Jan 19, 2011 2:38 AM by Ariel Wesler

Community speaks out over proposed Walmart expansion

Controversy over a proposal to expand Walmart took center stage tonight at the Lompoc City Council meeting.

The 41,000 square foot expansion would turn the retail giant into a Supercenter , offering a full-service grocery department and an outdoor garden. The project hit a roadblock in October. That's when the city's planning commission rejected the environmental impact report, saying it does not adequately address urban decay. Walmart chose to appeal to the city council,which will have the final say.

If you didn't realize how much is at stake in Walmart's proposed expansion, just take a look at the large crowd. It was standing room only at Thursday night's meeting. For some, it's a matter of principal.

"Denying Walmart the opportunity to compete here is essentially making the decision for us," said Robert Jeffers of Lompoc.

Lompoc's unemployment sits at 16 percent, the highest in Santa Barbara County. Walmart says the expansion would create 85 new jobs with competitive pay and benefits, but opponents argue other jobs would be lost, further damaging the local economy.

"With Walmart being able to expand and knock out those small businesses, there is no incentive for anyone to want to open other businesses here," said Theresa Hernandez of Lompoc.

Opponents say there is no need for the expansion with so many grocery stores already in town.

"We are already well served by Vons, Albertsons, Fresh and Easy, and within feet from Walmart, Foods Co. Do we need another grocery? No," said Brian Cole of Lompoc.

"I hear the inputs of the elderly people that come in and say thank you for helping me because they can't get very far," said Phyllis Wagner, an employee at the Walmart in Lompoc.

Either way, some criticized city council members for dragging their feet on the issue.

"If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen," said Anita Dwyer of Lompoc.

Meanwhile, the entire community waits to see what's in store.

The city council has a few options. It could approve the project, deny it, or send it back to the planning commission for further review. Walmart first submitted its application to expand in 2008.

As of late Tuesday night, there was no word yet on whether a decision has been made.


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