Oh, lord, stuck in Lodi again. That’s got to be Wal-Mart’s song after five years of spinning its wheels in Lodi, California. On February 16, 2007, Sprawl-Busters reported that a San Joaquin County judge had overturned the city of Lodi’s approval of a Wal-Mart Supercenter. The judge ruled that the company’s environmental impact report (EIR) failed to take into account the impact of other Wal-Mart stores and energy consumption. In response to a lawsuit filed by Attorney Steve Herum and the group Lodi First in March, 2005, the judge ruled that the city’s EIR left out how the new supercenter would affect Lodi, given the fact that there are already two other Wal-Mart supercenters nearby. This Wal-Mart project was originally proposed in September of 2002, and was not approved until February of 2005 on a 3-1 vote of the City Council. After the judge’s ruling, Lodi officials decided to charge Wal-Mart and its developer, Darryl Browman, a ‘big box’ development fee, which would run $4.50 per square foot, to offset losses that downtown businesses could face if the 226,868 s.f. supercenter opens. A number of neighboring communities, like Stockton, Galt and Elk Grove have all voted to limit the size of superstores. Stockton voted this week to ban superstores larger than 100,000 sf. with major grocery store square footage. Lodi has resisted putting a cap on store size, because voters there rejected Measure R, a 125,000 s.f. cap in November of 2004. Instead, the city will decide in September whether or not to permit the new Wal-Mart supercenter to be built right across the street from an existing Wal-Mart, which would close. “We had a vote,” Mayor Bob Johnson told the Lodi News-Sentinel. “Am I supposed to second guess the citizenry?” Wal-Mart’s consultants are now working on the additional studies required by the judge, and the city may review the reports as soon as next week, and hold a public hearing shortly thereafter. The city’s “downtown impact fee” at $4.50 per square foot, would generate just over $1 million. Officials say this money would be used for new business loans, employee training, and other programs to help downtown businesses. Wal-Mart would also be required to compensate for the loss of agricultural land. City planners have suggested a “one-for-one ag easement” plan, in which Wal-Mart would have to preserve one acre of agricultural land for one acre of land converted to commercial use.
In response to these fee discussions, The Record newspaper says that Wal-Mart has been stepping up its visibility efforts in Lodi, meeting individually with City Council members,
The Record newspaper described Wal-Mart’s effort to build a superstore in Lodi as “a nearly five year ordeal.” Wal-Mart got the green light in 2005, but because of the dogged effort of Lodi First, the stores plans were found “legally deficient,” and now the city is proposing the “impact fee” and agricultural preservation — two new stipulations Wal-Mart had not counted on. “Historically, Wal-Mart’s policy is to avoid paying public costs of their projects,” said Steve Herum, the attorney who brought Lodi First’s case to court. City officials say the impact fee and agricultural preservation are measures they have already imposed on other commercial projects. “Everybody plays by the same rules,” one Councilor said. But Mayor Johnson is not sure he wants to impose these rules on Wal-Mart. “I’m questioning the fairness of retroactively insisting on stuff,” the Mayor told the Record. Lodi First says the restrictions are not retroactive, because the court ruling denied the city’s approval, so Wal-Mart is back to square one. After five years, the giant retailer has little to show for the time and money it has spent while stuck in Lodi again. Readers are urged to contact Lodi Mayor Bob Johnson at 333-6800 x 9284 or email him at: [email protected] Tell the Mayor, “You’ve got a Wal-Mart already, and putting a larger one across the street will leave you with a dead discount store, and one or two closed grocery stores. The impact fee idea is fine — but why not avoid the impact in the first place, and look for real economic development and better paying jobs instead?”