Wal-Mart rally against Rottman Group – via robocalls
November 28, 2011
By KAREN VELIE
Robocalls disparaging the Rottman Group and asking the public to support Wal-Mart ignited a wide-range of responses from Atascadero residents and a denial of any involvement by the mega retailer.
“Attention Wal-Mart supporters,” the calls said before slamming the Rottman Group for attacking Wal-Mart for backing out on its promises to pay for the cost of a freeway interchange. The robocalls went on to say that the financially unstable Santa Barbara based developer, the Rottman Group, should get out of the way so that Wal-Mart can be successful in building a new store in Atascadero.
Sounding much like the Rottman Group did a few years ago, the call ended by asking Atascadero residents to continue their support of Wal-Mart.
In 2006, a time the Rottman Group and Wal-Mart were working together to promote a large retail complex on the north side of Atascadero, the two companies submitted a joint application to build a retail complex at the corner of El Camino Real and Del Rio Road where Wal-Mart is slated to build a 125,000 square-foot store. The Rottman Group is planning to build a 116,000 square-foot retail center known as the Annex across the street from the proposed box store.
At that time, Wal-Mart officials said publicly they would cover traffic mitigation required by the Environmental Impact Report, an assurance that was never put in writing.
Since then, Wal-Mart is working to have the city and/or the Rottman Group pay about $2 million in costs for a freeway interchange slated to cost between $3 million and $4.5 million.
In an interesting twist, if the Rottman Group’s Annex project is not constructed, Wal-Mart could save millions in mitigation costs because the size of the project would be greatly reduced.
Currently, both the city and the Rottman Group are financially distressed. City officials have laid off employees, spent reserves and cut department budgets in an attempt to close a $2 million budget shortfall.
Last month, a Central Coast bank filed a lawsuit against the Rottman Group for defaulting on a $6.2 million debt related to the Atascadero Annex project.
In its lawsuit, Montecito Bank & Trust says the Rottman Group deceived them by using some of the same assets to secure loans for the Atascadero projects the group used as collateral for a $15.3 million loan from City National Bank, for a project called Oak Canyon Ranch in Calaveras County. City National Bank foreclosed on the property further diminishing the Rottman Group’s creditworthiness, the suit says.
The principals of the Rottman Group, Steven Rottman, Maury Froman and Keith Mathias, did not return calls requesting comment.
At last week’s Atascadero City Council meeting, City Manager Wade McKinney said Wal-Mart was not responsible for the calls that several residents took issue with during public comment.
Wal-Mart has also claimed it is not behind last week’s robocalls which originated from a land line that sets a few miles away from Wal-Mart’s corporate headquarters in Arkansas.
“We are not associated or affiliated with these calls,” said Lorenzo Lopez, Wal-Mart’s media relations director. “Any attempts by individuals or groups to link us to these calls would be misleading to the people of Atascadero.”
UPDATE: Lopez said that if a public relations company hired by Wal-Mart had made the calls, they had done it without first having Wal-Mart approve the recording. He also said the calls may have been routed to a number in Arkansas to make it appear Wal-Mart made the calls.