Monday, May 23, 2005

Wal-Mart County

Wal-Mart County, formerly known as Solano County, used to be a decent place to live, a place with rolling green hills and an occasional marsh, lagoon, or lake separating our communities strung along I-80 between the Carquinez Strait and the Yolo wetlands.

No more, I fear – not since the bullies from Bentonville rode into town, flashing their cash in the faces of small-minded small-town mayors and council members strapped for revenue. They picked them off, one by one, starting, just a mile across our Napa border, with American Canyon, population 12,000. Then came Dixon, population 16,000. And now Suisun City, a veritable metropolis of 27,000. Each will have its very own Wal-Mart Supercenter, each the size of seven football fields.

In the case, of Suisun City, that rustic four-square-mile “Gateway” (to?) whose admittedly handsome downtown development was recently touted as an environmentally-friendly wave of the future on “Bay Area Backroads,” the Wal-Mart parking lot may prove bigger than the town. But, then, the town will have to grow to accommodate Wal-Mart and the rest of the 650,000 square-foot project on the Gentry property northwest of town. In order to do that, however, Suisun City will have to annex that last greenbelt between it and Fairfield…and give up its vision of being something different in the midst of the spreading sprawl of Wal-Mart County.

That other “Gateway” – this time to the Napa Valley – American Canyon has given Wal-Mart permission to bulldoze the land east of Napa Junction, the town’s new “downtown.” That bulldozing continued until just a day or two ago despite a court order to stop, only because Wal-Mart convinced the judge to insist that its opponents in this town of maybe 4,000 families post an indemnification bond of $180,000. Well they posted that bond and a hearing is now set for June 23. If, however, Wal-Mart prevails, it will resume paving its football-field-sized parking lot, which will forever define “downtown” American Canyon.

But what about the big boys – Vallejo and Fairfield? Not to worry, Wal-Mart has “Supercenters” for us too, in both cases, right downtown.

In the case of Fairfield, Wal-Mart, according to the Daily Republic, “told” Fairfield that it planned to open a “Supercenter” at Mission Village on North Texas Street – a scant three miles from the “Supercenter” that will be built on the “windswept grassland” bordering the marshland between it and Suisun.

And, in Vallejo, another “Gateway” (Is there no “here” here?), Wal-Mart, which, as one council member warned, “does not take ‘no’ for an answer,” intends to build another “Supercenter” on the old K-Mart site at Sonoma Boulevard and Redwood Street. That’s a mere 3.5 from “downtown” American Canyon, across the street from Seafood City, two blocks from Raley’s, and maybe half a mile each from our downtown and waterfront for which Vallejoans harbor truly visionary hopes.

Does this strike you as a dream come true? There are, let me assure you, neighbors who welcome the prospect of wall-to-wall Wal-Marts and the sweet assurance of picking up the next Wal-Mart sign ahead of them before losing the last one in the rear view mirror.

Others of us, however, wake up in a cold sweat from the nightmare of driving north across our soaring Al Zampa Bridge and hitting that first sign before the toll booths “Welcome to Wal-Mart County” and, just beyond the booths, just before that first Vallejo exit, “Welcome to Cheap Town.” It’s like being caught in Rod Serling’s black and white “Twilight Zone.”

But, like the endings of those “Twilight Zone” episodes, there’s still Rod’s soothing voice – “Does it have to end this way?”

Hell, no! Not if we wake up in time to look at the green hillsides and our multi-hued, uniquely beautiful downtowns that reflect our vibrant past and even brighter future in the sunshine of the present of this spring morning.

We don’t have to accept the dull, downward-looking mantra of “Low Prices, Always.” These are our towns, our greenbelts, our lives. They are not cheap. They are a treasure we want to hand up to our children and grandchildren.

What do we have to do to ensure that we wake up in time…and still in one piece, our integrity and heritage intact?

First, we have to recognize that Wal-Mart wants us to keep dreaming our isolated, short-sighted dreams. They don’t want us to see the inter-connected big picture of their county-wide, state-wide plans. They don’t want us to see the long-term, broad-ranging consequences of the short-term, shallow gains they dangle before us.

Consider the big picture, the adverse consequences.

Jobs? Oh, Wal-Mart touts jobs, and the unemployed and under-employed are enticed. But, by what? For Wal-Mart offers only non-union, minimum wage, low benefit jobs that depress the area-wide job market and denigrate the dignity of honest labor. Their use of the patronizing term “associates” to describe their employees is but a subterfuge to deny those employees the right to organize themselves in unions. Whenever they attempt to so organize, as in Quebec, Canada, Wal-Mart closes the store and fires all its “associates.” The only union it has ever recognized is the communist front organization which works with the communist government of China and Wal-Mart to suppress workers’ rights.

Locally, Wal-Mart has publicly announced that, when it opens its “Supercenters” in Dixon, Fairfield, and Vallejo, it will close its existing stores in those communities. Thus, the 400 “new” jobs it touts for each “Supercenter” may be half that number, maybe less if competitors like Raley’s, Albertson’s, and Safeway flee the coop in the face of Wal-Mart’s predatory practices. And, what happens job-wise, when good paying union jobs are lost with the closing of competitive markets and other stores.

Tax revenues? According to the Daily Republic, Suisun’s pie-eyed Mayor Jim Spering estimates his city’s sales tax revenue of $800,000 would double once Wal-Mart’s “Supercenter” is built. Don’t hold your breath. It will probably prove a wash at best when other markets leave and worse when others shy away.

Cheap prices? Always! And always on the back of cheap sweat shop labor in places like China, Bangladesh, and Central America – American jobs shipped overseas by the folks with the red, white, and blue signs and smiling happy faces. And the goods brought in? Cheap…always! The results: lost American jobs and a ballooning trade deficit. This is not sound economics. And it is certainly not patriotism. All those magnetic yellow ribbons – you know, “Support Our Troops” – Wal-Mart peddles? Made in China!

So, what can you do? Wake up! Shake off this nightmare, learn the facts, and fight off these predators.

You can begin by attending the study session sponsored by Vallejoans for Responsible Growth (VRG) which will be held at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, May 26 in the Joseph Room of the JFK Library at Santa Clara and Georgia Streets. We will show a 10-minute video, provide an update on what’s likely to happen next, and organize our citizen opposition. Vallejo City Council Members Gary Cloutier, and Joanne Schively have already announced that they will be there to field questions.

For further information, please contact VRG at 554-0672 or or by writing us at Vallejoans for Responsible Growth, 164 Robles Drive Box #125, Vallejo, CA 94591-8039. You may also keep up-to-speed by checking regular updates on