WalMart to cost Atascadero more than $11 million
September 29, 2014
OPINION By TOM COMAR
While it may come as a shock to some, those of us in Save Atascadero and other citizens who warned Atascadero’s staff, council, and planning commission that WalMart traffic mitigation costs could skyrocket and leave the city and taxpayers on the hook, were not at all surprised by the recent revelation that what was touted as a $4.5 million dollar city/taxpayer project is now estimated to be closer to $12 million.
How could professional city planners and council members, the stewards of taxpayers’ monies, have approved a project without knowing the true costs and liabilities? Why the discrepancy between the original traffic mitigation costs and the current estimates for the 101 Del Rio interchange roundabouts?
The answers can be found in WalMart’s business model and modus operandi, and the city staff and council wanting only to see and hear what was financially feasible for the city.
WalMart is notorious for working city governments for subsidies to off-set the costs of their development.
Initially, WalMart agreed, as reported first by the former city manager in a 2005 email to then Councilman George Luna, that they would cover all the expenses of traffic mitigation identified in the Environmental Impact Report (EIR). The Annex developers at that time, the Rottman Group, were under the same impression.
When WalMart reneged on this promise, and stated they would only pay their “fair share,” Steven Rottman wrote about it angrily in a Tribune Viewpoint dated Nov. 15, 2011.
Knowing that their share would be a percentage of the total cost, WalMart’s engineering firm, EDA, who supplied the costs for the EIR, low-balled the cost of these traffic mitigations. As the recent staff report points out, EDA’s estimate “did not include the costs for design, inspection, environmental document preparation, permitting, materials testing and other ‘soft costs.’”
Moreover, the original estimate ignored the wildly expensive costs of widening the Del Rio overpass to include sidewalks and a third traffic lane, requirements of Cal Trans, that were pointed out in the EIR hearings and citizen written concerns.
In fact, Community Development Director Warren Frace told the chamber of commerce that if the cost of the traffic mitigation and the city’s responsibility to construct these two roundabouts approached anywhere near $11 million, then the project was dead. Routine traffic fees and borrowing from the taxpayers’ generated sewer fund would not be enough to cover these costs.
Then, the EIR was recirculated and it was determined that lo and behold, WalMart could build their supercenter first (before any annex stores) and without having to construct the two roundabouts on each side of the Del Rio 101overpass, simultaneously with the third roundabout at El Camino and Del Rio as recommended by Cal Trans.
But, if there were a cost “overrun” on this part of the project, WalMart would be capped at paying up to a measly $200,000 extra. This was placed in the EIR as a condition only after Save Atascadero met with the city staff and engineer and raised the question, what if the costs of mitigation were much higher?
Now, not surprisingly, the city is looking for a sales tax increase without dedicating what the funds will be used for. Ostensively, the staff and council are verbally promising that it is to repair our shabby roads. But don’t be surprised again if these funds, were the measures E-14 and F-14 on November’s ballot to pass, are used to subsidize WalMart, the richest retailer in the world.
Tom Comar is the spokesperson for Save Atascadero.
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