The Record – Business Section
August 18, 2007
Attempt to build Supercenter is nearly 5 years old.
LODI – Wal-Mart representatives, worried they may have to provide aid to Lodi’s downtown and help preserve local farmland in order to build a Supercenter here, have quietly stepped up lobbying the city’s elected officials this month.
The mega-retailer recently sent its people to City Hall for one-on-one meetings with individual City Council members in anticipation of again running the long-stalled project through the bureaucratic gauntlet, council members said.
The move comes as the discount chain continues to meet fierce resistance in the communities it wants to develop, including Stockton and Tracy.
“They had some very significant concerns,” Mayor Pro Tem JoAnne Mounce said. “I have no sympathy.”
It has been a nearly five-year ordeal to bring a 226,868-square-foot Supercenter to Lodi’s west side, at the corner of Kettleman Lane and Lower Sacramento Road. The City Council in 2005 approved the project, but a San Joaquin County Superior Court judge overturned the decision, ruling parts of a study of the shopping center’s environmental effects were insufficient.
A new environmental analysis could be ready in the next couple of months, City Manager Blair King said, which would push the entire project closer to consideration by the City Council.
In the meantime, the city manager has proposed at least one new requirement for Wal-Mart: that it pay the same fees – potentially as much as $1 million – as the city will impose on other big-box development to keep downtown Lodi healthy.
And City Council members said there is also preliminary talk of also requiring Wal-Mart to help preserve farmland it may displace, a condition now becoming the norm in large-scale Lodi development projects.
Those possible conditions concern the retailer and are why it is appealing to Lodi’s elected leaders before the project again hits the dais, council members said.
“Historically, Wal-Mart’s policy is to avoid paying public costs of their projects,” said Steve Herum, the Stockton attorney who fought Lodi’s previous Supercenter approval.
Wal-Mart representatives could not be reached for comment.
Because other future housing and commercial developments, including the massive Reynolds Ranch project at Highway 99 and Harney Lane, have agreed to similar conditions, Mounce said she is unlikely to cut Wal-Mart any slack.
“Everybody plays by the same rules,” she said.
But given the Wal-Mart saga has been so drawn-out, Mayor Bob Johnson said he’s not sure if it would be appropriate to add new rules to the game.
“I’m questioning the fairness of retroactively insisting on stuff,” he said.
Herum said Wal-Mart may not have much ground to challenge any new requirements on its development, because the 2005 court decision wiped out the city’s original approval.
“They have no vested right as to what the city may have discussed with them several years ago,” he said.
Lodi’s Wal-Mart Timeline
• September 2002: Developer Darryl Browman submits plans to the city for a new shopping center at the corner of Lower Sacramento Road and Kettleman Lane, later learned to be anchored by a Wal-Mart Supercenter.
• February 2004: Lodi’s Planning Commission rejects a size cap on new retail stores but adopts guidelines to make future big-box stores more aesthetically pleasing.
• November 2004: Voters defeat a grass-roots group’s anti-big-box ballot initiative, Measure R, which would have limited the size of retail stores to 125,000 square feet.
• February 2005: Lodi’s City Council approves the Supercenter project on a 3-1 vote.
• March 2005: Stockton attorney Steve Herum, on behalf of the group Lodi First, sues the city, Wal-Mart and Browman to stop the project.
• December 2005: San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Humphreys overturns Lodi’s approval of the Supercenter, calling a study of the shopping center’s environmental effects “legally defective.”
• May 2006: The City Council rescinds its first approval of the Supercenter and calls for a new environmental impact report of the project.
• February 2007: City Manager Blair King says he wants Wal-Mart and Browman to agree to pay fees, possibly as much as $1 million, to keep Lodi’s downtown healthy.