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Thursday, May 12 2011 07:44 AM

Appeal bumps Walmart up to Council

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Henry Schaeffer shows the check for $1,561.

Opponents of a Walmart Supercenter in Tehachapi have kept their mission alive with funds from local businessman Henry Schaeffer, who has appealed the Planning Commission's 4-1 approval of the project on Jan. 31.

Schaeffer, owner of Home 4 Less, handed over a cashier's check for $1,561 to Roxanne Davis, executive assistant in the Community Development Department, on Thurs., Feb. 10, to pay the fee required for an appeal.

Surrounded by 15 supporters, he filed the one-page Appeal Application at City Hall a few minutes after 4 p.m. on behalf of Tehachapi First, an organization dedicated to stopping the Walmart project.

The matter now goes before the Tehachapi City Council, which will solicit more public comment before making a final decision.

Exactly when the matter will go to the Council  was not available at presstime. Check the Tehachapi News website for an update.

Schaeffer's partner in the appeal is Shannon Turner, who lives near the site of the future Walmart.

He filed the appeal ahead of the Feb. 14 deadline.

As his basis for appeal, Schaeffer wrote: “The Environment Impact Report for the project listed above is inadequate and deficient and will result in significant unmitigated impacts. The relevant resolutions are No. 11.01 certifying the environmental impact report, and No. 11.02 approving the project.”

Other opponents who wish to file an appeal will be obliged to pay the same fee.

“We have to collect a fee if somebody files an appeal,” said city attorney Tom Schroeter.

But opponents do not need to file an appeal, he said. People can submit all the comments they want to the council as it weighs the matter, and they do not have to stick with the basis for appeal that is written on Schaeffer's application.

 “The matter is now officially appealed,” Schroeter said. “He's opened the flood gates. No one else has to do that.”

On Friday afternoon Ray Bilger, who also helped organize opposition, provided the Tehachapi News with a copy of an appeal he intended to present to the city on Monday.

Dueling opinions

Objections to the construction of a Walmart focus on increased traffic, impact on existing shops, loss of the rural atmosphere and the possibility the store could go out of business and leave behind a big empty shell.

Supporters say the store will capture the shoppers who now go to Bakersfield or Lancaster, generate $500,000 in tax revenue, spur competition and will provide 300 jobs.

The issue of union vs. non-union wages — often a hot topic inWalmart discussions — has not been at the forefront of the Tehachapi debate.

“A lot of people do want Walmart,” said Mary Beth Garrison, the president of the Greater Tehachapi Economic Development Council, which came out strongly in favor of the 165,000-square-foot Supercenter.   Garrison cautioned about the consequences should Walmart decide to take its store elsewhere.

“Where they have been shut out, they have gone down the street, sometimes just 10 miles down the road,” she said. In some cases, she said, “The place that shut them down died and is now boarded up. We should be careful not to cut our nose to spite our face.”

Garrison and other Walmart advocates say that “retail leakage” is a big issue, and when Tehachapi residents go to Bakersfield or Lancaster to shop, they spend money at restaurants, getting their hair done and other shopping – all with money that would be spent in Tehachapi if the people stayed in town to shop Walmart.

“I've talked to people who say, 'I leave town and I don't spend money in Tehachapi.'”

Local shopkeepers “don't know who's not coming into their stores now,” Garrison said.

Battle online

Opposing camps have set up Facebook pages for and against.

By Saturday morning, Feb. 12, the “Tehachapi Against Walmart” page had 69 people saying they “like” the page while the “Tehachapi for Walmart” page had 64 people registering a “like,” which is a Facebook term of support.

“The opposition is working hard to keep Walmart out,” wrote Fecebook commenter Paulette Rush. “We need to work just as hard to make sure we do not miss out on this opportunity.”

“Walmart creates competition, and typically, other retailers of differing sizes are attracted to follow their lead,” wrote pro-Walmart Facebook commenter Larry Barrett.

On the “anti” page,  Mark A. Curry wrote: “People actually think that Walmart is going to create jobs and stimulate the local economy! They have one in Bakersfield and in Lancaster, that's close enough! Why do these idiots want to cut the throat of the mom and pop, small town businesses? Walmart will close down so many stores in town. Tehachapi is a special place. Let's keep it that way! Say no to Walmart!”

The debate has been active on the News website, www.tehachapinews.com, with anti-Walmart comments running ahead of pro, although many have been made by the same individuals using.

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