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Some info on the town
Hercules, California
Location-19 miles north of Oakland along 80 on the shores of San Pablo Bay
Pop-21,000
Racial Breakdown-23% White,18% Black, 10% Hispanic, 42% Asian
Average Home Price-$678,000
Average Family Income-$109,500

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HERCULES
Vote goes against Wal-Mart
Council OKs using eminent domain to block retailer

Patrick Hoge, Chronicle Staff Writer

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A standing-room-only crowd listens as the Hercules City Council debates using eminent domain to thwart Wal-Mart. Chronicle photo by Kim Komenich

The Hercules City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to take the unprecedented step of using eminent domain to prevent Wal-Mart from building a big-box store on a 17-acre lot near the city's waterfront.

Hercules resident Brenda Smith Johnson(VP of Information Services at JPMorganChase in The City) applauds after the City Council voted to use eminent domain to halt the construction of a planned Wal-Mart store. Chronicle photo by Kim Komenich

The vote caused most of the 300 people who had packed Hercules City Hall for the meeting to break out in cheers and applause.

"The city of Hercules is very unique. People from the outside have to understand that,'' said Hercules Vice Mayor Ed Balico just before the vote.

During a 90-minute public comment period that preceded the vote, nearly everyone who spoke urged the council to fight Wal-Mart.

"Throw the bums out," Hercules resident Steve Kirby said at the podium of Wal-Mart. "Wal-Mart will never understand what we want."

Front to back: Don Hom, Wilmar Tretasco, Ivan Chavez and Jose Santos, all of Hercules, watch the TV monitor in the Hercules City Hall lobby. Chronicle photo by Kim Komenich

Another resident, Anita Roger-Fields, expressed concern for small businesses in the city, saying they could be driven out of business by the discount store. "(Wal-Mart is) the worst thing that could happen to our community. They want to crush the competition."

The vote is the latest twist in a battle between the city and the discount-store chain, which wants to build a store near the city's historic waterfront. The city contends Wal-Mart's plan to build a discount store does not fit with its plans to develop the waterfront into a pedestrian-oriented village with high-end shops and homes.

"I'm elated. This is the result we wanted. The fact that it was unanimous is wonderful. Our City Council really came through," said Brenda Smith Johnson, an information technology vice president with JP Morgan Chase in San Francisco who moved to Hercules in 1992. "I know this is going to be a hard fight but we're up to it."

Some residents were infuriated that Wal-Mart had warned that if the City Council voted for eminent domain, the move would cost the city millions.

"I don't like to be threatened and they threatened my community,'' Bob Steiner, a certified public accountant and magician who lives in Hercules, said after the vote.

Only about four people spoke in favor of Wal-Mart. "The city has no guarantees that anybody is going to develop the property if they take it away from Wal-Mart," said Hercules resident Andre Wilson.

The vote allows the city to begin proceedings to acquire Wal-Mart's property by force to achieve its redevelopment goals.

Mary Pridham, a Hercules resident since 1971, protests outside the Hercules City Council chambers. Chronicle photo by Kim Komenich

Following the vote, Wal-Mart spokesman Kevin Loscotoff said Wal-Mart will evaluate the situation and decide what to do next.

The city was once a company town, home to a dynamite plant that during World War I was the nation's leading producer of TNT, and some turn-of-the-century homes that used to house company officials have been restored. The city plans to continue developing land along the waterfront to fit its vision.

"Why should we have to sell ourselves short when we have this great waterfront," Hercules resident Valerie Wilgus said following the vote.

Some residents have said they would prefer grocery stores such as Whole Foods, Trader Joe's or Andronico's, and specialty shops like those in Berkeley's swank Fourth Street district.

The vote comes after Wal-Mart rejected a city offer to buy its property earlier this year.


Wal-Mart attorney Edward Burg walks past Brenda Smith Johnson and Jason Akel after the vote. Chronicle photo by Kim Komenich

Officials from the nation's largest retailer have said they are determined to open a store on the company's 17 acres overlooking San Pablo Bay. In a letter to the city on Tuesday, Wal-Mart attorneys argued that eminent domain was unnecessary because the company had tailored its project to meet the community's desires, downsizing the proposed store and garden center from 167,000 square feet to roughly 100,000 square feet and designing the shopping center to have "a very attractive, village-like appearance.''

But critics countered that Wal-Mart's latest plan was still more than 50 percent larger than a store plan approved for the site before the retail giant bought the property.

The city was the first in the state to adopt a redevelopment code that prescribes the design of streets, building dimensions and some architectural requirements, such as front porches. A key part of the plan called for a waterfront village with high-density housing and shops, a shoreline park, a train station, bus service and even a ferry stop.

E-mail Patrick Hoge at [email protected].
 

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Wal-Mart attorney Edward Burg walks past Brenda Smith Johnson and Jason Akel after the vote. Chronicle photo by Kim Komenich

Hey,that guy representing Walmart, is my friends dad.
 

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I just saw this on ABC's World News Tonight like 15 minutes ago. This could very well lead to a landmark case for the Supreme Court. Possibly canceling out eminent domain.
 

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An inspiration to all...
 

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Disgusting. The whole idea of eminent domain is a disgrace to our nation.
 

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i think the courts are rearing their ugly heads over all of this "eminent domain" stuff. eminent domain is supposed to apply to things that are for the common good ans for the community: for instance, eminent domain would be used to take land for widening a road or building a new school. now the courts are using eminent domain to dictate how business is done, which is not what the law is supposed to be for. this case had a life to begin with because of another stupid case in connecticut where the city kicked people out of their homes because a corporation wanted the land and they would be paying more taxes than any homeowners would.
 

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eminent domain to dictate how business is done, which is not what the law is supposed to be for.
Exactly. I hate WalMart with a passion and refuse to shop there, but the government shouldn't be using its power, esp. eminent domain, to block a private business from building. Also, I wonder how a large enough chunk of land to build a Wal Mart, which is supposedly so valuable, has not been developed yet. If it was so important, wouldn't the city have zoned it for smaller retail or residential or set aside the area as a nature preserve or something?
 
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