Not much to like in plan for Walmart

June 11, 2012 

For the past six years I have argued that a Walmart store would not be a good thing for Atascadero. Six years ago, it was only rumored that a Walmart was coming, and I said we should do everything possible to stop it before it even got started.

Shortly after that, many of us were shocked to learn that parent company Wal-Mart Stores Inc. had already purchased 26 acres at the corner of El Camino Real and Del Rio Road.

Now the giant store is weeks away from getting what will probably be unanimous final approval from our City Council following last week’s recommendation from the Planning Commission.

I wrote in the past that my displeasure at the news that a major retail store is coming here was not necessarily directed at the Walmart store. I’d be equally upset if I learned we were getting a Kohl’s or any of a number of “big-box” stores that feature mountains of cheap foreign-made junk for us to consume.

I think Planning Commissioner Len Colamarino said it best at least week’s public hearing: “This is a transformational issue for the community.”

As a 45-year resident of the community, I was hoping we’d be one town where big-box stores couldn’t settle. The major commercial complex at Del Rio Road and El Camino Real will change the dynamics of this community forever. It will suck the last of the life out of downtown and could possibly impact the city’s fiscal health.

That said, I realize the deal is all but done.

City staff admitted at the most recent hearing that the increased net income to the municipal pocketbook would be about 3 percent. Who wants to pick which market or pharmacy or hardware store will close its doors first?

Then there is the deal with who is going to pay for improvements to the freeway off-ramps and nearby streets. If the only reason for the road improvements is the impact of the new Walmart store, why isn’t Wal-Mart Stores Inc. responsible for the total cost?

The three proposed roundabouts, a cheap fix, will be a failure. Every other place they have been planned for Atascadero — such as behind the Vons center and at the Santa Barbara off-ramp — the citizens have been up in arms, and the plans have been dropped like a hot potato.

Finally, it seems ludicrous that the Planning Commission’s recommendation to the City Council is that those roundabouts don’t have to be in place when Walmart opens, only when the proposed Annex complex next door does. The Annex only exists on paper, and it isn’t going to get built in these shaky economic times.

Lon Allan has lived in Atascadero for nearly five decades. His column appears here every week. He can be reached at 466-8529 or leallan@tcsn.net.

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