Impact reports up for debate
Draft environmental-impact reports on two proposed Wal-Marts up for debate
There was clapping, cheering and even a little booing in Chico City Council chambers Tuesday night (Jan. 30). The issue at hand was the adequacy of draft environmental-impact reports on two proposed Wal-Mart Supercenters—and it was enough to rile up a couple hundred people.
The standing-room-only crowd spilled out into the hallway. The majority was made up of people against the expansion of Wal-Mart in Chico, but speckled throughout were those proudly wearing yellow smiley faces.
The goal of the evening was to identify flaws in the DEIRs for the proposed expansion of the existing Wal-Mart on Forest Avenue and the development of a brand-new Supercenter in north Chico. Senior Planner Patrick Murphy led the public hearing, and, despite the passion in the room, only a few speakers strayed off topic—the merits of the projects will be saved for a future hearing—and had to be reined in.
“The cumulative impact on business is inadequate,” one Chicoan said from the podium set up in the front of the room. “There needs to be a health-risk assessment due to the air-quality impacts,” said another. “Increased traffic would make it unsafe for kids walking or biking to Shasta Elementary.” “Wal-Mart allows camping [in its parking lots]—campers cause problems.”
About two dozen people took their turns addressing Murphy and fellow Senior Planner Brendan Vieg—first on the north site, then on the south. Traffic was the star topic of the evening, for both sites, with the economy coming in a close second. Many of the speakers felt the DEIRs did not take a thorough enough look at what impact traffic would have on pedestrians and bikers. Some said the reports didn’t adequately assess the effect two Wal-Marts would have on specific businesses, nor did it take into account other Wal-Marts in close proximity to Chico.
Wal-Mart proponents, many of them employees at the Forest Avenue store, also stood up and made their case—which in most instances was merely, “The reports look good, let’s go forward.” One proponent brought in an addendum to a separate economic report, by Philip King, which had been submitted to Murphy by Chico Advocates for a Responsible Economy. The addendum included photographs to counteract claims made by King that a Wal-Mart Supercenter in Stockton had created urban blight.
“I spent many years in European retailing, and I supported big chains like Wal-Mart,” one of the speakers, Alan Gair, said after the hearing. “Now I’m here in this small community that is about to allow itself to be destroyed by this Goliath. I suppose I’m attempting to be David by throwing a few stones in the right direction.”
“For the EIR to say that Wal-Mart will have no effect on businesses is just a lie,” Gair added. “Wal-Mart is marvelously successful—but it is not a gentle giant.”