Stockton City Council’s Vote on Wal-Mart Outlets is Positive Change of Direction

In what can be viewed only as a dramatic change of course, Stockton City Council members voted unanimously Tuesday to support a measure that would reject construction of a new Wal-Mart Supercenter in Weston Ranch.

It would prohibit retail stores that exceed 100,000 square feet and feature a full-scale grocery – except for club membership stores such as Costco. It’s a setback for Wal-Mart.

However, because the issue involves amending the city’s Development Code, it will be referred to the Stockton Planning Commission for consideration. Depending on what happens next, Wal-Mart executives, interested also in a site at Spanos Park West that currently is in litigation, might choose to keep pursuing their plans for Stockton.

Executives of the Bentonville, Ark.-based retail giant already are contesting a court ruling that city planners failed to review adequately the environmental-impact report for the planned Spanos Park outlet. Valley lawsuits from Lodi to Bakersfield have halted plans for Wal-Mart Supercenters, which feature low prices and cause many community leaders to fear they will damage small businesses.

They have to weigh potentially high sales-tax revenues against the negative economic impact on those businesses. A 226,868-square-foot Supercenter has been proposed at Lower Sacramento Road and Kettleman Lane in Lodi. A court has ordered that flaws in the environmental-impact study must be addressed before the proposal is considered again by the Lodi City Council.

One thing is certain. Wal-Mart isn’t the economic force the Valley needs. “Wal-Mart brings in low-paying jobs without benefits and drives out high-paying jobs with benefits,” Stockton attorney Steve Herum said during a Jan. 19 public-policy speech at University of California, Los Angeles. Herum said this reality advances the Central Valley’s polarization from the rest of California.

The Stockton City Council’s decision was a courageous departure from the past, indicating council members would prefer a different direction for the city.

Though Wal-Mart executives’ penchant for lawsuits and the vast resources they possess are a potential threat, City Council members get credit for considering the city’s character, history, business climate and emphasis on neighborhoods.

Councilwoman Rebecca Nabors and her colleagues contend that south Stockton residents need and want more convenient retail outlets. We agree. They remain committed to commercial development planned near Interstate 5 and French Camp Road and should develop incentives to attract retail businesses other than Wal-Mart, which some residents fear will generate problems with traffic and crime.
This isn’t a debate about whether Stockton (and San Joaquin County) can support two or even three of these Supercenters. It’s about whether residents – and the area’s future plans – really need more than one of them.

Big Business

The Wal-Mart Supercenter on Stockton’s Hammer Lane, which includes a full-size grocery operation, has 800 employees, drew 11 million shoppers and made $156 million in gross sales in 2006, according to manager Jim Groh. It’s the only Supercenter in San Joaquin County.