Wal-mart Supercenter debate
Large crowd shares opinions with Lodi City Council
By Maggie Creamer
News-Sentinel Staff Writer Updated: Thursday, December 11, 2008 12:24 PM PST
More than 200 people showed up to share their opinions about a new Wal-Mart Supercenter with the Lodi City Council on Wednesday. Some waited up to three hours in the cold.
At press time, the council had not made a decision about whether the project can move forward or if the environmental report needs more work.
The special session was solely to address the developer and Wal-Mart’s request to overturn the Planning Commission’s decision to reject the Final Revised Environmental Impact Report.
A part-time Wal-Mart employee waited more than four hours to address the council about his desire to see a Wal-Mart Supercenter in the Lodi area.
The employee, Don Aguillard, said before the meeting that the company would be a benefit to the community and has diverse employees.
“The larger you are, the more challenges there are,” he said. “And Wal-Mart is trying to do its best.”
While waiting outside, Teri Navarro said she didn’t plan to speak but wanted to show she was against Wal-Mart because she is concerned for her job. Navarro, a manager at Food-4-Less, said Wal-Mart does not provide for its employees.
“Our job offers good pay, 401(k), benefits and respects its employees,” she said.
Even though people attended the meeting for a variety of reasons, the council’s focus was specifically related to the environmental impact report. The Planning Commission voted in October to reject the report Wal-Mart and developer Browman Development submitted.
Regardless of the council’s decision, it is only one step in the process.
If the council sustains the commission’s decision and rejects the report, Wal-Mart and Browman Development would then have an opportunity to correct the flaw or flaws in the report, spokesman Jeff Hood said. But if the council overturns the decision and approves the report, the Planning Commission still has to review remaining elements of the environmental report. These elements include an application to sell alcoholic beverages, a map of the project and architectural plans.
After reading the environmental report three times, citizen Jennifer Bond said it is important to not get distracted by the testimony about what the company does for a community because the meeting is about whether the report is sufficient. She said it was insufficient and vague.
Resident Betty Peters said she has been in Lodi for 18 years and that the lot has always been vacant.
“If Wal-Mart doesn’t go in there, nobody’s going to want to go in there because of the hassle you have made about that lot,” she said. “It’s urban blight.”
Project developer Darryl Browman said the environmental impact report is sufficient and the council should let the project continue.
Brett Jolley, an attorney opposing the project, said the council should reject the project because the environmental report does not address all the problems of urban blight.
After one Wal-Mart employee spoke, Councilwoman Susan Hitchcock asked if the employees were being paid to attend the meeting.
“Why in the world do we want to put a warehouse in between here and I-5? We are maxed out on roads … if we push it over the top, we are shortchanging ourselves in the long run.”
Rick Cropper, Lodian
“When a retailer wants to expand in your community, you want to embrace that.”
Vic de Melo, vice president of Browman Development Co.
“Ideally, we’d like to see this battle fought not in the City Council chamber, but outside in the free market.”
Pat Patrick, president/CEO Lodi Chamber of Commerce
“I’ve been in Lodi for 20 years and been just fine without a super Wal-Mart.”
Teresa Robles, cashier at Food-4-Less Rancho San Miguel
“Having a Wal-Mart adds prestige to the community that shows it is a forward looking community rather than a backward looking community.”
Ken Ginoulis, Lodian
Later in the meeting, Tim Jacobsen, district manager of 13 Wal-Marts in the region, said the company was complying with state law by paying its employees for attending the meeting. He said any time an employee acts on behalf of the company, they are paid.
Before the meeting started, Jolley raised the question of whether the meeting should be moved to another location because of the large number of people waiting outside. The city restricted the number of people in the council chambers and the overflow areas setup in Carnegie Forum because of building capacity issues.
Mayor Larry Hansen said the city made every possible effort to accommodate all of the people who attended.
Hitchcock made a motion to reschedule the meeting on a different date at Hutchins Street Square, so everyone could be accommodated. The vote failed with Hitchcock and councilwoman JoAnne Mounce as the only two votes in favor.
While waiting outside in a coat, Mark Anaforian said he did not expect to have to stand outside during the meeting. He said the first-come, first-serve basis was not appropriate because not everyone has the same flexibility to get to meetings early.
“With my job, I was not able to come out at four or bring cookies,” Anaforian said, referencing cookies Wal-Mart supporters were handing out.
Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 12:24 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 11 to clarify the quote by Teresa Robles who said the city has done just fine without a Wal-Mart Supercenter.