January 2, 2005

WM in American Canyon

Of course the big controversy in "Gateway to the Napa Valley" is Wal-Mart:

The fast-growing city of American Canyon showed its divisions with a debate that ignited the community, cast a long shadow over the city council race and has now become a court battle. The question of whether a 176,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter would buoy or sink the city's economy was the biggest story in Napa County commerce in 2004, and it remains unresolved.

Would Wal-Mart endanger local stores and supermarkets, or would it become the low-priced anchor to a mixed-use development that would create -- at long last -- a center to the city?

The furor started in late June, when Wal-Mart applied to build a Supercenter on a swath of land by Highway 29. City officials were quick to voice their support for the idea, seeing the retail giant as the only likely tenant to anchor the Napa Junction mixed-use project, which includes 286 apartments, retail stores, a hotel and a park.

But City Manager Mark Joseph was already getting an earful from angry residents. By the time a Sept. 9 Planning Commission meeting rolled around, the crowd of naysayers and supporters had swelled to more than 400, filling the Community Center Gym on Benton Way with tit-for-tat shouts and signs. News crews from around the Bay Area brought cameras to capture the increasingly common sight of residents of California communities battling Wal-Mart, the most successful company in the world but also one charged with paying low wages and undermining U.S. manufacturers by selling inexpensive imported goods.

The planning commission signed off on the design of the Wal-Mart and the City Council subsequently voted unanimously to uphold the Planning Commission's action. Opponents vowed revenge.

On election day the rift in the community showed itself in city council balloting. Residents voted to keep Mayor Lori Luporini, who supported the project, but at the same time elected Cindy Coffey, the leading Wal-Mart critic and at the time, the head of the anti-Wal-Mart forces of American Canyon Community United for Responsible Growth.

Coffey resigned from ACCURG a little more than a week later, the same day the group filed suit to overturn approval of the Supercenter. The next week another group backed by lawyers representing the Vallejo Food-4-Less filed a similar suit. The cases are still awaiting action.

NOTE: this is not about sprawl:
In stark contrast to the Wal-Mart tribulations, Napa saw its second Target open in October with no protest, bringing along with it the city's fifth Starbucks.

Posted by Kevin on January, 2 2005 at 09:51 AM