Atascadero Wal-Mart bail-out on the table
June 13, 2011
Just as Atascadero’s new Wal-Mart/Annex enters the final phase of approval, the first taxpayer gouge appears.
Due to a reported dispute between the developers (Wal-Mart & Rottman Group) over financing road/freeway improvements, city staff is asking the council for the power to negotiate taxpayer funding, changing current arrangements, i.e., developers pay for all traffic mitigations.
The city council will be asked to cede this authority to staff at its meeting Tuesday, June 14 at 6:00 PM. They will receive strenuous opposition to doing so, especially to moving public information behind closed doors.
This dispute is over $3 million to $4.5 million to build two roundabouts at the U.S. Highway 101/Del Rio Road interchange, but the staff report states “Potential cost to the city is unknown”. The city official requesting the negotiating power (Community Development Director Warren Frace) says that, although his staff report only mentions entering into “discussions”, the plan is to “negotiate” taxpayer subsidies and “compromise” on current arrangements for funding and timing of traffic improvements.
Behold the Trojan horse!
While his staff report states, about all the other traffic mitigations, “The costs… are not known at this time”, Mr. Frace says the developers know those costs, but haven’t informed the city.
According to the draft EIR, numerous and significant unresolved uncertainties complicate traffic mitigation, including failure to develop an “actual plan for mitigation”, acquire rights-of-way and ascertain other agencies’ roles.
So, while the practicality and financing of traffic modifications necessary to accommodate the Wal-Mart/Annex project remain in doubt, in dispute and unknown, the city council will consider letting staff open the door to taking Atascadero taxpayers to the cleaners.
Staff asserts the Wal-Mart/Rottman dispute has stalled the permitting process and necessitates staff involvement.
Doing so would: break a six-year arrangement that Wal-Mart would pay for the interchange improvements, as explained by City Manager Wade McKinney in a 2005 email to then Councilmember George Luna, Walmart is expecting to deal with the Del Rio interchange and pay impact fees; violate current traffic mitigation financing arrangements, as described in the Draft EIR (developers pay); remove relevant information from public view; and reduce citizens’ ability to participate in decisions affecting them.
Lay down a marker!
The city council should stake out a firm position:
Reject Staff request for negotiating power.
Conduct discussions regarding funding for all traffic mitigations involving City Staff and potential taxpayer costs in public and on the record at City Council and Planning Commission meetings.
Summon Wal-Mart & Rottman to publicly explain the status of all traffic mitigation financing arrangements and any hindrances to finalizing them.
Declare the project applicants responsible for financing all traffic mitigations, prohibiting taxpayer subsidy of any.
Declare that all traffic improvements must be completed prior to any Wal-Mart/Annex business opening.
Stand up or get taken for a ride!
Atascadero taxpayers will either stand up now for public accountability and against subsidies for Wal-Mart, or discover later they’re footing the bill to bail-out Wal-Mart for the problems its store causes. The council will either deny staff the power to sell out those it represents, or set them up for more corporate robbery down the road. Citizens will either demand the council advocate for their interests, or hand the purse strings to Wal-Mart.
The city is running a deficit now, and digging into reserves to keep operating. Can we afford to go broke picking up the tab for Wal-Mart’s responsibilities?
Stand up and speak out at Tuesday’s city council meeting, or be prepared to lose your shirt in back room deals.
Don’t let history repeat!
After receiving a series of inquiries and public records requests about contacts between city officials and developers and potential site retailers, City Manager Wade McKinney issued a memo to the council on May 18, 2006, denying any contacts with Wal-Mart. By May 30, McKinney was forced to retract that falsehood and admit those contacts had occurred.
The city manager and attorney produced a chronology on June 24, 2006 showing city officials knew about and had been discussing an Atascadero Wal-Mart a year before it was publicly revealed (http://www.atascadero.org/files/CM/Del%20Rio%20Chronology%20-%20Final%20Version%20_3_.pdf).
Don’t let them hide the ball again! The same people who kept citizens in the dark then are still running city hall.
David Broadwater is a long time Atascadero resident and a local activist.