Up against the Wal-Mart
Local economic activist group to screen exposé of negative effects of expanding retail giant
A group of local citizens calling itself the Chico Advocates for a Responsible Economy (C.A.R.E.) will screen the film Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price by director Robert Greenwald this Saturday, Nov. 19 at the Pageant Theatre. The screening is part of Wal-Mart Premiere Week during which the film will be shown at 7,000 locations across the country.
C.A.R.E was formed in response to the proposed expansion of the existing Chico Wal-Mart on Forest Avenue into a supercenter and the construction of a second Wal-Mart seven miles to the north between the Esplanade and the Sunset Hills Golf course.
Both projects are currently going through the environmental review process. The expansion for the Forest Avenue store hit a roadblock two years ago when the Planning Commission ordered a full-blown Environmental Impact Report. The giant retailer had hoped to sidestep that matter when it went through the public process of splitting the property.
Because the land was zoned commercial, Wal-Mart officials argued, there was nothing the city could do to stop the expansion.
Modesto attorney Bret Jolley, representing a local union-connected man, told the Planning Commission that the California Environmental Quality Act required the consideration of potential urban decay as a fall out of a new big box store be considered. Though that notion was more or less dismissed at the time by the local planning department, a ruling last December by a Bakersfield court confirmed that possible urban decay must be considered under CEQA.
According to senior planner Ed Palmeri, the proposed Wal-Mart should have its environmental documents ready for review by spring. The planning commission should get them soon after. The property, he said, remains in the ownership of the golf course.
Pat Murphy, also of the city planning department, said both Wal-Mart projects are the subject of traffic-impact studies. “We’re looking at both of them cumulatively,” Murphy said, as well as the two combined with existing traffic conditions in Chico. “We as city staff don’t expect a draft for public review for probably a couple of months.”
According to a press release from C.A.R.E. its members are “concerned about the impact two Wal-Mart supercenters will have on our local economy, traffic, environment and our quality of life in Chico.”
Heather Schlaff said she helped form C.A.R.E two years ago when she met attorney Jolley. The local group includes among its supporters the United Food & Commercial Workers union, and includes the Butte Environmental Council, the Esplanade League, the Butte Environmental Council, the university-based legal group CLIC and the Student Democrat Club and now has 200 people on its mailing list.
Considering the mighty financial clout of the Bentonville, Ark.-based company—it’s launched ballot measures to help get its stores into other cities in California—C.A.R.E. is facing an uphill battle. But Schlaff said the Bakersfield ruling has buoyed her optimism.
“Now I think we have a real chance to stop them,” she said.
In effect, the Bakersfield court ruled that because supercenters operate 24 hours per day, their increased impact relating to lights, noise, traffic and crime must be considered and that Bakersfield’s failure to disclose this proposed use is “not only misleading and inaccurate, but it hints at mendacity.”
For nearly a year the city of Chico was unable to announce the coming of Wal-Mart to the golf course location north of town, because a company out of Oregon called PacLand, represented the Arkansas-based mega-store. Wal-Mart’s name does not appear on any of the required applications.
The court ruling also says the local government agencies must consider possible “urban decay” impacts of supercenters. The court ruled that Bakersfield had dismissed such consideration as outside the scope of environmental review, Jolley said.
“When there is evidence suggesting that the economic and social effects caused by the proposed shopping center ultimately could result in urban decay or deterioration, then the lead agency is obligated to assess this indirect impact,” the court said.
Also this week two other anti-Wal-Mart organizations, Wal-Mart Watch and Sprawl-Busters reported obtaining a document that reports the huge big box giant plans 484 new store openings, including 164 supercenters, plus expansions and relocations for 2006.
“This is a fight against local communities falling victim to Wal-Mart’s too-aggressive and frequently dishonest tactics,” Andrew Grossman, executive director of Wal-Mart Watch, said in a statement. “This is also a fight to avoid the blight caused by abandoned discount stores resulting in at least 26 million square feet of wasted space nationwide. The days of Wal-Mart showing up, building up, but rarely paying up, are over.”
The Pageant’s doors will open at 2:30 Saturday afternoon and the movie will start at 3. A donation of $5 per person has been suggested.
Schlaff anticipates a possible pro-Wal-Mart lobbyist infiltration at the screening, as happened the last time her group held a public meeting. The debate on the merits and evils of the mega-store will have to wait for another day.
“We have to be out of the theater by 5,” she said.