March 21, 2008

Super Size Me- Part 1: How Poway Got A Wal-Mart


WAL-MART: The High Cost of Low Price -- teaser trailer

This award-winning documentary takes you behind the ”happy face” of Wal-Mart and into the real lives of employees and their families, business owners, product manufacturers and the larger community – all impacted by Wal-Mart. This film is an extraordinary journey that will challenge the way you think, feel... and shop.

There will be a free screening of this film on Thursday April 3rd at 7:00 PM at Poway Royal Mobile Home Park
Main Clubhouse at 13300 Alpine Road, Poway.
Click here for a map of this location.
The event will be hosted by South Poway Residents Association.
For more information click here.



The first Wal-Mart in San Diego County opened its doors on Aug 4, 1992 in Poway. Yep, the mega-retailer's first local coup was in our bucolic community. To be sure, the Poway city council insisted that Wal-Mart blend in with our "city in the country" atmosphere.  Atmosphere apparently was only skin deep, or in this case red-tile roof deep, plus some landscaping around the perimeter of the gigantic parking lot.  

Poway was the first to open a Wal-Mart in San Diego County, but it wouldn't be the only one for long. Santee and Oceanside were under construction in 1992 and Wal-Mart had plans to open hundreds of stores in San Diego County and California.  

Santee and Poway offered Wal-Mart millions of dollars in incentives to build in their communities. Getting financial incentives is typical for Wal-Mart. A 2004 report funded in large part by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, "Shopping for Subsidies: How Wal-Mart Uses Taxpayer Money to Finance its Never Ending Growth" , details many of the ways Wal-Mart and the developers who build Wal-Marts get taxpayer money.
The most common types are :
1) free or reduced price land
2) infrastructure assistance
3) tax increment financing
4) property tax breaks
5) state corporate income tax credits
6) sales tax rebates
7) enterprise zone status
8) job training and other recruitment funds
9) tax-exempt bond financing and
10) general grants.  

It works kind of like this. Local officials want the sales tax that a Wal-Mart can bring to their community. So they "invest" other taxpayer subsidies to get the Wal-Mart built. And they usually brag about what a "win" it is.  However, from the taxpayer's standpoint it is a losing proposition. Imagine all of the taxes (including sales taxes) paid by the taxpayers in every city are in one big pot. The total amount of sales taxes won't change much if you buy your stuff at Wal-Mart or if you buy your stuff from Ma and Pa Kettle or from a department store. If you take out hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money in order to give incentives to Wal-Mart and other big box stores, then the total amount of money left in the taxpayer pot begins to dwindle. 

So, while Poway "wins" on Wal-Mart, they lose when some other town gets a competing retail store. And in the end, we are all losers. There is less money in the pot for funding municipal services. And now, public officials have created an "atmosphere" where big box stores can play off one town against the next for the highest taxpayer funded subsidy. 

Why does Wal-Mart need so much taxpayer money?  Several of the richest people in the world are heirs to Sam Walton's fortune.  Well, to be honest, all of the taxpayer incentives probably don't go to the Waltons or stock holders. Some of it is funneled back to elected officials as campaign donations. In the early 90s Frank Gatlin, of Gatlin Development Company, (which built Wal-Mart shopping centers) set about to cozy up to San Diego city officials. Gatlin would later agree to a CA FPPC stipulation of 107 counts of money laundering and illegal contributions. Gatlin gave illegal "batched campaign contributions" to many officials, especially to mayoral candidate Ron Roberts. Roberts repeatedly phoned Gatlin with requests for another $5000. Gatlin got donations for Roberts (and others) from people in his company and he illegally reimbursed those people later. When Gatlin ran out of people in his own company, he tapped his lawyer's firm. Gatlin would then deliver the batched contributions to Roberts when they met for lunch and Roberts would slip them inside his coat jacket. Of course, Roberts said he didn't know there were any illegal donations in that bulge, and, of course, they never discussed Wal-Mart at these luncheons. Oh no. They just talked about the weather. Um-hunh.

Gatlin would later pay $192,000, one of the largest fines in the FPPC's history. Sheesh, it is hard to imagine just how much $192,000 stings when you are getting hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies.

