Redding’s No. 1 Priority: More Retail?

The expansion of the Oasis Road/Interstate 5 interchange would set the table for a large commercial retail development on land on the east side of I-5.

Among the primary arguments for developing the Oasis area into a retail sector is that it’s the last open freeway stretch in the city. Proponents believe it would secure a retail advantage for Redding and thus generate more sales tax revenue, a huge portion of the city’s bottom line.

On Tuesday night, the Redding City Council voted 4-1 in favor of asking the federal government for $5 million toward the interchange expansion. The request is for the Oasis interchange to be included with the 2011 Transportation Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Bill.

Redding mayor Patrick Jones referred to the project as the city’s No. 1 priority several times during Tuesday’s meeting.

Last month, Jones traveled to Washington D.C. to meet with Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and others to lobby for the interchange funding. Jones’ trip to Washington was paid for by developer Don Levenson, who owns much of the land off Oasis and who plans to build a good portion of the new retail space there.

Upon returning from Washington, Jones was notified by Redding City Manager Kurt Starman that he should reimburse Levenson the $2,805 he received for the trip, based on advice from the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission. Jones did just that, out of his own pocket.

Much of the issue at Tuesday’s meeting was whether Jones should step aside during the city council’s vote on the matter. City attorney Rick Duvernay provided a long explanation that basically reiterated that the trip on Levenson’s dime was a conflict that could disqualify Jones from the vote. But in the end, Duvernay and the city left the decision up to Jones.

Jones, of course, didn’t step aside and did in fact vote for the measure.

Councilmember Mary Stegall, the lone dissenter on the vote, said that the Oasis development was not her No. 1 priority. She said a new police station and other road projects supersede the Oasis interchange in her mind. Although she joined others in praising Jones for his initiative in traveling to Washington on behalf of the project, she questioned whether more retail development should really be Redding’s No. 1 priority.

Perhaps the Oasis Road/I-5 interchange expansion is a viable project on its own. There’s been a lot of residential growth in the area and the interchange sees a lot more traffic than it did a few decades ago.

But considering that there are already a number of vacant big-box stores throughout Redding, is developing a new commercial retail center off Oasis really a sound endeavor?

If a large portion of retail traffic is driven to a new area like Oasis, what does that mean for businesses that remain in the Dana Drive/Hilltop area? Isn’t it fair to assume that we would see more empty buildings like Mervyns, Gottschalks and Circuit City, not to mention the multitude of empty spaces throughout Redding strip malls?

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Mervyns, one of the Dana Drive area’s currently empty big-box spaces.

One appeal of the Oasis site seems to be its proximity to the freeway. One big player in this mix is Costco.

Costco wants to expand to a larger store. (Side note: I was just in Costco the other day and the place just seems so massively cavernous to me. I was worn out walking around in there. And they need a much bigger store? Why don’t I get the supersize culture?)

Anyway, perhaps the fear is that Costco would relocate to a site just outside of the city limits (perhaps someplace right off I-5, like, say near Knighton Road) — and goodbye supersized sales tax revenue for Redding.

But if Wal-Mart can supersize itself right on its same site, can’t Costco? (The answer may be no. I haven’t asked the right person yet.)

According to Scott Mobley’s reporting in the Record Searchlight, developer Levenson won approval in 2006 to build a 302,238-square-foot shopping center off of Oasis Road. The center would be just a portion of 2.5 million square feet of retail space that the city hopes to develop there in the coming years.

But it all hinges on the widening and expansion of the Oasis Road interchange, which would facilitate safe traffic flow into the area.

But when it comes to a new Oasis Road retail development, I can’t help but think about what happened back in the day when Dana Drive dealt a death blow to retail in downtown Redding. Couldn’t a case be made that we’re just repeating that cycle? Would we be creating mini ghost towns all around Redding?

As Stegall mentioned, why is building a new big-box retail center viewed as a huge boon and savior for the city? Corporate retail wages are inherently low and company profits are funneled right out of town. They’re like British Empire colonies — local retailers are obliterated, we get low wage jobs and our diamonds disappear to someplace like Bentonville, Arkansas.

