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Lawsuit seeks to stop Wal-Mart expansion

By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Foes of a Wal-Mart Supercenter have sued Rohnert Park, challenging the City Council’s approval in August of the company’s application to expand in its Redwood Drive location.

In the lawsuit, the Sierra Club and Sonoma County Conservation Action argue that the council’s decision effectively violated the land use policies outlined in the city’s general plan, which calls for encouraging supermarkets to be “close to where people live.”

The general plan is “essentially a legally binding document, it’s almost like a constitution for the city, and the City Council doesn’t have the right to abrogate it,” said Rick Luttmann, a Sonoma State University professor and a Sonoma County Conservation Action member.

The suit, filed in Sonoma County Superior Court, also charges that the council decided incorrectly that the project’s environmental impacts were offset by its benefits.

The council’s decision, on a 4-1 vote with Councilman Jake Mackenzie opposed, overturned an earlier unanimous vote in which the city’s Planning Commissioner rejected the application.

“We felt that the Planning Commission was on the right track when they denied the project,” said Denny Rosatti, executive director of Sonoma County Conservation Action, an environmental advocacy group.

“We just feel that the City Council did not do the citizenry justice,” Rosatti said. “So we’re going to take it to the courts and see if they agree with us. We feel pretty confident that our case is strong.”

Wal-Mart, which has been in Rohnert Park at its present location for close to 20 years, wants to add a 32,000-square-foot grocery.

Lawyers for the city did not respond to phone calls seeking comment Wednesday. But Vice-Mayor Gina Belforte said she wasn’t surprised.

“It was anticipated only from the standpoint that someone had e-mailed me before we even voted saying there would be one if we didn’t vote to uphold the Planning Commission’s decision,” she said.

Wal-Mart representatives said they were disappointed in the action by opponents and that consumers will suffer as a result.

“It’s unfortunate that the opposition has filed a lawsuit to delay the project and us from moving forward with the project that the community wants and needs,” said Wal-Mart spokeswoman Angela Stoner.

“The project meets all requirements by the city and we’ve done everything that’s legally required of us,” Stoner said.

She said that under the company’s agreement with Rohnert Park, it will fund the city’s legal fees.

The plaintiff’s legal services are being provided by lawyers retained by the San Francisco-based California Healthy Communities Network, a community organizing group that was active in efforts to convince the council to reject Wal-Mart’s application.

Phil Tucker, the group’s project director, said stores such as Wal-Mart have a ripple effect on local economies, putting smaller competitors out of business, and, by increasing traffic, on the environment.

“Many of these big-box stores are intruding into areas that are very fragile,” he said. “We’re very, very concerned about general plans, urban sprawl, and also about things that can weigh on creating blight, urban decay,” he said.

In 2009, a coalition of groups opposed to a Wal-Mart planned for Roseland won a courtroom challenge of the Santa Rosa City Council’s approval of the environmental impact report on the project, leading the company to end its bid five years after announcing its plans.





17 Responses to “Lawsuit seeks to stop Wal-Mart expansion”

  1. WSJ just wrote an article about Walmart and their efforts to unmask opponents: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703399404575505832895240548.html They want to know who is footing the legal bills in the lawsuits holding up their Supercenter expansions. Walmart suspects it is actually large grocers like Safeway behind grass-roots groups’ lawsuits.

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  2. john bly says:

    Although I have no dog in this fight, I say follow the money to see the funding for this lawsuit (right back to Petaluma). Whether I would shop at Wal-Mart or not, I would like the choice to do so. I do not wish to have others telling me where I can and cannot shop.

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  3. bats555 says:

    Chucky I understand you have a monetary obligation to your family to get the best prices for products to save money. But WE should also have a moral obligation to our community. I live in R.P. and will not darken the doors of Wal_mart ever. As it’s been proven – over 70% of there products are made outside of the U.S. in sweatshops with deplorable working conditions. We the tax payers pay for many of Wal-Marts employee’s health insurance. They are one of the largest polluter’s in the country. They have no conscious, click on the link walmartmovie in my last post 7:07am. There’s a part in this video where Wal-mart managers driving to a newly built Wal-Mart in a small midwest town heading through downtown. They are laughing as they point to stores in the town stating “That one will be closed in 6 months, that one in 6-8 months” etc. etc. Not the type of company I want to deal with.

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  4. To be honest, I don’t reside in RP. But, I do buy stuff there. I will drive to RP to shop at one of two places: In-N-Out and Home Depot.

    I only shop at the RP Home Depot if the Windsor and Santa Rosa stores are sold out of an item I need. The October opening of the Steele Lane In-N-Out will eliminate one reason for shopping in RP so if the Home Depot stores in Windsor and SR can keep items in stock then you can do whatever you want with the rest of your big box planning down there.

    (Unless, I buy some land and want to build a big box down there someday…)

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  5. Chucky says:

    I want to thank the SCCA, Sierra Club and RP mom for deciding on where I should shop. I don’t know what I would do if I had to think on my own. Luckily she’s a mom and apparently moms know best, except this time. The people who want the expansion don’t live in RP. Are you kidding me. My neigbors and I who live in RP’s G section want the expansion. We also showed up to the city council meeting. Have you ever read the comments about Wal Mart in our local Voice. There are three letters wanting the expansion to every one letter saying no. All are RP residents writing letters except the ones against Wal Mart. Such as the leader of the SCCA who I believe lives in Sonoma. Well maybe the SSU teacher might live in RP but he at least has a job unlike many of my neighbors. We should all listen to the professor because he is smarter and knows whats best for society. We just need to stop thinking for ourselves and listen to the people who think they know whats best for our lives. Hey MOM, you and the group you rode on in leave us alone. Oh I forgot if you don’t file a lawsuit you will not get paid like the Target Petaluma case.