In my next post on Wal-Mart, I will discuss the impacts of Wal-Mart on the Poway community, particularly how it affects other businesses, traffic, and our community character. Please feel free to chime in with your own comments.

6 comments:

KAREN KNECHT said...

Wal-Mart has not been a good corporate citizen for many years. What is it going to take for Wal-Mart to "get it"?

In addition to “milking the system” for all kinds of government subsidies to build their stores, Wal-Mart pays much lower wages to their employees than a union grocery store. Because of their low wages, many Wal-Mart employees then qualify for all kinds of taxpayer subsidized health care programs, etc. Thus, Wal-Mart essentially dumps onto taxpayers a huge portion of what would otherwise be Wal-Mart's corporate responsibilities to provide routine benefits for its employees.

Those who see a Wal-Mart SuperCenter as simply a cheap place to buy (mostly imported) groceries and other goods need to wake-up and look at the bigger picture. Poway folks need to stop and think about the true overall costs to taxpayers and society as a whole. [Check out www.wakeupwalmart.com and www.walmartwatch.com]

I've seen THE WAL-MART MOVIE: THE HIGH PRICE OF LOW COST. It is an award-winning documentary. I strongly advise those who don't know about the big picture of Wal-Mart to check out this powerful film. It is a real eye-opener.

Mary Lou said...

My experience with walmart. I don't mean this as a sob story, it was an unfortunate time in my life, Walmart or no Walmart. But I wonder if other employees are also lead to believe there's a future working there?

In 1997 I was going through a painful separation (eventually divorce). I had cancer surgery in August, began working at the Santee Walmart in October, and moved into an apartment in a nasty section of El Cajon (the only place that would rent to me with no credit and a part-time walmart job) in December of that year. Having been a stay-home mom for years, I had no job skills.

Walmart told me they would offer benefits if and when i become full-time, but that they only hire on through their part-time temporary seasonal (Christmas) help. That was the only way to get in. Even though I was still pretty ill, I worked darned hard during the hours they gave me, which were barely enough to make ends meet at the time. I could have gone to work in fast-food but the "likelihood" of full-time with benefits at Walmart was promising. I was told that my work performance was very good.

We (employees) stood in lines at the timeclock, nervous because we had to punch out within a couple minutes of the end of our shift or get reprimanded. Of course, if we punched in more than a couple minutes late at the beginning of the shift (maybe 2 or 3, i forget) then we'd be in trouble and would lose part of our pay. This fussing over a minute or two caused a lot of anxiety in this minimum wage job. Here I was 40 years old and felt treated as a child. My supervisor, as well as some other employees I observed, punched out at the end of their scheduled shift and then came back to "finish" the work they were supposed to do. They had to finish the work.

Oh, but that great 10 percent discount on non-sale and non-clearance merchandise, woohoo!

We were trained to watch for union officials in the store, and were to report anything suspicious of that nature. We weren't allowed to talk to anyone that appeared to be representing a union.

While hanging onto hope of becoming hired on full-time, I was given the news on Christmas Eve that they would not have a position for me following the temporary holiday work. That was a depressing holiday, obviously. Then they called me in to work for a couple of days between Christmas and New Year's, and offered me a longer-term position (still only part-time with no benefits) working until 1:00 a.m., as it was a 24-hour store. Living alone, I would not be safe coming home at that hour, so I declined that job and eventually found a full-time day job elsewhere.

Employees could work elsewhere, they're not FORCED to work at Walmart. But there are people, like myself back in 1997, who really don't have a whole lot of options and fall for that "we start you out part-time then move you to full-time with benefits" line.

Joe said...

Wow, the first walmart in the county. How about that??? Probably also the first walmart to have a murder, remember the manager was killed there in Dec 1993?

No said...

Wal-Mart abuses their employees, in so many ways it can't be told. They also have very high powered attornies in Ventura who love to stop any lawsuits against them.

Of course these are the things regular shoppers never know about.

Dave Grosch said...

I too am against this expansion, mostly for traffic reasons. But if we are going to be successful in this fight we are going to need the help of our good folks from north poway. Hopefully at this meeting on the 3rd, we can discuss our strategies to win this battle.

Anonymous said...

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