The big box wars continue unabated in California, with retail giant Wal-Mart losing one high-profile round but winning elsewhere.

In early April, City of Inglewood voters rejected an initiative endorsed by Wal-Mart that would have required the city to approve, without environmental review, a 60-acre retail development between Hollywood Park race track and The Forum. A Wal-Mart supercenter was at the heart of the proposed shopping center.

The election received attention nationwide because it was the first time that Wal-Mart had gone the initiative route for a proposed store. Despite a Wal-Mart campaign that cost more than $1 million, 61% of Inglewood voters rejected the initiative. The 4,575 votes that Wal-Mart received cost the company about $220 apiece. Labor unions led the fight against the Inglewood initiative, and Wal-Mart opponents nationwide took heart from the election.

Still, Wal-Mart continued to press ahead. "It’s simply one store, one site in the list of hundreds we work on ever year," Wal-Mart Vice President Robert McAdam told the Los Angeles Times. "It’s not that big of a deal. We’re going to find ways to build stores and serve customers, and while we would have loved to have that location, there are going to be other opportunities."

Elsewhere, in what might be only a procedural victory for Wal-Mart, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors repealed an ordinance adopted earlier this year that prohibited stores of more than 100,000 square feet from devoting 10% of floor space to nontaxable items (see CP&DR, January 2004). The measure was clearly aimed at blocking supercenters, which are typically more than 200,000 square feet with complete grocery stores inside. Groceries are not taxed in California.

Wal-Mart sued Alameda County and the Central Valley City of Turlock, which adopted a similar ordinance. At the behest of County Counsel Richard Winnie, the Alameda board repealed the ordinance because the Planning Commission had never reviewed it — one of the grounds for Wal-Mart’s lawsuit. The company then dropped the its lawsuit, but the county intends to restart the ordinance adoption process.

Across the bay in San Francisco, a Board of Supervisors committee approved a proposed ordinance that would permit stores larger than 120,000 square feet that sell groceries in downtown, but ban them elsewhere. The ordinance also would require all stores of at least 50,000 square feet to obtain a conditional use permit.

Also in San Francisco, supervisors have approved a zoning ordinance that restricts "formula retail stores," defined as companies with at least 12 stores nationally and having at least two standardized traits, such as trademarks, merchandise, facades, signs or colors. The new ordinance outright bans formula retail stores on four blocks of Hayes Street in the center of Hayes Valley, near the Civic Center. The ordinance further requires formula retail stores that propose to open in one of the city’s approximately three dozen neighborhood retail districts to notify neighbors of the proposal. Supervisors said the law protects the city’s varied neighborhoods and local businesses.

The Southern California Association of Governments has adopted a $213 billion, 25-year transportation plan. The plan calls for nearly across-the-board improvements and changes to the metropolitan region’s system: a magnetic levitation train system, expanding Metrolink and Metro Rapid bus lines, growth at regional airports, and more freeway lanes, including toll and carpool lanes. The plan also calls for increasing the state gas tax by 10 cents per gallon, and raising as much as $60 billion over 25 years from tolls and ridership fees.

A lawsuit over the proposed Newhall Ranch project in Los Angeles County has been settled, marking what appears to be a change in tactics for opponents of the 21,000-home project just west of Santa Clarita.

Three environmental organizations agreed to drop the lawsuit in exchange for Newhall Land & Farming Company’s willingness to provide Los Angeles County with annual groundwater usage reports, and to ensure that groundwater serving the development meets state health standards.

Project opponents won an early round of the lawsuit when a Kern County Superior Court judge ruled, among other things, that there was inadequate evidence that water was available for the development. Newhall then acquired more water rights, and a revised environmental impact report was prepared. Last year, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved project and EIR revisions, which were enough to satisfy the Superior Court.

Instead of pursuing an appeal of that decision, opponents apparently intend to fight individual subdivisions within Newhall Ranch and to continue to question the availability of water.

The City of Santa Clarita’s proposal to annex 555 acres at the junction of Interstate 5 and Highway 14 — where a 5,800-home development is proposed — received a setback in April. A Los Angeles County Superior Court ruled that the city must complete an environmental impact report before proceeding with the annexation.

The city opposes the proposed Las Lomas development (see CP&DR Local Watch, January 2004) and has filed an application with the Los Angeles County Local County LAFCO. Las Lomas developers want the City of Los Angeles to annex the territory and have filed their proposal with that city.

The San Diego Padres' new downtown ballpark opened in April. The opening of the stadium, which is within a short walk of both the San Diego Convention Center and the thriving Gaslamp Quarter, appears to have induced even more interest in commercial and multi-family housing constructing in downtown, as several projects have been proposed in recent months.

The San Mateo County Local Agency Formation Commission has approved the proposed expansion of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District by 140,000 acres after a bitter fight by the San Mateo County Farm Bureau and property owners. The LAFCO decision adds property on the San Mateo County coast and in the coastal hills, including many farms, to the open space district.

The district, which covers portions of San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, has been very aggressive about acquiring property and conservation easements. It has preserved 48,000 acres since 1972. Agency officials say they would like to preserve another 12,000 acres, including coastal lands, in the next 15 years.

The Farm Bureau dropped its opposition after the district agreed not to use eminent domain in the coastal expansion area. In April, Gov. Schwarzenegger signed AB 1195 (Cohn), which ensures the district cannot use eminent domain in the expansion area.

Still, some landowners are unhappy and are considering a ballot measure to overturn the LAFCO decision.

Restoration of the Bolsa Chica wetlands in Huntington Beach took two major steps forward recently. In late March, the State Coastal Conservancy approved $10 million for the 1,200-acre project. In April, the State Lands Commission granted a four-year lease to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is scheduled to start work on restoration this fall. The ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles are providing $90 million for the project to offset port expansion projects.

Since the 1970s, environmentalists have fought development proposed on the degraded wetlands and adjacent bluffs (see CP&DR Environment Watch, January 2002). Over the years, the building envelope has dwindled to about 60 acres, and the current developer, Hearthside Homes, is reportedly negotiating to sell that property so that it may be preserved.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has re-designated 4.1 million acres in 28 California counties as critical habitat for the California red-legged frog, which is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The designation is similar to a 2001 critical habitat designation that a federal judge threw out in November 2002 because the Fish and Wildlife Service did not prepare an adequate economic analysis (see CP&DR In Brief, December 2002; Environment Watch, December 2000).

The new designation excludes three military bases on the central coast because of a new law exempting military lands from the Endangered Species Act, and lands covered by habitat conservation plans in San Joaquin and Riverside counties. The new designation adds territory in Nevada and Calaveras counties.

A revised economic analysis, however, was absent from the Fish and Wildlife Service’s announcement. The analysis will be released next year, the agency said.

The building industry, which won the earlier suit, complained that the agency had not improved its practices this time around. The designation of critical habitat can force additional federal review of proposed developments.