View from Lodi, CA: Sprawl-Busting In A (Formerly) Small Town


I support

Lodi businesses.
I buy my meat at the

Lakewood Meat Market
. I get my flowers and plants
from

Weigum`s Nursery
. My produce comes from Roy`s.
When I fill up, I go to Flame Mini-Mart.

I`ve known Bruce, Jim, Vern, Ted
and Pete since I moved to Lodi. They were among the
first people I met in my new town.

When I still could, I went to
Henderson Brothers Hardware, a Lodi institution since
1895.

But Henderson Brothers couldn`t
outgun the big-box stores like Home Depot, so it`s
history.

I hate those big-box stores and all
that they represent. I don`t really care if I can save
10 cents a pound on ground beef by buying it at a huge
supermarket. I know that for some families, saving money
on a grocery bill is vital. But as long as it isn`t to
me, I`ll keep returning to my old friends.

And while I acknowledge that some
of that of the arguments in favor of building more and
more huge, ugly stores have a fragment of merit to them,
I am on the whole neither persuaded nor fooled.

In the debate about the now-stalled
plan to put a Lowe`s superstore and WinCo Foods building
at the corner of Lower Sacramento Road and Highway, one
thing became clear. Not everyone who lives in Lodi has a
correct definition of sprawl.

Sprawl is one word that developers
and city planners want to avoid at almost any cost. To
acknowledge that a project creates sprawl would be very
bad publicity indeed.   

The traditional but limited
definition of sprawl is rural acres lost as an urbanized
area spreads outward over a period of years. But a more
practical definition would include the total amount of
once rural land lost to development. And it would also
include the unpleasant by-products of urban
in-fill–namely traffic and air pollution created by
greater congestion.

Lowe`s Companies, Inc. creates
sprawl by its very existence. And even though the Lowe`s
project is tabled for now, some interesting insights
into the company are worth a look.

According to its

website
, Lowe`s is pursuing an “aggressive expansion
plan, opening a new store on the average of every three
days.”  The current store prototype has “a 121,000-
square-foot sales floor with a lawn and garden center
averaging an additional 30,000 square feet.”

The company states that total
retail square footage reached 81 million square feet at
the beginning of 2002. Lowe`s plan for 2002 included
opening 123 new stores.

What happens when a huge shopping
center with a large anchor store and several smaller
stores open for business? For one, traffic increases
greatly.

In the last few years, traffic from
east to west on Highway 12 has increased beyond anyone`s
wildest imagination. With the addition of Food-4-Less,
Wal-Mart, Target, Safeway and dozens of smaller stores,
the congestion from Ham Lane to Lower Sacramento is bad
every day. During weekends and holidays, the traffic is
impossible.

The ink was hardly dry on the
headline story in the Lodi News-Sentinel on
September 13 announcing, “Lowe`s in Lodi delayed pending

environmental study
” when the September 17 edition

revealed
, “Group applies to build shopping center in
Lodi.”

A new shopping center, whether on
the northeast corner if the Lowe`s development is
eventually approved or the southwest corner where a
297,000-square-foot shopping center with additional
stores is proposed, means more traffic—lots more
traffic.

Although it is hard for some native
sons to acknowledge, Lodi lost its small town charm
years ago. I have only lived in Lodi for fifteen years.
Lodi circa 1987 has little if any relationship to Lodi,
2002.

But in the current battle against
Lowe`s, the concerned citizens of Lodi scored a
hard-earned victory.

And by so doing, Lodi joins an
elite list of 164 communities that, as of March 2002,
have fought successfully to keep megastores out of their
towns. These towns (www.sprawl-busters.com)
have forced developers to withdraw. In some cases, the
developers have returned with plans to build on another
side of town. But they were turned back at least once.

When your opponent is a $22 billion
dollar company like Lowe`s, the second largest home
improvement retailer and the 13th largest
retailer overall in the U.S., you have brought down a
very large and powerful foe.

Joe Guzzardi [email
him], an instructor in English
at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly
column since 1988. It currently appears in the


Lodi News-Sentinel
.