The warmth of summer has finally arrived and many of us are heading for the hills – or ocean – or just lolling in our gardens at home. Just where Wal-Mart wants us, as the “Supercenter” fight heats up. Unfortunately, however, there’s work to be done, if we’re to have any hope of heading the Bentonville Bullies off at the pass. The first battle looms on Monday, July 18, when the Planning Commission holds a hearing to consider Code Text Amendment #05-0002 governing the operation of big box stores in Vallejo.
We will need a big crowd at that hearing and a lot of grunt work prior to it. Now is the time to let our elected officials and the larger public know the level of our opposition. Now is the time to flood the desks at city hall and the pages of the Times-Herald with expressions of opposition to Wal-Mart and of support for Vallejoans for Responsible Growth. Above all, we need thousands of signatures on our petition of opposition.
Earlier in this space, I promised to keep you up to date. Here is where we stand as of Thursday evening. Stay tuned. The train is moving, and, as one Wal-Mart official put it, “it wants to hit something.” That would be us.
As of this afternoon, Wal-Mart had not yet filed an application. But, as Kevin Loscotoff, Wal-Mart’s “community relations spokesman,” said in the Contra Costa Times June 26, “the formal permit application is ready for the Vallejo Supercenter,” and, as the flyers in its Meadows Plaza store assure us, “The proposed Supercenter will be located at the former Kmart site on Sonoma Boulevard and Redwood Street.” Wal-Mart doesn’t recognize the subjunctive, nor understand “No.”
When that application is filed, it will be for a use not permitted on the site in question under the White Slough Specific Area Plan of 1995. That plan calls for the environmental rehabilitation of the White Slough Lagoon and mixed-use housing and waterfront commercial development. Plopping another ugly big box onto the Kmart site is contrary to the existing plan and would require public hearings to change that plan.
A BIG BOX ORDINANCE
Faced with the prospect of a monster “Supercenter” and the possibility of others, the City Council directed staff to present to it legislation that would regulate all such big box stores within Vallejo.
The first step in that process will be consideration by the Planning Commission of a big box ordinance – Code Text Amendment #05-0002 – which “will revise the Zoning Ordinance to regulate large retail establishments that sell a combination of discounted merchandise and groceries and other non-taxable merchandise.” That meeting will take place at City Hall, 555 Santa Clara Street, at 7:00 p.m. on Monday, July 18.
The city’s lawyers are still in the drafting process, but it is my understanding at this stage that the amendment could limit non-club big box stores of this variety to 90,000 square feet with a sub-limit of 10,000 square feet for the sale of groceries and other non-taxable merchandise. While the size limits seem reasonable, I remain troubled by the “non-club” reference being floated about. That could open the door for a “Sam’s Club.”
The ordinance would probably also include fairly stringent requirements for an economic analysis as part of any big box application. This analysis would have to include trade-offs related to jobs, taxes, and city services and the overall impact on the city and community.
In the first instance, you should direct your comments in writing to the project planner, Katherine Donovan, Planning Division, City Hall, P.O. Box 3068, Vallejo, CA 94590.
If we are to have the desired impact, we need many more signatures on our petition opposing a Wal-Mart “Supercenter” in Vallejo and supporting the White Slough Specific Plan. To that end, we need to expand our efforts beyond the Saturday Farmers’ Market and into the neighborhoods.
We now have permission to canvass customers at several supermarkets around town. I hope that those of you who can staff a table at a market in your neighborhood or circulate a petition where you live will contact Joe Feller (415-902-3395), Gary Wettstein (707-642-1873), or me (707-554-0672 or at firstname.lastname@example.org). We will put together a schedule.
CAN – THE WAL-MART FRONT GROUP
I don’t shop at Wal-Mart, since I consider doing so crossing a picket line. Today, however, I did slip into their Meadows Plaza store to check out a rumor I had heard. Sure enough, Wal-Mart has a front group forming. As you enter the store, there’s a big sign “Want to Buy Groceries at Wal-Mart” and a table containing flyers, stacks of cards, and a bucket to put them in.
The cards start out with a cheery “Yes! Please include me as a Supporter of a Wal-Mart Supercenter coming to Vallejo. You can use my name and count on me!” They end with a box to check and, next to it, “I support Wal-Mart! Please sign me up as a member of the Customer Action Network!”
