Tricks of the Trade
By Tommy Purvis
Walmart Stores Inc. has withdrawn its proposal to build a box store behemoth at the northeast corner of where Scott and Haun roads intersect in Menifee. This means the Menifee planning commission will no longer be asked to make a recommendation about the retail project to the City Council. Instead, the global retailer plans to take the latest expansion in their effort to colonize the Inland Empire with 24-hour super centers directly to voters. In a case of corporate overreach, the Sam Walton-built machine hired signature gatherers and deployed them at strategic locations over Black Friday weekend.
The initiative ballot will need the support of 4,800 registered Menifee voters to force a city-wide special election. If held, the election is estimated to cost the city $40,000. The super store stand-off is the latest round of skirmishes between one of the largest corporations in the world and municipalities across California.
The decision came after an impasse was reached with the city planning commission on how to deal with all the traffic that will flow to the 30-acre lot. The 241,000-square-foot building will combine the discount department store with a full-service supermarket, garden center, service station and car wash. Not only will the purchasing power of the corporate giant squeeze out small business competition, but the initiative process will allow the retailer to skirt regulations found in the California Environmental Quality Act.
Ray Johnson, an environmental law attorney who represents residents opposed to the super center, and Menifee City Attorney Karen Feld both told the planning commission that if the initiative passed, Walmart would not be bound to CEQA requirements. The 1970 legislation requires government agencies to measure and reduce the environmental impact of new developments before they are built.
It’s a cause for concern since a traffic engineer hired by Walmart predicted the development and other growth in the area will result in 122,000 daily trips across the Interstate 215 overpass at the Scott Road interchange. The California Department of Transportation found that the three traffic lanes currently on the overpass would need to be widened to 11. Plus, new off ramps to handle the increased capacity would need to be built. And even if there was money—the Riverside County Department of Transportation has $10 million of the $50 million needed for the project—it would not be finished until August of 2013 at the earliest estimates.
If the project were greenlit without the new infrastructure in place, traffic would continually back up in all directions from the super center and clog the interstate off ramps. In the initiative, Walmart has promised not to open up for business until August 2013—regardless of whether or not freeway off ramps and overpasses are eventually built or not.
A similar initiative failed in Inglewood by a 61 percent to 39 percent margin in 2004 when the retailer tried to build a super center across from the Great Western Forum. In Bakersfield, a hotly contested super center that was held up in litigation over an Environmental Impact Report recently opened. The Fontana Planning Commission effectively blocked a super center from being built in the north end of the city as it seemed to clash with the Sierra Lakes Country Club.
Although it did not mention Walmart by name, Measure O last June failed in Redlands. It would have banned box stores in the city that were 100,000-square-feet or over and used 3 percent or more of its floor space for groceries.