July 23, 2008

City Council Approves Wal-Mart Distribution Center: Letter of Concern Called a Delay Tactic

By Aaron Aupperlee, Desert Dispatch, Barstow, Calif.

Jul. 23--BARSTOW -- The Barstow City Council unanimously approved a plan to bring a Wal-Mart Distribution Center to Barstow.

The Council's vote, which approved the final environmental impact report and the West Barstow Specific Plan #4, came with little discussion Monday night by the individual Council members. However, more supporters of the planned distribution center went before the Council to urge its approval. Cliff Brock, president of Barstow Community College, told the Council to stand steadfast against attempts to derail the process. Carol Randall said Barstow should welcome the distribution center.

"They have been as faithful to us as we need to be to them," Randall said at Monday's meeting.

A vote to approve the project at the Council's July 7 meeting was delayed due to a six-page letter from the Briggs Law Corporation on behalf of the group Citizens for Responsible Equitable Environmental Development that outlined concerns about the project and environmental impact report. The city responded to each of the letter's 15 claims, ranging from traffic impacts to improper posting of public hearings, and deemed that the opposition to the project was not warranted.

Mayor Lawrence Dale fur- ther berated the Briggs Law Corporation, adding to the record a newspaper article published in the North County Times and a column from The Californian that called the actions of Cory Briggs, a principle of the Briggs Law Corporation, to oppose a development in Murietta into question. The mayor also included a list of 12 legal actions takes by the Briggs Law Corporation against developments in other communities that are found the firm's Web site. Of the 12, courts ruled in favor of the firm in only one case. Three were settled and one was only partially rejected by the court. The rest of the cases were either dismissed or the court ruled against the complaints filed by the firm.

"The review we've been through with the Briggs report has been nothing but a delay," Dale said.

Briggs, who is currently out of the country according to his office in Upland, did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

Construction on the more than 1 million square foot distribution center is scheduled to start as soon as this fall and Wal-Mart officials hope to open the center in 2009. The center, to be built along Lenwood Road north of Jasper Road and southeast of the High Desert Estates housing area, will serve as a warehouse for both dry and frozen goods and is expected to bring about 500 new jobs to area during the first year of operation and between 800 and 900 jobs about two years later.

John Mendez, a spokesman for Wal-Mart, said the company will apply for building permits and then put the project out to bid to hire a contractor. He said Wal-Mart was pleased to see the unanimous vote and hopes the rest of the process moves smoothly.

Some concer ned citizens spoke up at Monday's meeting. The Council received a letter from Mark Orr asking whether the facility was built in the flood zone and posed a risk to water contamination. Joe Gibson, a member of the Impact Sciences team that prepared the environmental impact report, said flood measures had been taken into account in the design. Orr also asked if an acre-for-acre land exchange was possible for the land Wal-Mart intends to use. Pat Aleman, a former union representative, brought up Wal-Mart's resistance to let employees unionize.

"Wal-Mart knows they have a problem with unions," Aleman said.

Mendez said that Wal-Mart has worked with unionized construction trades on past projects and focuses on creating a positive working environment for employees with access to management.

"Wal-Mart is not anti-union; we're pro-associate," Mendez said.

During public hearings on the project, many employees of the Wal-Mart store in Barstow spoke positively about the store.


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Copyright (c) 2008, Desert Dispatch, Barstow, Calif.

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