Open a superstore, close a grocery store. That pretty much sums up the valueless addition of a Wal-Mart superstore in the county of Del Norte, California. Wal-Mart is in the middle of a controversial plan to expand its existing discount store into a superstore. The 14.25-acre project site is located in the western portion of unincorporated Del Norte County, just north of the limits of the City of Crescent City. The proposed project consists of expanding the existing 83,902 s.f. Wal-Mart store to a maximum of 170,126 s.f. and upgrading the store to a “Supercenter.” The store would be expanded on the west, north, and east sides, and new loading facility would be developed in the rear of the store. Additional parking areas would be provided. The Wal-Mart Supercenter would sell groceries and general merchandise and operate 24 hours a day. In the Environmental Impact Review (EIR) report on this project, the consultants for the county examined a “30% Reduction Alternative” which the consultant said “is the environmentally superior alternative.” It reduces the store to 119,000 s.f. In the EIR, the following issue were identified as controversial: Aesthetics and Visual Character; Construction and Operational Air Emissions; Greenhouse Gas Emissions; Construction and Operational Noise; Parking; Public Services; Traffic Congestion; Urban Decay; Wastewater; Water Supply. The draft EIR was reviewed for 45 days, from February 20, until April 4, 2008. An economic impact report done on the project by Bay Area Economics of Emeryville, California in September of 2007 concluded: “The Proposed Project may lead to the closure of one of the three existing major supermarkets in Crescent City. However, because of a variety of factors, including different ‘break-even’ and profit thresholds for different operators, as well as different levels of sales currently, it is not possible to state with reasonable certainty which of these stores is most likely to be impacted to the point of closure by the Proposed Project. The Trade Area is characterized by isolation, weak economic conditions, and very slow household population increases, limiting the prospects for future retail growth. As a result, a vacated space such as a supermarket may prove difficult to retenant. Cumulatively, the only other sizable proposed retail project in the Trade Area is a Walgreen’s in Crescent City. In combination with the proposed Wal-Mart expansion, this project puts an existing drug store at risk of closure. A vacated space may also be difficult to re-tenant, although as a smaller space it might not face as much difficulty as a vacated supermarket.” Despite this gloomy economic picture, the Del Norte County Planning Commission approved the Wal-Mart expansion on June 4th . But that decision is being appealed to the Del Norte Del Norte County Board of Supervisors on August 12th. The approval was appealed by the Crescent City Heritage Coalition, which states that the public brought up several issues, such as environmental concerns, traffic, global warming and urban decay, that were not fully addressed in the EIR. “The level of detail in an EIR’s analysis must correspond to an impact’s severity and likelihood of occurrence,” the Coalition wrote. The group has asked the supervisors to decertify the EIR and send it back to the Planning Commission for further review. “Specifically, the EIR needs to trace cause and effect through anticipated economic and/or social changes from the Project to physical changes in the environment,” the Coalition wrote. The group also charges that changes in the environment from the expansion were not adequately addressed in the EIR, it is therefore not in compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act. The Coaltion says a significant effect of the Supercenter would be urban decay from the closures of existing grocery stores and pharmacies. According to the group, five supermarkets in the county are competing for about $50 million a year in sales and the Wal-Mart supercenter will capture about $16 million in sales away from the other grocery stores. Wal-Mart claims, however, that it will capture more than $7 million in retail leakage currently going outside of Del Norte county. The economic impact study found that there were 6 competing grocery stores in the trade area, with 160,000 sf. of existing grocery store space. The study confirmed that Wal-Mart would capture $6.6 million in sales leakage out of the county — but it also concluded that the Wal-Mart would capture $17.6 million from existing merchants in the trade area, with $16.3 million of that coming from other grocery stores. The Wal-Mart as a whole would have $62.4 million in annual sales in 2009, of which $6.8 million came from leakage (11%), $17.6 million (28%) from existing merchants, and $38 million (61%) from the existing Wal-Mart discount store. Sales transferred from existing merchants will be 2.6 times greater than new sales from captured leakage. According to the Daily Triplicate newspaper, Wal-Mart says their expansion is “not likely to have any significant impacts leading to vacancies of any of these stores.” The citizen’s group also charges that the EIR did not address how water runoff from the Supercenter would affect wildlife in a nearby tributary of Elk Creek.
The original Wal-Mart store was built in 1992. The Del Norte Planning Commission approved the plans as submitted. The main item they asked the architect to do was a “slight redesign” that would add more wood and stonework to the fa??ade. The new design was then approved. Readers are urged to email David Finigan, the Chairman of the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors, at [email protected]ca.us with the following message: “Chairman Finigan, if you read the economic impact report for the proposed Wal-Mart expansion, you will see that $17.6 million in sales at the expanded supercenter will come from merchants already operating in Del-Norte — 93% of that from existing grocery stores. That’s roughly 2.6 times more than what this store will pull back from sales leaking out of the county. In addition to the serious environmental concerns that have been raised by the Crescent City Heritage Coalition, keep in mind the economics here. All you are doing is shifting market share to Wal-Mart, and giving them more control over your local retail market. You already have other Wal-Mart’s nearby. This is not economic development, this is economic displacement. I urge you to deny the EIR, and send it back to the Planning Commission for further review. It says in your EIR that a smaller store is environmentally preferable. Ask the Commission to focus on a smaller footprint for this store. Wal-Mart builds supercenters today at 99,000 s.f. They don’t need a 170,126 s.f. store in your county. Let them reformat what they’ve got into a supercenter — it’s already bigger than 1.5 football fields.”