It was an early trick or treat for Wal-Mart last night in Atascadero, California, but the giant retailer left without the candy. The City Council in Atascadero turned Wal-Mart’s coach into a pumpkin. After an hour and a half of discussion, the City Council voted 4-1 to require city staff to file away the retailer’s proposal to construct a 195,000 s.f. store on Del Rio Road. Sprawl-Busters first wrote about this super-battle in Atascadero on July 6, 2006. We reported that Wal-Mart had purchased 26 acres for a superstore, as part of a larger project submitted by the developer, The Rottman Group. This proposed store would have been the first Wal-Mart superstore on California’s Central Coast — a beautiful rural area often called the Middle Kingdom. The Rottman plan totals 335,000 s.f., a scale considered by many to be far too large for the city. In an attempt to sway public opinion, Wal-Mart released a “survey” last August written and paid for by Wal-Mart and the developer, which said that 56% of the 301 voters polled wanted a Wal-Mart, 38% did not. From the outset, this project stirred up controversy, so much so that the developer described its project with this very defensive plea: “We recognize that there are many issues surrounding the possible location of a Wal-Mart in Atascadero. We are not ignoring public comment, but are asking residents to give Wal-Mart a chance to introduce itself, correct misconceptions and make a case for why it will benefit Atascadero.” Last night, however, Wal-Mart lost its chance. Atascadero Mayor George Luna said he was concerned that the Wal-Mart building exceeded the 150,000-s.f. limit contained in the city’s General Plan, which governs land use. The Mayor said that continuing the review process at this time would only prolong the inevitable defeat of the proposal. “I don’t see the reason getting more information on a store I would never vote for,” the Mayor told the San Luis Obispo Tribune News. The Council’s vote last night followed a lengthy hearing last week in which the council ultimately voted to delay their vote until October 29th. After the vote, a Wal-Mart spokesman told a TV interviewer, “This is clearly delay tactics that we have seen for the last 10 months. We are committed to our Central Coast customers in serving their needs. We will have to evaluate whether that will be in Atascadero or elsewhere.” The company told the newspaper, “We need to evaluate whether (the city) is working as openly with us as we are with them.”
Residents who fought Wal-Mart were open with their reaction. Tom Comer, a spokesperson for Oppose Wal-Mart, sent the following press release to Sprawl-Busters: “Tonight’s City Council’s decision not to process the Wal-Mart/Rottman General Plan and zoning amendments is a courageous and diligent act. The Smart Growth principles of the General Plan were upheld. The unique character, the rural atmosphere and environment of Atascadero was protected. The citizens of Atascadero can be proud that the democratic process was not usurped by corporate democracy and that playing by the rules is heralded as the right thing to do. Oppose Wal-Mart believes the City Council has acted in the best interests of the entire community.” But Comar warned the project has not yet turned into a pumpkin. Wal-Mart and Rottman have invested a large amount of money into Atasacdero, and are likely to regroup. “It’s not a victory,” Comar told the Tribune News. “It’s a success.” For more background on this Atascadero success, contact Oppose Wal-Mart at www.opposewalmart.com.