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.