Open one, close one. It’s a zero sum game at Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart officials will be paying a visit to the city of Redlands, California today. The giant retailer is scheduled to meet this afternoon with members of the city’s Planning commission to present plans for a 215,000 superstore on the north side of the city. Roughly 46 acres near San Bernardino Avenue and Tennessee Street is slated for the project, which would include the supercenter, plus 9 other parcels for retail space. The 2 pm meeting today is just the first meeting on the project, so no final decisions will be cast. The ultimate vote will have to be taken by the Redlands City Council, following the recommendation of the Planning Commission. The Wal-Mart store requires a conditional use permit. There will have to be a economic impact report done, as well as an environmental impact report. More than a year ago, in anticipation of big box applications, the City Council and the Planning Commission passed ordinances that requires projects larger than 75,000 s.f. to be approved by the Commission and the Council. But the project also needs to gather the support of the residents of Redlands, and an opposition group has formed to block this huge project from ever happening. According to the Redlands Daily Facts, Wal-Mart will have to contend with a group called The Good Neighbor Coalition. Last July, this coalition presented a voter initiative to stop big box stores from coming to Redlands. “We’re concerned about the effect on local grocery stores,” coalition member Dianne Landeros told the newspaper when the ballot question was formed. “The Super Wal-Mart could have a really devastating effect on them.” Redlands has Vons and State Brothers grocery stores, both of which could suffer significant loss of sales if another large grocery store opens. In California, where sales tax revenues are kept locally, cities and towns fight with one another over sales revenues, as the main way to pay for local government services. This has created what is known as ‘cash box zoning’ that welcomes malls and big box stores for their revenue, rather than their land use impacts, or need in the first place. The city says its hurting for revenue, and has a city budget with almost a $3 million deficit. Unfortunately, a bigger Wal-Mart is not the answer for Redlands.
Redlands is 60 miles northeast of Los Angeles. The city promotes its historic downtown district, and its “great atmosphere.” In 1990, the population of Redlands was 60,394. By 2007, the population had increased to 69,941. There is room for additional retail growth in Redlands because the consumer pie is growing. The problem with the Redlands market is that Wal-Mart is already here. The retailer has a discount store on West Redlands Boulevard, close to the site of the proposed superstore. This means that most of the sales at the proposed superstore are already located at the Wal-Mart discount store, and the marginal difference between the two stores will come largely from existing merchants. The net impact on revenues to Redlands will be negligible. When the superstore opens, Wal-Mart will close their discount store, leaving an empty ‘dark store’ for the city to fill. This could take years to accomplish. In the interim, the store deteriorates, and becomes blighted, hurting other property near it. Redlands would do better to reformat its existing Wal-Mart store, rather than allowing a totally new site. The economic impact study done for this project — if it is done by a consultant hired by the city, underwritten by Wal-Mart — will show only a marginal gain in revenues, and even potential losses. Wal-Mart will not admit the fate of its old store, but California and other states are littered with hundreds of dead Wal-Mart stores that were 20 years old, or less. These stores did not last beyond their usefulness to the company as profit-centers — they were shut down because Wal-Mart found that supercenters were more profitable because groceries bring people back to the store more often than clothing or household items. The fact is, there are currently 12 Wal-Mart stores within 20 miles of Redlands. Only one of them is a superstore. Over the next few years Wal-Mart will either expand or shut down most of these discount stores, so what Redlands is experiencing now, will become a shared experience in cities like Highland, Colton, Moreno Valley, Riverside, Rialto, San Bernadino, Fontana — and all the neighboring communities that have Wal-Mart discount stores. This trade area is saturated with Wal-Mart stores, and the move to supercenters will only displace other grocery stores — not provide any major sales tax bounce to desperate cities and towns. Readers are urged to email Jon Harrison, the Mayor of Redlands at: [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Mayor Harrison, You have served as a Senior Consultant for the Environmental Systems Research Institute. You know that large scale, automobile oriented developments are just not sustainable in the long term. Redlands has a revenue problem, and the city council has acted responsibly to create a balanced budget for the city. But encouraging further sprawl, like a larger Wal-Mart supercenter, adds no value to your city. The ‘old’ Wal-Mart on West Redlands Boulevard will be shut down if a supercenter ever opens. The superstore will largely draw its sales from existing grocery stores. In effect, Redlands will have wasted 46 acres of land for another retailer, with added burdens of traffic and crime at a time when the city is reducing its public safety budget. A bigger Wal-Mart is not the answer to Redlands’ economic woes. The City Council should encourage Wal-Mart to reformat its existing store in Redlands into a supercenter, rather than using a completely new site to replace an existing store. The retailer has supercenters that are no bigger than the size of your existing discount store. This is not economic development, its economic displacement. The question for Redlands is not how big you grow, but how you grow big.”