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Is courtroom next stop in Wal-Mart fight?

By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A day after the Rohnert Park City Council gave the go ahead for the controversial expansion of Wal-Mart, divisions remained razor sharp over the proposed supercenter.

The Wal-Mart store in Rohnert Park.

The council late Thursday overturned — and sharply rebuked — an April vote by the city Planning Commission, which had unanimously rejected the application by Wal-Mart, the world’s biggest retailer, to add a grocery to its Redwood Drive store.

“The Planning Commission didn’t do their job and shame on them,” Councilman Joe Callinan said in supporting the supercenter near the end of a 5 ½-hour meeting that drew hundreds of people to City Hall.

The commission had worried about the effect on other Rohnert Park grocery stores and said the expansion would be inconsistent with a section of the city’s general plan that calls for encouraging supermarkets to be “close to where people live.”

But the council, in a 4-1 vote with Councilman Jake Mackenzie opposed, said the project’s benefits were greater than its potential negative impacts and the project was consistent with city land use policies.

“We need to uphold the law, we need to apply the law, and we need to allow this project to move forward. I believe that not to do so would be un-American,” said Councilwoman Amie Breeze.

Mayor Pam Stafford and Vice Mayor Gina Belforte also voted in favor, saying the law compelled them to approve the project and the store would boost the city’s economy.

In reacting to the decision, Rohnert Park residents and county labor leaders, as well as Wal-Mart’s own representatives, echoed the wide philosophical chasm evident at Thurday’s meeting.

John Borba, the Planning Commission chairman, said Friday, “I think they made the wrong decision.”

Responding to Callinan’s comment, he said, “Look, Joe’s my friend, and he’s a good guy, and he’s entitled to his opinion, but I completely disagree.”

Wal-Mart critics promised to continue their opposition.

“We have not seen the end of this by any means,” said Marty Bennett, co-chairman of the Living Wage Coalition, part of a loose coalition of groups that opposed the project.

A Wal-Mart spokeswoman said opponents trying to still block the project would be acting against the city’s best interests.

“It will be very unfortunate if special interests did delay the process even further,” said spokeswoman Angela Stoner. “They’ve planned for economic development in Rohnert Park, and they want the project to move forward as quickly as possible.”

Foes of a Wal-Mart planned for Roseland won a courtroom challenge of the Santa Rosa City Council’s approval of the store, leading the company to end its bid in 2009, five years after announcing its plans.

Opponents of the Rohnert Park expansion said legal action was being considered.

“All options are on the table, including a lawsuit, and what we’re going to be doing is huddling to decide on the next step,” Bennett said.

It will happen, Borba predicted.

“I fully expect someone will appeal the decision of the City Council to the Superior Court,” said Borba, who has said he will be a candidate for the council in November.

He said he would support such a lawsuit.

Mackenzie on Thursday said the environmental impact report prepared for the project did not show it would significantly increase sales tax revenues for the city, because groceries are not taxed, or provide a “diverse array of jobs to city residents,” as the general plan calls for.

Such benefits were among those the report cited as considerations that the council should take into account when deciding whether the project’s benefits would outweigh its potential negative impacts.

If the report does not include actual evidence of those benefits, Mackenzie said, opponents may be able to challenge the council’s decision in court.

“I personally believe that there are grounds for legal action to be taken in this matter,” he said.

Other responses to the council vote might include a push for a citizen referendum to overturn the decision or a campaign in November’s election to punish council members who voted for Wal-Mart, Bennett said.

Mayor Pam Stafford and Councilwoman Amie Breeze are up for re-election. Stafford has said she will run; Breeze has not yet announced.

Wal-Mart’s Stoner would not say whether the company expects or is preparing for a legal challenge.

While Wal-Mart had said it hoped to open the 32,000-square-foot grocery in 2012, Stoner was unwilling Thursday to confirm that.

“We will just have to wait and see if the opposition does delay us in starting the expansion,” she said.

Perhaps the only player in the Wal-Mart drama to have cleared its agenda is the city.

“The city has completed its work,” said Interim City Manager John Dunn. “There’s some more detailed plans to be prepared and submitted, but essentially the city has given its approval for proceeding.”





11 Responses to “Is courtroom next stop in Wal-Mart fight?”

  1. Charlie says:

    Greetings from Las Vegas, where we have Wal-Mart SuperCenters and smaller Wal-Mart Neighborhood Grocery stores all over the valley. Cookie cutter garbage on every corner. Its garbage, but its useful for diapers, tp, soda and laundry soap…that’s it.

    I grew up in Rohnert Park, and still have an very strong interest in what happens to what I still consider my family home.

    City Council and residents: let it happen, and let your wallet dictate market forces. Don’t let frightened business owners make decisions for you.

    RP City Council: Don’t cut WalMart any tax breaks.

