Saturday, April 30, 2005

What's with those Five Stones?

At the April 26 City Council meeting, I emptied five smooth stones – from our garden – into my left fist and, referring to 1 Samuel 17, suggested that that’s all we need to defeat Wal-Mart. The mayor quipped – nervously, I thought – that he was glad I didn’t have seven stones. “Seven Stones for Seven Council Members,” now there’s an idea for a musical!

So, what, you ask, was that all about…the five smooth stones, I mean? What did I have in mind? As a student at Berkeley’s Episcopal School for Deacons, I usually have in mind my next sermon…at the school or at the church I’m interning at. Were that sermon here in Vallejo, I might well choose 1 Samuel 17:32-49:

And David said to Saul, “Let no man’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine. And Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are but a youth.” But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and smote him and delivered it out of his mouth; and if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and smote him and killed him. Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, seeing he has defied the armies of the living God.” And David said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.”

And Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you!” Then Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a helmet of bronze on his head, and clothed him with a coat of mail. And David girded his sword over his armor, and he tried in vain to go, for he was not used to them. Then David said to Saul, I cannot go with these; for I am not use to them.” And David put them off.

Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the brook, and put them in his shepherd’s bag or wallet; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine.

And the Philistine came on and drew near to David with his shield-bearer in front of him. And when the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him; for he was but a youth, ruddy and comely in appearance. And the Philistine said to David,”Am I a dog that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the field.”

Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down, and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with the sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.

When the Philistine arose and came and drew near to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine.

And David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone, and slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the ground.

Thus endeth, one might say, today’s Bible study, with perhaps a slight addition: “My, those Old Testament writers were bloody minded.” But so too are our 21st century Philistines from Bentonville. A good preacher might also add a word of explanation relating the Scripture to the ethical issues of the world of today we live in.

This one’s rather simple, a “no-brainer” I’m inclined to say. Saul? David? Israel? They are a community – our community – Vallejo. The Philistines? They are that mob of anti-union, anti-woman, anti-minority, anti-immigrant, and, yes, predatory anti-business purveyors of the cheap, the mediocre, the unworthy, the stuff produced by non-union, non-American, unregulated workers in overseas sweatshops in China, Central America, and on tiny Pacific atolls. They go by the collective name of Wal-Mart.

Unfortunately, they’ve got allies –sycophants – in Vallejo – the voices that the Times-Herald likes to trumpet – those satisfied with “cheap town” and that shopper who reports that “(At Wal-Mart) I can get a lot of cheap stuff.” Is that really what we want – a “lot of cheap stuff” in “cheap town.” Have we no self respect, no compassion for the down-trodden foreign workers who produced our “cheap stuff,” no solidarity with our fellow American workers displaced by the exploitive practices of Wal-Mart’s minions worshipping at the altar of a rapidly shrinking Almighty Dollar…minions whipped into a semi-religious frenzy by their champion, their Goliath, Lee Scott.

Take heart. You’ve already beaten those earlier “lions and bears” - Bechtel and Shell. You’ve proven your dignity and worth. You – we – can do it again. The only question is: How many stones? The Biblical five? The seven demanded by a six-member city council? Or that one flung by David? Not wanting to tempt the Lord, I’m inclined to say “One is enough…one well-chosen, highly polished, well-aimed stone.”

Friday, April 22, 2005


And Vallejo needs you…now!

Okay, friends, here we go again. Quiet back-room behind-your-back bargaining. Big out-of-town boys in dark blue suits, money bulging from their pockets, local good ole boy lawyers in their tow. Another deal about to go down.

Maybe the Times-Herald will dribble out a few details this weekend. You'd think they might. After all, the City Council meets on it Tuesday, April typical Vallejo fashion at 5:00 p.m. Got the kids home from school yet? Home from work yet? Had your dinner? Had a chance to get up to speed on the details? To define your position? Prepare your talking points?

Have we got a deal for you! "We" are the Wal-Mart boys from Bentonville and we want you. We want Vallejo. We want a new big box "supercenter" on the old K-Mart site on Sonoma Boulevard in addition to, not instead of new AmCan supercenter.

Our new downtown Wal-Mart would be located about a mile down Sonoma Boulevard from the existing store at Meadows Plaza, 2.5 miles from the planned supercenter in "downtown" American Canyon, and just a few miles from an another existing store in Napa and one down the road in Fairfield. Even the Chamber's Rick Wells has expressed some surprise, saying it was "intriguing" that Wal-Mart would want to locate a string of stores so close to each other. The Spanish located their missions a convenient day's ride apart. Our Wal-Marts will be located a half-hour's walk apart. Now that's convenient!

Is that because Wal-Mart is so user friendly? No, it's because, in the eyes of the boys from Bentonville, Vallejo is an easy target. If Wal-Mart has its eyes on you, you are in the crosshairs of a very big blunderbuss.

