Critics raise their voices against Rohnert Park Wal-Mart plan

Wal-Mart's proposal to add a supermarket to its Rohnert Park store was opposed Thursday by critics who said it offers low wages and few benefits to workers and will have a negative effect on other merchants.

"It's a bad idea that couldn't get worse," said Dawna Gallagher, one of several who spoke at a hearing on the project's draft environmental impact before the city's Planning Commission.

Retail giant Wal-Mart is proposing to supersize its Rohnert Park store by adding a 35,000-square-foot grocery store that could open as early as 2011.

Wal-Mart's low prices could be a boon to shoppers, who in interviews at several Rohnert Park stores this week said that during this recession, the cost of groceries is more important than ever.

Thursday night, however, it was only opponents who spoke during the 45-minute hearing. No representative of Wal-Mart spoke.

Wal-Mart is proposing adding 35,000 square feet to its Rohnert Park store for a full-size grocery store, making the facility into the only Wal-Mart Supercenter in Sonoma County. It would have 167,000 square feet.

The environmental impact report estimated a Rohnert Park supercenter would generate about an additional $23 million a year in sales, drawing business from existing stores in a trade area in which $263 million was spent on groceries in 2008.

The grocery store would be smaller than the Raley's, Safeway and Food Maxx stores now in Rohnert Park, about the same size as Oliver's Market in Cotati, but larger than most other locally owned stores, such as Pacific Market.

The larger Wal-Mart would draw most of its grocery shoppers from Rohnert Park, Cotati, Petaluma, Sebastopol and Santa Rosa and generate an additional 11,900 trips to Wal-Mart a week, according to the report.

The consultant said that it would worsen already bad traffic that clogs the freeway and causes backups at traffic lights, which will be significant and unavoidable.

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