Just a week after their Sacramento spinmeister Kevin Loscatoff stood before the Vallejo Planning Commission and asked for a debate that would not get personal, Wal-Mart has begun a push poll that begins with "What is your opinion of Vicki Gray who is running for city council?" Not to worry, Kevin, I'm flattered and deeply appreciate Wal-Mart's getting my name out there.
Typical of such polls, it touts the myriad glories of the two - you heard right, two - supercenters Wal-Mart plans for Vallejo - ranging from tree-lined sidewalks to buildings that are "14 percent more energy efficient." "Than what?" is not disclosed. Neither is the identity of the poll's sponsor. It does goes on, however, to reveal a lot about Wal-Mart's plans for Vallejo, its tactics, and its target audience…and just plain targets.
Let's begin with targets, audiences and otherwise. First, Wal-Mart doesn't want to hear from women. Its pollster insists on talking to the "eldest male in the household." Why would we expect otherwise from an outfit being sued by its female "associates" for gender inequality?
After asking for your opinion of Vallejoans for Responsible Growth and the city council as a body, the pollster will seek your views on three sitting council members - Pamela Pitts, Joanne Schively, and Tom Bartee. Might that be a supporter, an opponent, and a swing vote? Any way you cut it, these three can expect to hear from Wal-Mart.
In a soaring moment of chutzpah, this poll by a pathologically anti-union firm touts good jobs for those in the building trades unions but fails to address the union-status of the 400 sales and service jobs it claims it will create. One hopes that those in the construction unions will stand by their brothers and sisters in the UFCW in their life-and-death struggle for decent wages and benefits. As Andy Stern and the SEIU underscored this week, "solidarity" is more than just a word; it's an attitude that seems to have fallen out of style.
Perhaps with another union in mind, the pollster suggests that its planned supercenters would mean more funding for police and firefighters. Given the closure of other stores - Safeway? Raley's? Seafood City? And Wal-Mart's existing store at Meadows Plaza. - that would surely follow this invasion of the supercenters, such putative tax benefits are just as problematic as Wal-Mart's job projections. Singling out the police and firefighters shows, however, that Wal-Mart understands who runs this town.
And despite its opposition to any big box legislation that might discriminate against Wal-Mart or limit your God-given "freedom to shop wherever you want," the poll will ask for your views - very specifically - on Nugget and Food-4-Less.
There were two numbers - two and 160,000 - that caught my attention and that should seize yours. The latter, the pollster says, is the square footage of the supercenter planned for Redwood and Sonoma - waaay beyond the 90,000 sq. ft. ceiling currently in the big box ordinance wending its way through the Planning Commission. Two is actually the bigger - more important - of the two numbers, for, you will be informed that Wal-Mart plans a second supercenter to be located at Admiral Callaghan Lane and Columbus Parkway (Whatever happened to that "auto mall"?) Speaking of numbers, Wal-Mart's second Vallejo supercenter would be less than two miles from the first on Sonoma. Why not build one on every block? Don't we all deserve our very own corner supercenter?
Seriously, however, I hope that the City's traffic engineers are taking a cold hard look at what's coming down the pike. I hope, too, that the local business members of the Chamber of Commerce will stand up for their interests in the face of such blatantly predatory saturation marketing tactics.
One of the questions toward the end of the poll asks what you would think of putting Wal-Mart's "right" to do business anywhere it wants - and, presumably, any way it wants - on the ballot…thus overriding whatever your elected city or county government might do to fend off the invasion of big boxes and protect our community. Wal-Mart has done this elsewhere - in, for example, Contra Costa and Inglewood. Wal-Mart does not take "No!" for answer. As one of its senior executives said on television, "Wal-Mart is like a speeding train. It wants to hit something!" That, unfortunately, would be us.
Wal-Mart wants to work its will on Vallejo and will spare no amount of money to do just that. Witness this telephone poll, conducted I've been told by a marketing firm out of Houston; the door-to-door polling that I understand has also begun; the front group - CAN or Citizens Action Network - taking shape just inside the door of the Meadows Plaza Wal-Mart; and the increased volume of Wal-Mart advertising on our local cable channels.
This will be a long and probably nasty fight. Friends have warned me "You can't win. Wal-Mart's too big, too powerful." My response? They don't know Vallejo. We beat Bechtel. We beat Shell. And we will beat Wal-Mart!