Head over heart

How we think the City Council should approach the Walmart appeal

Walmart. The very name evokes strong emotions for many Chicoans. With its push for low prices at all costs, the retail giant is revered in some quarters as a saving grace in recessionary times and reviled in others as the embodiment of ruthless, expansionist capitalism.

Under several editors in the past, this paper has editorialized against Walmart. But when it comes to the latest chapter in the company’s controversial Chico saga, what we think of the company is really beside the point.

At issue is whether the Forest Avenue store can expand by adding a discount grocery component. City planners support the project, but the Planning Commission voted 5-2 to reject Walmart’s environmental-impact report, thereby halting the conversion to a so-called “supercenter.”

On Monday (Aug. 31), Walmart appealed the July 30 decision. In its appeal, the company asserts that the EIR sufficiently addresses concerns about traffic, air quality and impacts on “urban decay.”

Now it’s up to the City Council to determine the viability of Walmart’s plan. The deliberation is bound to be contentious, punctuated with passionate speeches from citizens on both sides. The Planning Commission hearing drew so many public speakers that it stretched over three sessions.

We hope that, after all the emotional pleas, council members will think with their heads, not their hearts. Whether they view Walmart with love, hate or indifference, the matter at hand is a development permit. In that regard, we encourage the council to consider the following:

• Will a bigger Walmart bring enough benefit to the city to justify overriding considerations for the adverse effect on air quality that even the retailer acknowledges it will make?

• Are its pollution-mitigation efforts adequate? (Will Walmart, for instance, put money into the Air Quality Management District’s offset fund? How much?)

• Are its plans to mitigate traffic congestion sufficiently extensive?

• Sorting through conflicting analyses, what’s the most credible assessment of the impact a supercenter would have on other discount grocers?

Stick to the pertinent points. Uphold or deny the appeal on its merits. Go beyond that, and Chico runs the risk of a lengthy court battle with an uncertain outcome. That’s the last thing our cash-strapped city needs just now. On this, we’re sure Walmart fans and foes alike can agree.