In April, After some folks expressed concerns, the Mayor and City Council shoehorned a short discussion on Walmart at the end of a long Town Hall meeting on the Southwest Corridor transportaion plan. The big takeaway from that meeting, which one member of the Council and the City Manager wanted to emphasize, was that this was a 'done deal'.
In the months since, we have looked at hundreds of pages of planning documents, pored over agendas, meeting minutes, and staff memos. We've attended meetings with city staff, had a meeting with the Mayor, attended a meeting with a Walmart representative, and addressed the City Council about our concerns on numerous occasions.
From all of this, we came to several conclusions that we'd like to share.
1. Walmart and the developer, Pac-Trust, played the city for suckers from the start. They knew that if they stuck to the same development plan that was originally approved back when Target was the proposed tenant in 2006, they could avoid a new round of hearings, with the requisite and unpleasant public input and testimony that would result, In fact, the minutes of a 2010 meeting of the Planning Commission illustrates this, with Pac-Trust's attorney's snidely brushing aside objections from local businesses about the proposed median on 99W, at one point saying the objections had "nothing to do with the application" and "They offered nothing to the issue before you tonight."
Pac-Trust made their case that no 'significant' changes were made to the 2006 plan, that the type of store or the ultimate tenant didn't affect traffic or any other assumptions, and in any case, the 2006 approval was good for as long as the developer wished.
The Bottom Line:
-the last public hearing, with testimony, on the development was held in December 2010.
-the plans were last reviewed in 2009.
-the traffic study, from which all of the city's traffic planning for the area is based, was submitted in 2006. The current construction on 99W is also based on this study. It has not been updated or reviewed for changes in traffic load or patterns since then.
2. The City has been very careful to stress that their expenditures around the Walmart development have nothing to do with the Walmart development, but were improvements that were always planned to be made on 72nd and Dartmouth. But it's not credible that the City would have made these improvements if there were still an empty lot South of Dartmouth St. Especially when there are other street improvements in Tigard's residential areas that are badly needed. Walmart's funding of street improvements are EXCLUSIVELY about bringing cars into their parking lot-- from 99W, from I-5, and from Hwy 217. Almost all of the roadwork you see going on today in the Tigard Triangle has to do with Walmart. When you look at these improvements on a map, you realize what a massive transportation system is being planned by Walmart, with the sole purpose of delivering cars to their parking lot. You also see how it inevitably requires the City to spend money to improve it's streets to handle the 9000+ cars per day that will be coming to the store. Even if you're supportive of the Walmart development, you have to ask what the City is getting in return. It seems like we're simply enabling the addict, and we'll be left to clean up the mess eventually.
3. Our Mayor and City Council seem uninterested or don't care that wherever there's a Walmart, lots of small businesses close. Even if you don't put credence in the many studies that have shown this to be the case, it has to be troubling to know that an even bigger store is being built 8 miles away in Sherwood. Both Superstores will open around the same time, and many small businesses in both communities will suffer because of it. Tigard will have a Superstore on its northern border, a Superstore to the south (Sherwood), and a Walmart Neighborhood Market to it's east (in Lake Oswego, Boones Ferry) and it's west (in Beaverton, Murray Road). Grocery stores, hardware stores, general retail and others caught in between will be squeezed out. If you study Walmart's moves in other states, you realize this is the plan. We have had considerable dialogue with city officials and city staff about this. What we usually get is a bunch of nonsense about the 'free market'. The fact is that Walmart plays by one set of rules in its market, while the poor small businesses, who actually care about this community, have a different set of rules to play by. If anything, Walmart's market is 'free for the taking'.
4. We have worked with the city to propose some common sense regulations on large big box stores like Walmart, to try to even the playing field for all businesses in the city, as well as give them incentive to be a net benefit to the community. In a memo requested by the City Council, the City Attorney agreed with us that the Council has the power to make these regulations. However, the Council devoted only a small part of one meeting to discussion on these regulations, and there was no formal public hearing. One of the things we frequently hear for city officials is that they don't get enough input from citizens on matters of city policy. But our proposals didn't even get a hearing or meaningful discussion. Contrast this with the city councils of Brattleboro, VT, Santa Clara, CA, and most recently, Washington, DC, who have all addressed citizen concerns about Walmart and other large, big-box retailers, with thoughtful, effective ordinances and zoning rules. Tigard's elected officials are just not working at this level. We deserve better.
There are more lessons learned, and we'll share them in coming weeks and months. We started as a single-issue group opposed to a predatory, anti-competitive, and irresponsible retailer joining our community. But now we see that Tigard has some deeper, more systemic problems.