On February 3, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart wanted to build a 28,500 s.f. addition to its 125,500 s.f. discount store on University Drive in Vista, California. There are already five Wal-Marts within 8 miles of Vista, a city of 94,500 people. City officials got a letter from the law firm of Latham & Watkins, charging that Vista failed to sufficiently study the environmental impacts that the store expansion would create. Wal-Mart argues that Vista approved the expansion plan two decades ago, and the giant retailer has finally decided to proceed. “What is clear is that the store is pre-entitled for groceries,” a Wal-Mart spokesman told the newspaper. “And we’re going to process the application with the city as quickly and expeditiously as possible.” City officials in Vista were only too willing to oblige. Vista planning staff gave a green light to the project, saying that the original Wal-Mart discount store in the early 1990s included approval to grow the store. In August of 2007, Latham & Watkins, plus one of the city’s Planning Commissioners, appealed the staff decision, and forced the project to go to a Planning Commission hearing. The law firm alleges that the staff approval had “procedural and substantive defects,” and that Wal-Mart should be required to file a new environmental impact study. The law firm’s letter forced city staff to postpone the Commission hearing, to give them time to study and respond to the legal issues. A Wal-Mart spokesman complained that the legal objections being raised were just “delay tactics.” “This process that we’re in, we really shouldn’t even be here at this point,” the retailer’s spokesman said. “We fully expect to gain all of our approvals to get this store expanded so our customers can enjoy the benefits of what a Superstore brings. We still are under the impression that we’re going to meet a timetable of getting this store expanded in 2009,” the Wal-Mart spokesman told the North County Times. In February, Latham & Watkins filed an appeal from the Vista Planning Commission’s decision to allow the Wal-expansion on University Drive. The expansion then headed to the Vista City Council, which the newspaper said “appears likely” to approve Wal-Mart’s plans. This week, that prediction came true. The Vista City Council unanimously approved the project. Mayor Morris Vance said the Wal-Mart will generate sales tax revenue, and his constituents want it. “It was a no-brainer as far as we were concerned and as far as the community was concerned too,” the Mayor said.
The Mayor had harsh words for the person who has hired Latham & Watkins to appeal the city’s decisions. “I like to call him a phantom client of a law firm that has presented us with a boiler plate of lawsuits that they present whenever Wal-Mart’s name is mentioned,” the Mayor said. The media has reported that Latham & Watkins is representing a Vista resident name Isidro Zamora. Wal-Mart told the media that “special interest groups” were backing Zamora. Wal-Mart’s spokesman told the North County Times that these special interests were “interfering with these families’ freedom to shop where they want and to buy groceries at a low price. Given the state of the economy, you’d think their actions would be in support of working families who are just trying to stretch their dollar.” Wal-Mart implies that there is some kind of constitutionally-protected “right to shop,” when in fact opposing a Wal-Mart expansion is the exercise of a citizen’s First Amendment right to petition government. In Wal-Mart’s opinion, the “right to shop” is part of the Bill of Rights, and opposing a company that destroys other businesses is not protecting the right to shop at other businesses. Readers are urged to email Vista Mayor Vance at [email protected] Tell the Mayor: “You said in your State of the City Address last year that ‘A major focus on our Economic Development efforts is to help local companies grow and expand in Vista.’ Do you consider Wal-Mart a local company? Do you think allowing them to add on a grocery store on University Drive is going to help local merchants? You say your residents have plenty of discretionary income to attract new retail chains — but what has happened to your local merchants? Does Vista want to attract more low wage jobs? You said granting them the expansion was a no-brainer. That’s probably true, because anyone with half a brain would have seen through Wal-Mart’s phony jobs and revenue argument. Let’s hope Isidro Zamora keeps exercising his First Amendment legal rights.”