopping experiences.” Apparently city officials considered Wal-Mart to be part of the “fabulous” shopping in Santa Rosa. The city is currently engaged in a planning process called “Santa Rosa 2030: Envisioning The Future.” One of the key features of the 2030 plan is “creating a vibrant downtown,” and “creating breath-taking stretches of open space.” The introduction to that plan says, “Imagine a city defined by a vibrant downtown, thriving neighborhoods, a multi-cultural community, and breathtaking stretches of open space, creeks, and greenbelts. Imagine Santa Rosa in 2030.” It is impossible to imagine a Wal-Mart supercenter fitting into this Vision of Santa Rosa. Readers are urged to email Santa Rosa’s new Mayor Susan Gorin, who was just elected in December of 2008, at [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Mayor Gorin, I was delighted to learn that Wal-Mart has not appealed the court’s order regarding their supercenter in Santa Rosa. As a new Mayor, you have a chance to reinvigorate your city without turning to national big box chains. Wal-Mart’s withdrawal is a blessing in disguise. Not only is a huge, sprawling single story building incompatible with your 2030 Vision for ‘a vibrant downtown,’ you’ve already got a Wal-Mart in Rohnert Park less than 7 miles away, and another Wal-Mart in Windsor 7 miles away. The Judge in Superior Court asked the city to do a better job of protecting the residents in Casa Del Sol. This project is too big to live comfortably next to a residential neighborhood, and forced neighbors to sue the city to protect themselves. Now that Judge Boyd has ruled against Wal-Mart, the city should move on. Instead, Santa Rosa should put in place a cap on the size of retail stores to prevent this kind of win/lose land use situation from happening again. You should also explain to the voters that a Wal-Mart in the Roseland neighborhood was not going to help create a vibrant downtown. You have a chance to envision a smaller-scale, more neighborhood-friendly Stony Point Shopping Center, instead of just another Wal-Mart mall. Now that the court has spoken, you have been given another chance to think outside of the big box.”