    Remember how much of a stink Oliver’s Market helped stir up when Lucky was going to in on Old Red & St. Joseph Wy?

    If you want to think in a LIBERAL mindset, how many UNION JOBS were lost by squashing competition?

    If you want to think in a RIGHT WING mindset, what ever happened to the idea of a free market economy?

    For all these people that complain about WalMart being non-union and not talking about Whole Foods and Oliver’s in the same breath, I want to add something else. Those two outfits DO respect their employees and pay competitively and have health savings packages/benefits that far surpass the shadiness that WalMart perpetrates.

    How do I know?

    I worked for Steve Maass 20 years ago when he and Ruthie started Oliver’s and know that they were very aware of the Union thugs back then as I’m sure Steve and his staff is now that they’ve expanded. Where the union lost ground was, the Maass family treated the staff like family, with a respectable wage and top flight health care that the union just couldn’t match. Quality all the way around. The *antithesis* of WalMart. The people who are complaining the loudest over this are the union grocery stores because they are already stuck in collective bargaining agreements that keep their prices high and thus reduce quality in order to preserve notoriously onion-thin profit margins.

    Market forces already spoke in RP once this decade with Albertsons going bubbye. Who wanted to shop there when we could go to Raley’s, Roger Wilco, or Oliver’s and get better quality goods?

    Now that I live in the desert, the majority of choice is limited to Smith’s (Kroger), Von’s (Safeway), Albertson’s, Trader Joe’s, WalMart, and a very small number of Independents.

    The luxury you have in Sonoma County is ACCESS to a variety of options where Independent stores still exist and thrive. Want a good cut of meat? Go to Oliver’s, G&G, or Pacific, right? Want fresh produce? If Andy’s in Sebastopol is too far to go, you guys have killer farmers markets compared to the ones we have. Fresh bread? How many artisan style bakeries are scattered around the north bay? Here’s a hint: Wal Mart bakeries and deli counters are garbage, and the produce is not too hot. The meat is packed in super-sized family packs without a walk-up counter for special cuts.

    Union or not, the point I’m trying to stress is YOU HAVE A CHOICE and historically have shown to have not only discriminating palate, but also show loyalty to outlets that will provide quality over bottom dollar discounts.

    History shows your community will choose quality over price. Go ahead, let WalMart build the expansion, get the tax revenue, get SOME kind of jobs in place, but then when the time comes to buy something-remember your local friends.

    I think you people have more important things to think about-like that STUPID train project that nobody will ride. How much of it is being funded by public funds?

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  2. Brass Tacks says:

    Hear me now, believe me later.

    The flawed and harmful Wal-Mart decision will cost at least one current member of the council their seat come November. The remedy for bad political decisions is better politicians.

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  3. Beef King says:

    I’m with ronaldo and Zuma.
    Local citizens WANT the store.
    Out of town union thugs are paid to agitate and get in the way until they get a payoff.
    They have no basis for a suit, and no court should offer these local and out of town thugs to waste our taxpayer dollars with frivolous lawsuits.
    It would be great if the citizens of Rohnert Park would sue the ADC and it’s shadowy supporters for damages equal to the money they didn’t save by having to shop at the stores the local unions are supporting.
    Where is their lawsuit against the non union Whole Foods Market going in to Coddingtown?
    Martin Bennet and the ADC bunch are hypocrites at best and dangerous to our local economy at their worst.

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  4. Zuma says:

    Most of those protesting at the city hall meeting managed to drive there in their Toyotas, Hondas, Kias, Hyundais, VWs etc just to show their support for local american car makers.

    Why are registrations in this county reflecting an overwhelming majority of foreign made cars!

    Or did the LA unions send them here just as they sent the protesters to Phoenix?

    Thumb up 11 Thumb down 10

  5. Zuma says:

    I understand that all those who protested the decision at city hall all drove their in their Japanese, Korean, and German cars!

    I guess they want to support local and home grown businesses !

    Thumb up 11 Thumb down 9

  6. ronaldo says:

    I HOPE THAT NO ONE DOES ANYTHING TO DELAY WAL-MART’S EXPANSION.I AM SO SICK AND TIRED OF HEARING WE DON’T HAVE ENOUGH TAX MONEY,OR,WE CAN’T PAY FOR THAT.YOU KNOW 68% OF THE PEOPLE IN THIS CITY WANTS A LARGER STORE,AND I WOULD SAY THAT IS A MAJORITY.WHY DON’T YOU ALL GROW UP AND FACE THE FACTS.WE ALL WANT THEM HERE!

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  7. RP Council Watcher says:

    “Pam Stafford has shown her true colors”

    Another spent political force is Mayor Pam Stafford. She spent months playing both ends off against the middle as numerous community groups met with her to make their case. They could have saved their breath, because the outcome was predetermined by her fealty to the corrupt monied interests that have ruled RP since its inception. They were in the Chambers that night to kae sure that their proxies followed the company line, as they sold out the future of a thriving but fragile network of regional small busineses.

