"We have to put the interests of the community first, not the interests of Wal-Mart," said Councilman Brian Kalinowski.
He made the motion to continue the public hearing on the environmental impacts of the Wal-Mart expansion for further review, following a staff report, testimony by people supporting and opposing the project, and concerns raised by council members.
"I asked Wal-Mart back in January to make a contribution of one million dollars to the community, and I haven't heard from them," said Councilman Jim Conley, who seconded Kalinowski's motion.
"That's extortion," said Councilman Arne Simonsen in a phone interview Wednesday morning. "You can't hold up acting on an EIR for a reason not related to the development." He added that the council is not treating Wal-Mart the same as other applicants in imposing requirements.
"We don't treat everybody the same, we treat everybody fairly," responded Mayor Don Freitas, who raised several concerns about the retailer's expansion, such as dust, noise and vibration during construction, and water runoff from uncovered pallets or cardboard boxes - which release dioxins into the environment - after construction.
The council, in a meeting that went past midnight, was considering an appeal of the approval of the environmental impact report (EIR) and the design of the supercenter by the Antioch Planning Commission and the Design Review Board.
Appeals were filed by attorney Mark Wolfe on behalf of Kent McGibney and the California Healthy Communities Network and attorney Natalie Webber on behalf of a community group, Antioch Citizens for Smart Growth.
One of Wolfe's points was that the expansion project would exceed the gross square footage limits because only the area used for sales was included, rather than all of the area under a roof. He asked the council to consider the dictionary definition of "gross."
Council member Kalinowski also discussed this item. But Antioch Senior Planner Nina Oshinsky, who presented the staff report to the council, said she did not hear any instruction from the council to look into the gross square footage issue.
"That's a red herring," said Simonsen on Wednesday. "Typically, only the area used for sales is counted."
One of Webber's points was that due to prevailing winds, the project would contribute air pollution to the Central Valley. Both appellants raised concerns about traffic and noise impacts from the expanded, 24-hour store.
Judy Davidoff, an attorney representing Wal-Mart, said that the project's impacts would be mitigated as required by the EIR, and that Wal-Mart has an entitlement to proceed with the project.
Allen Payton, who was a member of the council when the original Wal-Mart proposal came before the council in 1998, said he favored the project so that the city would get the tax revenue. He made a Solomon-like suggestion that the council approve the supercenter but not the 24-hour operation.
When Freitas asked Davidoff if Wal-Mart could live with that compromise decision, she said she doesn't think that would be wise. Joining Davidoff was Kevin Loscotoff, a Wal-Mart spokesman, who also said that would not work.
Due to the lateness of the hour, the Design Review Board approval was not discussed. But Freitas said, "I have problems with the design."
"I don't like the design," agreed Conley. "We want to raise the bar."
The motion to continue the hearing, delaying a decision on Wal-Mart's expansion, passed 3-2, with Simonsen and Councilman Jim Davis voting no.
"We'll work with Wal-Mart," said Joe Brandt, director of community development.