Walmart Big-Box Bill Defeated in Last Hours of Legislative Session

Wal-Mart location

Less than a year ago, I wrote in an op/ed in the San Francisco Chronicle that a bill which would exempt developers of an NFL stadium project in southern California from the legal requirements of a thorough environmental impact report would pave the way for more special interests seeking their own legal exemptions.

Sure enough, this year Walmart and the California Retailers Association sponsored a bill that would have made it easier under California’s environmental regulations for the nation’s largest retailer to open new stores.

AB 1581 (Torres) would have exempted from California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review the alteration of a vacant retail structure of up to 120,000 square feet so long as the use was consistent with the applicable general plan and met certain energy and water efficiency thresholds. The exemption had a sunset date of January 1, 2014.

The bill would have prevented any legal challenges and the costs of impacts on traffic, noise, wildlife and environmental resources would have fallen on taxpayers rather than the developer.

Although the bill appeared to be gaining steam in the closing hours of the legislative session, it ultimately died before it had time to pass the Senate.

The bill’s supporters had argued that the legislation was necessary to give the economy a jolt by streamlining the process for opening new stores in now-vacant locations, and that the bill would create jobs and local tax revenue.  Co-sponsor State Senator Joe Simitian argued “there are no adverse impacts to the environment from this bill.”

What do you think? Was the bill a good idea to jump start the California economy?  Or did it go too far in eroding California’s environmental laws?

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)