Time to weigh in on Wal-Mart

Heather Schlaff has been a Chico resident and community activist for 12 years and member of Chico Advocates for a Responsible Environment (CARE) chicocares@ hotmail.com

Wal-Mart has big plans for California. Forty Wal-Mart Supercenters are proposed for the state within the next four years. Chico is part of that plan. On Feb. 19 the public will have the opportunity to weigh in on the issue. The Chico Planning Commission will be deciding whether to approve a proposal to expand the existing Wal-Mart by 90,000+ square feet. The resulting Wal-Mart Supercenter will be over 200,000 square feet and include a full-size grocery store.

The Planning Commission’s public hearing will be held on Thursday, Feb. 19 at 6:30 p.m. in the City Council Chambers. Everyone concerned with responsible growth and the quality of our environment should attend the hearing and urge the Planning Commission to do a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR) to assess the true impact of this huge project.

As it stands now, city officials are requiring only a cursory environmental review of the project under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). I think everyone can agree that adding 90,000 square feet of retail space can have an enormous impact on Chico. CEQA’s intent is to provide decision makers like the Planning Commission with all relevant information about the environmental impacts of a project. Traffic, air pollution and other environmental impacts are essential items to be studied before city officials make any decision.

The EIR process would also give city officials the opportunity to assess the impact of a larger Wal-Mart on Chico’s business community to ensure an expanded store does not result in closure of local businesses and shopping centers. I don’t believe anyone wants to see empty storefronts and abandoned retail plazas in Chico.

Enough is enough. Wal-Mart already exists in Chico. No one will be deprived of the opportunity to shop at Wal-Mart if this project is not approved. Grocery stores abound in Chico, from discount chains to specialty stores and all types in between. Where is the need for another large grocer?

Do we want a corporation like Wal-Mart to have an even larger presence in Chico? Their track record in regard to wages, quality of benefits, treatment of employees, environmental issues and labor practices is not good. I do not believe Wal-Mart is the kind of corporate citizen we should seek to attract to our community.

We see no reason to approve this project prior to an in-depth study that takes full advantage CEQA’s EIR process. To do otherwise is to open the door to erosion of the character of Chico, and to ignore the need for responsible growth.