But developers have such a big influence on our civic leaders. Development certainly stimulates the economy, but perhaps it’s prudent to ask what kind of development best suits Redding and where should it take place?

I remember when I first came to Redding and tried to determine where the true center of town was. I went downtown and got confused because there wasn’t much going on there. Then I found the Dana Drive/Hilltop area and figured it was the city’s focal point. But then I found the Lake Boulevard area and thought, well, this is a large pocket of commerce, too.

Redding confused me back then. Two decades later, it still does.

jim-dyar-125Jim Dyar is a news, arts and entertainment journalist for A News Cafe and the former arts and entertainment editor for the Record Searchlight’s D.A.T.E. section. Jim is also a songwriter and leader of the Jim Dyar Band. He lives in Redding. E-mail him at jimd.anewscafe@gmail.com.

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is a journalist who focuses on arts, entertainment, music and the outdoors. He is a songwriter and leader of the Jim Dyar Band. He lives in Redding and can be reached at jimd.anewscafe@gmail.com
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22 Responses

  1. Barbara Rice Barbara Rice says:

    I can hardly believe anyone truly thinks Redding needs MORE retail spaces. I was in Vacaville a couple of weeks ago and discorvered many of those big-box stores are vacant – either yet to be occupied or went out of business. And that's on a very busy stretch of I-80.

    Retail is not known for paying good wages/benefits – both of which Redding sorely needs. If those stores were to be occupied, it would very likely be by chains and major retailers not based in NorCal – whatever happened to "shop local"? How can Redding possibly support more stores when the ones here are teetering on the brink?

    This is as forward thinking as Redding City Council gets? Sad.

  2. Avatar Ginny says:

    It is crazy for the City to add another "big" box area to Redding. Yes, it might bring sales tax in, yet filling the stores we already have should be the paramount importance right now with the economy so bad.

    17.7% unemployment what the City needs to do is find jobs that are decent paying jobs would be advantages for Redding, if we are to grown into a viable area to live, raise families.

    Good article, Jim!

  3. Avatar Celeste White says:

    The fact that they're even considering this, let alone making it a priority, makes it entirely clear, IMO, how little developers and the city council care about local businesses, existing retail space and those who own/lease them, and the residents of our town. I remember thinking the other day what a shame it is that there are people in positions of power in this city who care only about their own welfare and not at all about the city's, yet they posture as if they do. But actions speak louder than words. Building this big box development will remove no doubt what they think of everyone who's not going to benefit personally from this. Thanks for the good article.

  4. Avatar Craig Padilla says:

    That's another good article, Jim.

    I just had the same discussion with a friend the other day:

    The problem with Redding is that it has no "heart", no true "center" like most really cool cities and towns.

    It's been that way since I moved here in 1980. My peers and I used to say there was nothing to do here as a young boy.

    There's been a wonderful effort to make downtown "the center", but it's still doesn't feel like a "heart of town" to me.

    Regards,

    Craig
    http://www.CraigPadilla.com

  5. Avatar Brandon says:

    Check out the Final EIR (page 80) which basically says yes there will be impacts to existing retail areas, but these impacts aren't significant (based upon economic analysis which are part of the public record).

    Oasis is the last of the "Big Box" development areas of Redding. My opinion is that vacancies in the Dana Drive area could open up interesting redevelopment opportunities in the future.

    At the time the EIR for Oasis was written, I don't think anyone could see the pending economic disaster that we're now experiencing. In the same thread, nobody can predict what the economic future holds.

    My opinion is that in our free market, capitalist society, a commercial developer willing to take a stake in building in Redding has the freedom to do so (provided our Government continues to do it's job to protect the public health and safety) .

    As citizens it is our duty to show up at public meetings, to have our voices heard, to question the process and to be involved in the decisions that affect our community. My experience has been that when the public gets involved in the development process, that the end result is often something better than not.

