Fresno Bee
By Brian Joseph

December 22, 2005

Wal-Mart Withdraws its Application for Elk Grove Supercenter.

Bowing to public pressure, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and developer Angelo G. Tsakopoulos announced Wednesday afternoon they are withdrawing their application with the city of Elk Grove to build a supercenter at Sheldon and Power Inn roads.

Their decision comes after three months of intense public protest over the proposed site, which many area residents said was inappropriate because it is in a predominantly residential neighborhood.

“It got too hot for them,” said Councilman Jim Cooper, one of two council members to come out publicly against the proposal.

Wal-Mart spokesman Kevin Loscotoff said the corporation remains interested in Elk Grove.

Tsakopoulos said he will now look for a grocery store to move into the site but said he didn’t know how long it would take to find an interested tenant.

Tsakopoulos, of Tsakopoulos Investments and the nephew of Angelo K. Tsakopoulos, said he was disappointed the application was being withdrawn, but he said he made the decision because he felt it would be better than drawing the city of Elk Grove into a protracted, bitter fight.

Though both he and Loscotoff maintained that the project site was zoned appropriately for a Wal-Mart supercenter, Tsakopoulos said that “sometimes, the smart thing to do is shake hands and walk away.”

The withdrawal comes two days after a San Joaquin County judge ruled the city of Lodi’s approval of a supercenter is invalid because the environmental impact report did not take into account energy consumption and the impact of other nearby Wal-Mart stores.

Wal-Mart, headquartered in Bentonville, Ark., has 1.6 million employees and 6,100 stores worldwide, including 1,700 U.S. supercenters. Only a handful of the supercenters are in California, including one in Stockton. Supercenters are proposed for West Sacramento and Galt, and stores are being built in Antelope and Roseville. Store proposals by Wal-Mart have generated community outcry nationally, often focusing on the company’s business practices and their effects on other retailers. Earlier this year, residents in a Dallas neighborhood battled a supercenter proposal
and a Palm Springs group fought the opening of a supercenter there for nearly two years.

Many times, Wal-Mart wins the battles. In November, the Dallas City Council voted overwhelmingly in favor of the project, according to the Dallas Morning News, and the Palm Springs supercenter opened in October.

Opposition began brewing against the Elk Grove proposal almost immediately after Tsakopoulos and Wal-Mart announced the project in mid-September, but focused on the location, not business practices. Residents formed a group called Elk Grove Coalition Advocating Proper Planning, or EGCAPP, which circulated a petition calling for Wal-Mart to drop the site.

“It (would have been) an example of poor planning, the worst planning,” said Lupe Arroyo, who lives just west of the site.

Cooper and Councilwoman Sophia Scherman spoke out against the site. The three other council members said they would wait for an environmental impact report before deciding.

Comments after Wednesday’s announcement indicate some of those council members weren’t pleased with the project, either.

“This is probably not the best location,” said Councilman Mike Leary, who lives within a half-mile of the site.

“As the community opposition mounted, it became obvious there might be concerns,” said Councilman Rick Soares.

Mayor Dan Briggs declined to comment, saying the issue was moot.

Betsy Fiske, spokeswoman for Lodi First, has been fighting the Wal-Mart supercenter proposal in Lodi, 22 miles south of Elk Grove, for more than a year. She said there is a Wal-Mart near the proposed site and the Stockton supercenter is a 15-minute drive from her home.

Lodi First’s fight included a 2004 initiative that would have restricted the construction of large commercial buildings. That initiative failed with less than 50 percent of the vote, Fiske said. The group then hired Steve Herum, an attorney who had success in Southern California blocking other Wal-Mart supercenters.

Wal-Mart and the city of Lodi can redo the environmental report or appeal the decision of San Joaquin Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Humphrey. It was not clear Wednesday how the company and the city will respond.

Loscotoff said the company’s decision to pull out of the Elk Grove site shows Wal- Mart’s willingness to be a good neighbor.

“In meeting and talking with a number of community leaders, elected officials and local residents, we came to that decision (to withdraw). We’ve always been committed to local communities and having a positive relationship with them,” Loscotoff said. “Our company is really stepping up and doing the right thing.”

Elected officials, Tsakopoulos and Loscotoff all said the decision to withdraw the application was made over the course of the last several days.

Steve Detrick, leader of EGCAPP, said the organization does not oppose the idea of a second Wal-Mart in Elk Grove, but will be vigilant.

“We will be watching where they will be proposing as we would for any project,” he said.

Councilman Cooper said Wednesday he is opposed to any supercenter coming to town.

“To me, all this was just a shot across the bow,” Cooper said of Wal-Mart’s application and subsequent withdrawal. “Wal-Mart, they’ve turned the ship. But this isn’t over by any means.”