Thursday, August 10, 2006

Vallejoans for Responsible Growth and Wal-Mart

Vallejoans for Responsible Growth is a grass root citizens’ group that seeks to keep our fair city “supercenter”-free.

What do we have against Wal-Mart and its “supercenters?” Oh, you know, all the usual reasons – low wages, insufficient health benefits, export of American jobs, discrimination against women, exploitation of immigrant labor, union-busting, cheap foreign goods, deceptive “come on” advertising, saturation marketing, etc., etc., etc.

But there are local, Vallejo-specific reasons for our opposition. Let’s begin with saturation marketing. The “supercenter” Wal-Mart wants to put in Vallejo is just one of several it plans to cluster in close proximity to each other in Solano, Contra Costa, and Napa counties. Indeed, as I wrote here last year, if it gets its way, we might as well change the name of Solano County to “Wal-Mart County.” The “supercenter” it intends for the old K-Mart site at Redwood Street and Sonoma Boulevard would be 3.5 miles from the one it’s building in American Canyon and, I hear rumored, the one to come in Benicia; about seven miles from one it plans for Suisun City; nine from another in Fairfield; ten from the one Hercules is fending off; maybe a dozen from another in Richmond’s Hilltop Mall; and only slightly further down the road from other stores in Antioch, Concord, Dixon, and West Sacramento. Get the picture?

It is a business plan Wal-Mart has put into action around the country…with disastrous effects for local communities. Wal-Mart having saturated an area with cheap goods and predatory-priced produce, competing stores and markets, that offer employees decent wages and benefits move away, leaving the field to Wal-Mart which then proceeds to close several of the newly-opened “supercenters.” Local communities are then saddled with derelict blighted properties, low-paying jobs, long commutes to shop, reduced choice, and higher prices than originally promised.

Think of the businesses and jobs that would be threatened by a Wal-Mart “supercenter” at Redwood and Sonoma – Mervyn’s, Raley’s, Albertson’s, the Seafood City we welcomed with justified fanfare just a few years ago. Concerning Seafood City, just across the street from the proposed Wal-Mart store, good friends have said to me “Don’t worry, Wal-Mart wouldn’t sell fish or Filipino specialties.” But that’s precisely what they would sell…and at predatory prices designed to undercut Seafood City.

And, then, there’s the nature of the site itself – an environmentally sensitive property on the shores of the White Slough we are attempting to rehabilitate. It is a site that is protected in the White Slough Redevelopment Plan which restricts development to residential/small scale commercial mixed use – the sort of development that, in business terms, also jibes with the city’s plans for the commercial renaissance of Sonoma Boulevard.

But VFRG is opposed to a Wal-Mart “supercenter” anywhere in Vallejo. Why? Because Vallejo is a city that is on the cusp of commercial developments that portend a marked upswing in the economic well-being and quality of life for all its citizens. I have in mind the development of our downtown, our waterfront, and Mare Island. Indeed, Triad’s plans for downtown and Lennar’s plans for housing, tourism, and light industry on Mare Island have drawn front-page attention in recent editions of the San Francisco Chronicle’s real estate section. These are developments which will, at last, make Vallejo a quality place to live and tourist destination worthy of its people and location. Accepting a Wal-Mart “supercenter” in our midst, however, would earn us the sobriquet “Cheap Town” and set us back a decade or more. Can you imagine Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Nugget, or Barnes and Noble wanting to invest in a downtown only a mile or so from a “superstore?” Accepting a “supercenter” would be the kiss of death for our downtown development. Were we to do so, we would kill that Golden Goose or at least the golden egg we’re incubating.

Hopefully, however, our City Council will have at least the same vision and gumption shown by those in Hercules and Turlock. As in Hercules and Turlock, Wal-Mart’s blue-suited bullies have barged into town and arrogantly claimed that they know better than we do what’s good for our city. Will we plan our city or will they? Will our City Council members stand up as their colleagues did in those other towns? They will if you get involved and tell them what you want. The message? “We live here. We know what’s best for Vallejo and what we want and don’t want. And we don’t want Wal-Mart!”

How can you get involved?

* Come to Planning Commission and City Council meetings and let the members of the Council know that you don’t want a Wal-Mart “supercenter” in Vallejo.

* Send your tax deductible donations to: Vallejoans for Responsible Growth, PO Box 4570, Vallejo, CA 94590.

* Help us circulate our petitions at the Saturday Farmers’ Market and elsewhere.

To be sure, we will never have anywhere near the money that Wal-Mart will pour into this fight, but we have people power. Remember, it only takes a little over 6,000 votes to get elected to the Vallejo City Council. When, as in the LNG struggle, we presented them will more than 10,000 signatures in opposition, they got the message. Let’s send them another message. We can do it!