    Here's a link: http://www.ci.redding.ca.us/documents/Final.Oasis

  6. Avatar Don says:

    Jim,

    I couldn't agreemore. How much more "Big Box" retail do we need in this community. All you have to do is drive through the redding area, i.e., Dana Drive Caterpillar, etc, and look at all the empty buildings. Retail space is avaiable for those that want it. Lease prices have even been dropped to lure and make affordable retail space. Just because we have one last strip left and a developer wants to make a shopping center out of it, does not mean that is the best use of the land.

    Downtown is trying its best to revitalize itself. Look at Grilla Bits, the new area across from Old City Hall, as examples of the effort being put forth by some of our citizens.

    The voice of the people needs to be heard when it comes to developing these types of areas. As Brandon stated " Many times when people get involved better things come about". With this said I beleive that the citizens of Redding need to step up and stay on top of the Oasis project. Mary Stegall at least looks at the real picture other than just tax revenue from one source which in most cases is not local merchants.

    Get the vacant buildings occupied and you will increase your tax revenue. Get better paying jobs and you will revitalize the local econmy even more, as people will be able to spend and buy more with the extra money instead of trying to make ends meet.

  7. Avatar Harvy Johnson says:

    Jim,

    Great article. I love your style.

    Some of the council members stated last night that their main motivation for upgrading the interchange is not for big-box retail. It is simply to upgrade a very old and outdated interchange. Yes, the upgrade will allow for more development in the northern sector of Redding, commercial and residential. And yes I'm sure the biggest push for this improvement from the private sector is the developer who has the most at stake. It makes sense. Big box retail is just one of many developments that will precipitate from a larger interchange and most likely the first thing to do so.

    This endeavor is 100% in line with Mayor Jones' original statements as a council member. He said he wanted to focus on infrastructure and build the City up, not out. Oasis may be a few miles north, but it's still part of the incorporated area and holds the only outdated I-5 interchange in our City. So he's doing exactly what he told us he would do.

    Whether this is the right place to spend the 5 mil…time will tell.

  8. Avatar Doug Bennett says:

    Jim, you've asked some of the right questions in this article. Maybe what is missing is a "follow the money" analysis? Using Mervyns as an example of pre-Starman era, we find that the developer paid a good share of the costs of the diversion of Churn Creek Blvd. and the building of the bridge across Hwy 44. Building the Stillwater Business fiasco (another no.1 priority) and building out Oasis, the only ones that will really benefit are the developers (Jaxon Baker?) and the contractors that get the work. Has anyone looked at who these folks are in all these big and costly projects that will do very little for the citizens of Redding? You don't see or hear their names in the media much, except in the case of Levenson buying a piece of Jones, who should be forced to resign. A little harsh you say? Well, you may be right. Certainly he and Starman are continuing a long tradition of working for the Chamber of Commerce, developers and indirectly the Builders Exchange. Once again, follow the money. The city continues to undermine unions and dump employees that would add to the economy if they were employed. For what? More trickle down and subsidies for private corporations? Redding stinks to high heaven. Look who some of our past council members and managers went to work for after subsidizing Turtle Bay and Big League Dreams. HELLO!

  9. Avatar Jeff Morris says:

    Jim,

    Great piece.

    The link below is a humorous, although quite sincere, talk by Howard Kunstler regarding development of communities that are worth defending.

    Although there are a few expletives (otherwise known as adult enhanced punctuation) it is a great summary of the abandonment of centuries of planning logic after World War II in the U.S. and the rise of the suburbs.

    http://blog.ted.com/2007/04/james_howard_ku_1.php

    Also enjoyed Doni's report on the DA debates.

    Be well and drop a line sometime.

    Jeff

  10. Avatar Duane says:

    Viva Downtown! Redding is not lacking retail….it needs manufacturing and other commercial businesses to support the retail it has affording us residents the needed jobs and income. Our downtown is coming back to life and there are those who have put a lot of elbow grease in trying to turn things around. I am for growth on Oasis but it has to be balanced and not just more retail space. Companies like ISACO out by the airport are a good example. Going from 4 employees to 40 in just two years and housing up to 140 students or more at a time who come here from China to learn to be commercial pilots and learn English for Chinese airline companies. During their stay here they spend at our retailers for food, clothing and entertainment plus transportation. A win win win for everyone.

