Supercenter To Supplant WalMart In RC?

The Rancho Cucamonga City Council last week voted unanimously to employ a Chino Hills-based firm to carry out an environmental impact report relating to the proposed WalMart Supercenter Project on Foothill Boulevard between Milliken and Rochester.
City officials reportedly utilized $348,762 provided to them by the WalMart Corporation to defray the cost of the environmental impact report to be completed by Applied Planning, Inc. of Chino Hills.
The eventual placement of the 185,000 square foot supercenter on the north side of Foothill just east of Mayten Avenue will result in the closure of the existing Walmart located about a mile away on Foothill Boulevard, east of the 15 Freeway.
Despite opposition to the project on the part of some residents and a pattern of environmental lawsuits against proposed WalMart supercenters elsewhere in Southern California and San Bernardino County, the contract with Applied Planning for the report was placed on the city council’s June 6 consent calendar and voted upon collectively with other items of city business. Consent calendar items are normally designated routine and non-controversial.
The project, which is to cover 29 acres, would entail a large-scale retail store including a grocery component. There has been opposition to WalMart supercenters in the past by labor organizations because WalMarts, like many department stores, do not employ unionized retail clerks. Most grocery stores employees are  unionized.
WalMart Supercenters have generated controversy in other ways, in some measure as a result of lawsuits filed against them on environmental grounds by an Upland-based attorney, Cory Briggs. In Ontario, Briggs represented a group, known as the Ontario Mountain Village Association, which materialized to oppose a Supercenter WalMart planned for the northwest corner of Mountain Avenue and Fifth Street. Briggs brought court action against the city regarding that project, raising thirteen separate environmental issues. While the court rejected most of the arguments that the city had not made adequate mitigation of the project’s impacts, it did find merit in Briggs’ contention that the Ontario WalMart Supercenter involved problems with regard to truck circulation and excessive sound that needed to be redressed. The legal action against that project delayed it for more than four years.
Briggs acknowledged he is monitoring the proposed WalMart Supercenter project in Rancho Cucamonga.
While Rancho Cucamonga city officials were enthusiastic about the sales tax revenue generating potential the supercenter represents, opponents of the project point out that the expanded store will not generate a substantially greater amount of sales tax than the existing store at 12549 Foothill Boulevard, since the bulk of the increased square footage will be devoted to the sale of food. Most food items are not taxable under California law.
There is also concern that the closure of the existing WalMart will leave a vacuum at the shopping center, leading to blight and the exodus of other retailers there.
Jim Banks, who was formerly a member of the Rancho Cucamonga Advisory Committee and has been credited with having contributed to the framing and maintenance of the urban planning ideals which many believe distinguish Rancho Cucamonga from other San Bernardino County cities, said he believes city officials are taking a misstep by embracing the supercenter.
“Traffic is a huge issue,” said Banks. “Within a very short distance you have Lowes and Home Depot. Further to the east and west you have Victoria Gardens and the Terra Vista shopping centers. Cars are already stacked up there during certain hours and this will only make it worse.”
More than creating gridlock on the streets, Banks said, the city may be shooting itself in the foot financially by greedily biting off more than it can chew.  “A consideration that is equally serious or perhaps even more important is what I call commercial oversaturation,” Banks said. “We already have more retail than is needed and the idea that we can enhance our sales tax base by building more stores is illusory. They will drive out as much as they will bring in. What used to be Mervyns is now a hobby shop. The Kmart now houses a Goodwill outlet. The Longs Drugs at Baseline and Haven is still empty after several years. This supercenter will have a grocery component and that could lead to the closure of two or three grocery stores. By what they are doing they are going to create these mini-ghost towns all around Rancho Cucamonga.”
Banks said the city may end up regretting having put the matter on the consent calendar if a legal challenge against the project is made. “That was sneaky,” he said. “They prevented public input and opinion on many points relating to the project by doing that.”
The city arranged for WalMart to cover the cost of the environmental impact report but not pay Applied Planning directly. By having the city collect the money from WalMart and then having the city retain Applied Planning, officials sought to ensure that the environmental impact report would remain a neutral document that did not favor the project applicant
The WalMart Supercenter will be open to the public 24 hours a day with the major vehicular traffic access from Foothill Boulevard.  The store will receive about 88 truck deliveries each week. There will be a commercial drive approach from Mayten Avenue providing access to six loading docks at the rear of the building.  North of the project site are 19.25 acres of vacant land zoned medium high residential which will ultimately be developed as a multi-family residential project. To the east is a commercial development and to the west across Mayten Avenue are senior apartments.

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