Those of you who had some experience with a similar effort by Bechtel and Shell might have some fun with this. At very least, please call Wal-Mart at 1-800-630-9226 to ask for more information on “CAN.” Tell them you’re from CANNOT.
WHO IS KEVIN LOSCOTOFF AND WHERE IS HE?
Kevin Loscotoff is Wal-Mart’s "community affairs manager” who resides in Sacramento – close to our bobble-head governator – doling out the Walton’s money in $50,000 chunks for Arnold’s favorite anti-union initiatives. He, Loscotoff, is yet to be seen in Vallejo. From behind his wizard’s veil, he issues pronouncements and bad mouths average citizens – the community that wants to talk with him.
I wrote an open letter to Lee Scott asking, among other things, to do just that – talk with Mr. Loscotoff. Unfortunately, when the Times-Herald printed portions of that letter on June 23, it omitted three paragraphs related to Mr. Loscotoff. I objected to that omission as follows:
“Those paragraphs are substantive, dealing with Wal-Mart's bullying tactics, the availability of Wal-Mart's "community affairs manager, Kevin Loscotoff, and Mr. Loscotoff's scurrilous accusations against local labor leaders. Mr. Loscotoff has yet to answer any questions from members of this community. I hope that you will now print the omitted paragraphs which I hope Mr. Loscotoff will read - as they were intended - as a public challenge to a public debate. Those paragraphs, which refer to several questions addressed to Mr. Scott, read as follows:
"These are simple requests for factual information which we would have, in the normal course of events, addressed to Kevin Loscotoff, who has been described in the press over the last year as the 'community affairs manager for Wal-Mart.' Unfortunately, however, despite his myriad conversations with the press, he has not been in touch with anyone that I'm aware of in the Vallejo community. Nor is there any information available about how to contact Mr. Loscotoff. Address? Telephone number?
Were I able to contact Mr. Loscotoff, I would tell him, among other things, that it does not help Wal-Mart's case in this community which places high value on the dignity of honest labor to throw about one-liners characterizing considered opposition to Wal-Mart's 'Supercenters' as a "classic example of labor leaders using the court to subvert the will of the people as expressed by their elected leaders." Has Wal-Mart never sued or otherwise sought to overturn "the will of the people as expressed by their elected leaders" in California city councils (e.g., Inglewood, Richmond, Hercules, Turlock, Lodi)?
I would also tell Mr. Loscotoff, as I tell you now, that I and/or others from the community would be available to appear with him before community organizations to discuss the issues surrounding a possible Wal-Mart 'Supercenter.'"
WHO ARE VALLEJOANS FOR RESPONSIBLE GROWTH AND WHERE ARE WE?
Readers of the Times-Herald might be forgiven for asking such questions. Though we’ve been active for months, Vallejoans for Responsible Growth are words you have not yet seen on the news Pages of the Times-Herald. You might ask them why? 644-1141 or 553-6827.
WE ARE NOT ALONE
Whoever we are, we are not alone. As I've said elsewhere, Wal-Mart plans EIGHT "Supercenters" within 17 miles of downtown Vallejo. It's called "saturation marketing" - drive out the competition, close your then "superfluous" stores, jack-up the prices.
I've tried to connect the dots and good folks are coming together. And last Thursday - thanks primarily to Brent Schoradt of the Greenbelt Alliance - several groups from around Solano, Napa, and Contra Costa counties got together to connect those dots.
There has already been follow-up. Monday, I was at the Napa County Courthouse, where I felt the Am Can United case against its city council and Wal-Mart got a fair hearing and will hopefully get a positive decision in the next ninety days - for the citizens of American Canyon. And, on Wednesday, Joe Feller of Vallejo's Greens was there to lend support to Linda Faivre and her efforts to halt Wal-Mart's efforts to convert Fairfield's Mission Villagle Mall into yet another "Supercenter" a scant three miles from the one planned for Suisun City. Enough already!
This is a county-wide, Bay Area-wide fight. If you're ready to join, contact Brent at email@example.com or just reply in comment to this column.
Happy Fourth of July! Isn't freedom great?!