    Stafford has now played out the elaborate fan game she used to keep us all guessing, meeting with communmity representatives and offering vague and soothing words to keep them distracted
    and demobilized as she secretly prepared to discharge her pre-written brief for her Chamber/developer clients.

    She fooled us once, but it won’t happen twice. She has made her bed, and chosen her bedfellows. We now know that her campaign manager for the fall election is the notorious Herb Williams (the Karl Rove of Sonoma County). She can’t play us for chumps again. We now know what her values are, and why she is no longer fit to serve the common good of the community.

    We are committed to making sure that the public has the opportunity to replace Stafford with someone like John Borba, chair of the planning commission, who correctly assessed the public policy implication of inviting the Bentonville Death Star to site in the center of the county.

    (Full disclosure: I am offering unsolicited support to Mr. Borba. We don’t know each other yet. This is my idea, not his initiative.)

    The remedy for bad political decisions is better political actors. Let’s get busy this fall and make that happen.

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  8. RP Council Watcher says:

    “The remedy for bad political decisions
    is better politicians”

    Damn straight this is not over! Anyone who attended this meeting knows that this whole dog-and-pony show was rigged from the get-go. The staff had prepared a one page resolution, which was the roadmap to their predesignated conclusion:
    1)Overturn Planning Commission EIR decision
    2)Approve all three entitlements (without Planning Commission involvement)
    3)Sign on the dotted line, and off their plate.

    …and, for good measure, give us a kick in the *ss on the way out by calling the hundreds of citizens who showed up to the meeting to protect the character their community, “UnAmerican”?! We were all shocked by this ugly comment, made with utter conviction. She then had the chutzpah to challenge the room when we murmured at her appalling slander! As if we were supposed to just sit and absorb this gross insult without even a groan.

    The depth of arrogance and contempt shown by Councilwoman Amie Breeze for the progressives who showed up to make their case politely and articulately is all I need to know about her character and political attitudes. That’s what happens when you get rude, classless Tea Partiers in positions of power.

    Her public career needs to end with this next election. I hope that she plans to stay out of the race and spare us the task of pouring time, money and personal energy to ensure that she can never again abuse her role as an elected official.

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  9. RP Mom 1 says:

    “We need to uphold the law, we need to apply the law, and we need to allow this project to move forward. I believe that not to do so would be un-American,” said Councilwoman Amie Breeze.

    If this is the case then why did the Rohnert Park planning commission and City Council even hold special hearings? A lot of concerned citizens came out to voice there opinions. Most of the people that came to speak against the expansion had educated opinions of what will happen when Wal-Mart gets there way. The speakers that were for the expansion of Wal-Mart where overwhelmingly in favor because of low prices and seem not to care about local business. There is a bigger picture, but I guess that deal on Tyson Chicken is more of a motivator! The representatives of Wal-Mart were downright slanderous and insulting to the owners of Pacific Market.

    It’s a proven fact that Wal-Mart has ruined the economic vitality of a lot of communities where they have a super center. Joe Callihan may not know of any businesses that went out of because of Wal-Mart but judging by all the empty retail space around Rohnert Park there’s a reason. I would love to hear what his explanation is for that.

    Personally I have been in the Rohnert Park Wal-Mart a total of three times in the last 18 years that it has been here. I would rather support American made products then products that are made in China. That would be un- American. I would rather support a local business then Wal-Mart especially after this fiasco.

    I have one more comment on the City Council meeting. Gina Belforte you ran for City Council, you are now a public figure. You need to expect that people will call you on your cell phone. I really think it was inappropriate of you to complain that you got numerous phone calls. I could not believe you said it did not sway your opinion but it might have and it could in the future. That scares me! Why are you on City Council if you don’t want to hear from anyone? Are you really listening to your community? Do you really care? I do and because of your comments, I will never ever get my carpets cleaned by the carpet company you own called Stanley Steamers.

    The opponents of Wal-Mart should continue to fight against the expansion of Wal-Mart. Thank you for seeing the bigger picture. If Rohnert Park isn’t going to look out for the local business there is no reason to consider opening a local business in Rohnert Park.

    Good luck City Council members I think you all just dug a bigger hole for the City you are trying to save!

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  10. Hilary says:

    Wal-Mart is the quintessential \special interest.\

    Thumb up 15 Thumb down 14

  11. Jared Brugger says:

    Deep pockets for the lawyer bills for a lawsuit belong to out-of-city special interests. It’s like Oakland in the recent downtown riots. More than three quarters of those arrested for unruly behavior, vandalism and obstruction were from outside Oakland. Similarly, the majority of those vocally opposing Wal-Mart don’t have any connection to Rohnert Park and Sonoma County. They’re bankrolled by big boss-run unions from out of town, who think they have to have their grubby fingers in everything.

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