Walmart has snuck in through the back door of Encinitas, almost unnoticed. The giant retailer has already pulled permits to start construction at a vacant 105,000-square-foot store on the corner of Leucadia Boulevard and Calle Barcelona.
To the chagrin of many Encinitas residents, Walmart avoided the public review process by negotiating directly with the building's leaseholder, Home Depot. Even though it closed its Expo store over three years ago, Home Depot still maintained the lease on the building. By not proposing a new building (the site is in the already heavily commercialized Encinitas Ranch Specific Plan area), Walmart was able to abide by zoning regulations.
On Wednesday, September 28, the city council informed the 20 residents who showed up at the meeting that there was nothing the city could do to stop Walmart. After the lease arrangement between Home Depot and Walmart was a done deal, Walmart approached the city and was able to meet all zoning and building codes by not proposing a change to the exterior of the building. The only change required is the walling off of 8000 square feet of floor space, making it an unusable “dead zone”; the reduction of the store's area will bring Walmart into compliance with the required five parking spaces for every 1000 square feet.
The six speakers that addressed the council, including former mayor Sheila Cameron, demanded that the city take action. One said that Home Depot ignored the 150 letters opposing the lease deal. A representative from the Leucadia Town Council said she had never received as many emails as she had about the Walmart issue. Another speaker said the UltraStar Cinemas chain expressed an interest in the Expo building, but Home Depot did not negotiate with them.
The city's attorney said that since Walmart has met all zoning requirements and the 15-day window for a citizen-filed appeal expired last week, there was nothing the city could do. Two councilpersons advised the residents opposed to Walmart to not shop there.
My February 27, 2010, article followed up on a rumor that Walmart was coming to Encinitas. At that time, Encinitas head planner Tom Curriden denied anyone in his department had formally talked to Walmart — contrary to an item written by a well-connected columnist for the Coast News.
In recent years, residents in San Marcos and Inglewood have succeeded in stopping Walmart with citizen-backed ballot initiatives. Last year, San Diego backed off on its proposed legislation against “big box” retailers after Walmart announced a legal challenge to the ordinance.