  11. Avatar Troy Hawkins says:

    Great article Jim.
    With leadership like this Redding will always be a small disjointed little town. There are ways and local talent to implement growth and financial stability while keeping intact what we all love about Redding. The small town feel, everybody knows your name attitude and scenic beauty of our hometown. Growth like this Oasis project fills the pockets of a few while hurting the majority.
    Redding needs to decided if it's going to be a city or a suburb. Suburban sprawl is the death of a communities heart and this project will be another nail in the coffin of downtown. I personally do not shop at the big box stores. I find locally owned businesses for almost all of my needs.
    I think we all need to make our voices heard.
    Limit new development and back projects that enhance Redding, the people that live here and our locally owned business.

  12. Avatar Pat j. says:

    I agree. Who needs a bigger Costco? I don't, and it is a shame to see all the vacant buildings "IN" Redding, Let's fill them first!!

  13. Avatar Ann Webber says:

    Thank you Jim for an insightful and informative article. You are perceptive and we need to have more people aware of what happens while we are just trying to live out here in the masses!

  14. Avatar shelly shively says:

    Thank-you for such a stirring article, Jim. I would like to believe that Redding stands a ghost of a chance for avoiding urban sprawl. Hooray for Mary Stegall in her wisdom in taking Redding's future into account, and not just the short term scratch to a superficial itch.

    I'd never heard of Howard Kunstler until Jeff Morris added his link in his comment….Bravo!!! Not just complaints, but solutions. Gives me hope.

  15. Avatar Jeff Agrarian says:

    From http://escholarship.org/uc/item/8fb7g45n:

    "The Church Rock Petroglyph Site: Field Documentation and Preliminary Analysis. Jo Anne Van Tilburg, Frank Bock, and A. J. Bock. Redding: Occasional Papers of the Redding Museum No. 4, 1987, 113 pp., 66 figs., 3 tables, $12.50 (paper).

    This report is a discussion of the rock art component of CA-SHA-39, the "Church Rock" petroglyph site. Church Rock is part of a prehistoric site complex located approximately 12 km. northeast of Redding, in north-central California. The site is situated within ethnographic Wintu territory, and it is associated with the former Wintu village of Tsarau Heril.

    Church Rock was deeded to the City of Redding in the late 1970s. Since that time, the Redding Museum has helped guide the city in its stewardship of this significant cultural resource.

    In 1982, the city arranged to have Van Tilburg, Bock, and Bock record the rock art component of CA-SHA-39. As the title indicates, the report is a discussion of field recording techniques and a preliminary analysis of field findings. In preparing their report, the authors sought to accomplish three major objectives:

    . . . to present a representative sampling of the type and variety of data collected;
    to provide the community agencies responsible for the petroglyph site with enough background to make intelligent decisions for its continued protection and possible utilization;
    and last, to make enough of a preliminary analysis of the data to facilitate further research [p. 9].

    It would appear that the authors have successfully accomplished their objectives."

    My, my, how things have changed. The City gave up on one of its crown jewels, the Redding Museum, and let it be merged with Carter House (another jewel) into Turtle Bay, ostensibly to get it off the City bankroll.

    Then, they turn around and give Turtle Bay more funding than the Museum of Carter House EVER got (by far).

    Now, the City wants to develop one of the most important Wintu prehistoric sites (another jewel), and thereby obliterate thousands of years of history and prehistory.

    I'm not saying that all of this was pre-meditated (that's giving the City too much credit.) It's just interesting how things always seem to work out for developers.

    The rich keep getting richer, and the rest of us just get old.

  16. Avatar david kerr says:

    Recall is too expensive. Let's just tar and feather them.