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  6. bats555 says:

    Folks, please click on the links below and find out how this Corporate Vampire does business:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_Wal-Mart

    http://www.walmartmovie.com/confessions/

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  7. Grey Whitmore says:

    @Kay Tokerud

    Once again Kay you misuse the law.

    A General Plan cannot be amended more than 4 times a year but it is also not required that it even be amended at all. This is left up to the county or city government

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  8. ()() says:

    Um Kay Tokerud, city General Plans are good for 25 years total. Changed 4 times a year? Not likely.

    The General Plan says that this is not the location for a grocery store. Groceries are not subject to sales tax so this would do little or nothing to increase city revenues.

    The bottom line is “does Rohnert Park need another grocery store”? The answer is probably NO.

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  9. bats555 says:

    People, want to know more about Wal-Mart. Go to this website and you may learn something new about this Company:

    http://www.reclaimdemocracy.org/walmart/links.php

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  10. Kay Tokerud says:

    City General plans are changed 4 times a year. Each time, there are multiple changes to it. Thankfully, our Constitution is not changed that easily. Most large projects apply for and receive General Plan Amendments. Comparing a General Plan to a constitution is absurd. It is legally binding for those that are not allowed amendments but the favored developers usually get them.

    Dennis Rosatti is the new head of the Accountable Development Coalition that killed the Lowe’s project in Santa Rosa. Formerly this group was headed by Michael Allen and Nick Caston when they were also Santa Rosa Planning Commissioners. Sonoma County Conservation Action along with the Sierra Club and the Accountable Development Coalition are all big advocates of smartgrowth and oppose all big box stores even though they are legal to build.

    How many vacant store fronts do we need to see before people realize that the smartgrowth model is not working?

    If people don’t want their cities to be economically crippled, they need to vote out the smartgrowth councilmembers as soon as possible. The pro-business candidates are more balanced in their views about economic development and fiscal resposibility and will be better able to adapt to our changing economic situation. Smartgrowth will just not work in our current economy. Time for a change in leadership.

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  11. Its Me (Again) says:

    Bear in mind that the Sierra Club and Sonoma County Conservation Action are nothing more than political interest groups that have honed their ability to try and get what they want through any means possible. If their lawsuit is dismissed they will find some other reason to file another one.

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  12. RP MOM says:

    FACT: WalMart expansion violates the general plan
    FACT: Wal Mart is bad for existing locally owned businesses
    FACT: Wal Mart expansion & “open 24 hrs.” will be an added burden and expense on already strained police services
    FACT: Money spent in WM goes to Arkansas and does not stay in our community to benefit local growers, business and citizens
    FACT: Gain 85 “new jobs” but will lose hundreds already employed LOCALS
    FACT: WM can’t even handle the business they have now..long lines, not enough competent staff, messy and dirty, poor customer service
    FACT: WM is BAD for our community. Most that voiced their opinion and desire to have a WM Super Center in RP DON’T LIVE IN RP!!! Great for them, we RP citizens get to deal with all the “trash” that’s left in their wake if the WM is built.
    NO to the WM expansion for the sake of RP, it’s business, general plan and its citizens

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  13. Grey Whitmore says:

    @Beef King

    Sorry, but a general plan is a legally binding document on a city and its government.

    Yes, there is a process by where a city council can approve something not provided for under a general plan but a city council cannot simply go around it.

    The State of California demands that each city and county in the state have one and they are legally binding documents.

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  14. Rock says:

    This proves the Petaluma against Target lawsuit set a bad precedent. Not a fan, but a existing business does have a right to expand.

    Mind of well let Lowes and Wal-Mart sue Santa Rosa for not letting them build there.

    Some PEOPLE just cannot accept a loss without a lawsuit. I’m sure some PEOPLE, in the end will say a settlement is a victory.

    Even though some PEOPLE would end up losing in court and the large company just settled because they don’t want to waste the (court) time.

    Just sore losers, and very sad.

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  15. Walmart already exists in RP. A ton of people drive there to buy stuff. They will continue to drive there and buy stuff. It would seem adding a grocery component to the existing Walmart would reduce overall driving because shopping trips would be reduced from two stops to one stop.

    Maybe there is an argument that adding a grocery component will add extra east-to-west traffic load on Golf Course Dr. I am not a traffic engineer. It seems most grocery stores in RP are on the west side of 101 or tucked right against the eastern edge of 101. This means people are driving from the east to west to buy groceries already. Pacific Market is an outlier. It probably doesn’t have same customer demographic as a Walmart grocery so they won’t be losing customers to Walmart.

    Forget General Plan for a second. I’m curious of the specific environmental ramifications. Remember we are talking about an existing Walmart that already has customers driving from the east side to the west side to shop.

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  16. Beef King says:

    So the ‘Professor’ says the council has no right to interfere with the general plan? Maybe the professor should check with an SSU legal advisor and get tutoring before he opens his mouth in the local paper.
    The council functions as a check and balance to the non-elected administrators who may have an agenda that does not necessarily reflect the views of the citizenry.
    As for the lawsuits, this is clearly local union associates promoting what smells like extortion. They’ve clearly been encouraged by the successful fleecing of taxpayers and developers by the ‘advocacy’ group from Petaluma that held up the project there for a paltry $100K.
    Who do these guys think they’re fooling?

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