Already last year, when rumors about this first surfaced, we heard the same arguments that were deployed earlier on behalf of LNG - tax revenues and jobs. Mayor Intintolli said he was "glad they are interested in Vallejo" and, according to the T-H last August "touted the importance of the revenue, jobs and community support Wal-Mart provides." Noting that a new megastore could lead to a "strengthening of the job base," the Chamber's Wells cited the "potential for a positive impact on the economy." So, there we are, the same old cast of characters, the same old mantra - revenue, jobs - and the same lack of critical questioning about what's really best for Vallejo.

Even the mayor, however, admitted to some fears that a Wal-Mart megastore on Sonoma Boulevard would doom the rehabilitation of the city's commercial corridor and, specifically, the mixed use plan for the K-Mart site that would include housing as well as retail. What, for example, would happen to other stores like Mervyn's and those struggling at Redwood Plaza. Wal-Mart has a record for gobbling up such competitors. Are the Chamber of Commerce's current members aware of that predatory record?

Jobs? Herein lies what should be our most telling objection to this unworthy scheme. Wal-Mart is not only anti-competition. It is virulently anti-union and anti-labor. It offers only minimum wages, woefully inadequate health care and retirement benefits. It exploits women and migrant workers. And it profits off the export of American jobs to overseas sweatshops in places like China, Bangladesh, and Honduras. Wal-Mart is not the sort of business Vallejo wants or needs. Hopefully, our trade unions and women's groups will voice that message loud and clear.

Were You Aware:

Here are just a few more facts you may wish to consider before Tuesday's City Council "study session." Were you aware

…that Wal-Mart, which creates its low prices on the backs foreign sweatshop laborers and non-unionized American "associates," has targeted California for dozens of its big box "supercenters?"

…that wherever Wal-Mart drops its super-sized parking lots, local businesses are put out of business, local workers lose decent jobs and benefits, and, over the long-haul, local city coffers come up short?

…that, having picked off American Canyon, Wal-Mart now has downtown Vallejo in its sights and seeks to build just such an enormous, nightmare-traffic-generating monstrosity on Sonoma Boulevard on the old K-Mart site?

…that, in order to do so, Wal-Mart seeks to force the city and county to rewrite the 1995/96 White Slough Specific Plan which restricts development on this environmentally sensitive site to low density mixed use planned development?

…that, to this end, Wal-Mart's agents have been in conversation with city officials for nearly a year and have engaged the services of local attorneys well-known in development circles to facilitate the process?

…that another developer is interested in building a more upscale, pedestrian-friendly mixed use project at the same location - one that combines housing and human-scale commercial development comporting with the beauty of the White Slough lagoon and the city's vision for a rehabilitated Sonoma Boulevard commercial corridor?

…that the Bullies from Bentonville seek to drive off this other developer and to strong arm the city council to knuckle under to their demands? "Don't get in their way," we've been warned, "They don't take 'No!' for an answer."

…that, if Wal-Mart gets its way with Vallejo, we can kiss off the upscale, forward looking development of our downtown, our waterfront, and Sonoma Boulevard itself? Vallejo's now bright future would slip into the darkness of the "cheap town" image that one Wal-Mart shopper described to the Times-Herald on March 24.

Does all this sound familiar? We've shown the out-of-town blue suits once before that Vallejoans don't take this sort of thing lying down. We can do it again!

What Can You Do? You Can:

...educate yourself by typing "Wal-Mart" into your computer search engine. You will be amazed by the flood of information about the predatory business practices of, the pending lawsuits against, and the settlements offered by this anti-union, anti-woman, immigrant-exploiting, local-business-busting monster.

…call Mayor Anthony Intintoli at 648-4377 and Council Members Gary Cloutier, Gerald Davis, Anthony Pearsall, Pamela Pitts, and Joanne Schively at 648-4575.

…express your views to the Vallejo Times-Herald which can be reached at: Readers Opinions, Times-Herald, P.O. Box 3188, Vallejo, CA 94590; 643-0128 (fax); or, via e-mail at

…contact us, Vallejoans for Responsible Growth, at (707) 554-0672 or, for information, petitions, and/or signs to place on your lawns or in your windows - residential and/or business.

…watch for up-to-date information.

…above all, attend the Vallejo City Council Study Session on the "Big Box" Issue, Tuesday, April 26, tentatively set for 5:00 p.m., at the City Council Chambers, 555 Santa Clara Street (at Georgia).

…at that meeting, thank especially Council Members Joanne Schively and Gary Cloutier for making it possible for us to express our views in the study session they helped bring about.

…and make it clear that Vallejoans don't want any more big boxes, but rather worker and consumer friendly businesses that jibe with our positive image of Vallejo's future. We are not "cheap town," but a vibrant city on the cusp of positive change consistent with our proud heritage.

VALLEJO, CA 94591-8039

"Preserving Vallejo's Future"