  17. Avatar Skip Murphy says:

    A good and stimulating article, Jim. I’m of two minds about Oasis. It isn’t simple. If you stop to think that a small business owner like Mayor Jones has perhaps the most to lose by encouraging the development (think Cabelas), it should make you imagine the complexity that leads him to be a proponent. I believe that many people are unaware of the implications of the Knighton Landing project. http://shastamls.com/wordpress/?p=392
    If built, the taxes won’t be going to Redding. If I had to choose on straight land use, Oasis is a better choice than Churn Creek Bottom land. And it’s not Downtown vs Interchange. You can’t put an IKEA downtown, or in the old Mervyns. Local people vote with their wallets on big box retail, going back to the days of the McCormick Saeltzer store. I wish it weren’t so, but wishing won’t make it so. I desire a Redding that balances voracious big box retail with the economic and environmental health of our community, and I believe that’s the equation our City Council struggles with too. It’s good to be part of that conversation.

  18. Avatar Barb says:

    The reality is you cant force big business into areas that are not desirable. IKEA, Larger Costco, etc all want freeway frontage. The flip side of not developing Oasis is the stores simply don't come. Its not a make them go into existing vacancies proposition. They will however, locate outside the city, and we will lose all the revenue. Does anyone else remember when the WalMart Distribution Center wanted to come here and our brilliant planners said NO? They went to Red Bluff instead.

    We are obligated to update the overchange. We are past capacity. Whether the big box comes there or not, the overchange must be corrected. Its also a housing issue. It is the responsibility of the city to keep the interchanges handling capacity.

    Just like you can make downtown more pedestrian friendly due to poor planning, you cant make Dana/Hilltop bigger or less crowded. Like it or not we are a growing city. And while I agree we need manufacturing jobs, we need jobs period. Retail, fast food, it doesn't matter.

  19. Avatar Gabrielle Wright says:

    Good article and I love the word 'disjointed' in one of the above comments. The word disjointed perfectly describes the leadership's vision for this area. It's ridiculous the amount of empty retail space we already have and they want more. It might add more jobs but the bulk of those jobs are low-paying, dead-end jobs.

  20. Avatar Joanne Lobeski Snyde says:

    Great article Jim and great discussion! Can I share to thoughts that come to mind? In Fresno, the business and bottom-line folks kept building new malls and business centers and kept moving the city center further and further out of downtown until now the downtown is almost deserted. I take that back. It's like a big L.A. swap meet. (And I love Fresno's down town) Surely the culture of Redding is not based on selling stuff. I'm thinking that the BIG plan for Redding might not include sprawl. I know everyone knows this already, but what's good for the bottom line isn't always good for a society or for a community. Are there a ways to entice folks to set up shop in the vacant shops in downtown Redding? Is there a way to entice business to set up shop in the empty buildings on the east side of the river? Does this all come down to money?

  21. Avatar Russell K. Hunt says:

    Here is the rub. Knighton Rd. needs no major improvements for a proposed shopping center, but Oasis does. How about setting up a benefit assessment district like was done for the Churn Creek overpass at Hwy. 44. ? Fix things as developer's pay into the fund. But the moral issue at hand. is that Rick Bosetti takes big campaign contributions from the Levinsons but never disqualifies himself from voting to help them. That is a big conflict of interest.. An honest man would abstain from voting.

  22. Avatar Don Kirk says:

    Three years ago the city council stated that S. Bonnyview Rd., was the next Big Box area to be developed; as it's the only site reasonable for such development (that side of town has no big-box stores; and the Dana Drive area is on the city's border).

    I'm saying lets fill up the empty box store space (Mervyn's, Gottschalks, Circuit City, Food Connection (Lake & Market), before we create more empty stores. If Costco moves, rumors are that Target would too. Then we'll have those two large box store spaces also empty. Property values on Dana Drive and Hilltop will tumble; and we will not be getting as much property tax income for the city. Many of the stores on Dana Drive will close if the Oasis Rd. Mall is built.

    Vote Joses and Bosetti out; and keep their counter-part Cadd out. Murray was voted out 2 years ago; and Sullivan was voted out as a county Supervisor. Hobson sounds much like Murray; and that leaves Reit, Sou and me, Kirk at the likely choices to keep Redding City Council from making even worse blunders. We also need to stop development of a mall at Knighton Rd; as it's not in the city and we will not gain from it (even if the county shares the sales tax $'s, we lose 1/2 of that; as well as depreciated property taxes at the Dana Drive area.