March 22, 2008

Supersize Me- Part2: Poway WalMart's Impact on Our Community

Confessions of a Wal-Mart Hit Man
Extended Bonus Scenes From
Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price
a Robert Greenwald Film

All are welcome to a free screening of Robert Greenwald's film, "WAL-MART: The High Cost of Low Price" 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.

Do we want a super-sized Wal-Mart in Poway? Assuming the people who live in this town actually will have a say on the matter (and I am not sure we will), I have written a 2-part post to get the discussion rolling. In part 1, I discussed how screwed-up public officials give hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to Wal-Mart in the hopes of getting a disproportionate share of sales tax and some political donations. In this post, I will discuss some of the other effects Wal-Mart has on our community.

Be sure to check out the video of the former Wal-Mart "hit man." It is pretty long, but the poor wretched dude worked for Wal-Mart for 17 yrs and he has a lot to get off his chest. Around the 4 min mark, he talks about what happens when Wal-Mart moves into a town. He and his corporate buddies would drive through the town and point out which stores were going to get the kiss of death. While Wal-Mart does drive out mom-and-pops, it is the bigger chain stores that they really target. Last summer, my brother moved to Springfield, Missouri (pop 150,000) and he was surprised because he couldn't find any of the chain grocery stores in town. They all moved out after the Wal-Mart Supercenter opened. Reports from my brother indicate the prices are high and the plastic wrapped produce looks like it has been sitting in 100 degree temperatures for a few days somewhere.

Before the Supercenter phase, a classic Wal-Mart gesture was to build very near to a K-Mart. Poway's own K-Mart was an early victim; it closed about a year after Wal-Mart opened. Even before that, the Longs (where Henry's is now) closed in anticipation of Wal-Mart opening. And then there was the Creekside Plaza fiasco.

The city's redevelopment agency made a private deal with Creekside's developers. Nobody else got to bid on the project. The developers promised the city that they would find a retail store to anchor the shopping center. The city moved the residents of Haley's trailer park out and filled in and graded the land. But when it came time for the developers to show us what they had, they had nuthin'. No retailer would bite. We had to make do with a grocery store. But that didn't temper the hype. Creekside Plaza was our first Town Center, and it was going to be the "crown jewel" of Poway.
The plaza, with its stucco-and-wood Western design, "will be the town center, something which Poway has never had, as a strip-mall commercial district," said Mayor Jan Goldsmith. "It all starts with Creekside. It's just the beginning, to change the direction of the city."

More from the Feb 27, 1992 SDUT:
Goldsmith headed a committee that worked with ADI officials on Creekside's design. The mayor envisions one day building a pedestrian overpass to connect the project with a library planned on the opposite side of Poway Road.

Eventually, horse-drawn carriages may carry shoppers between the plaza and Old Poway Park, which is part of an historical district about a mile north of Creekside.

The mayor's vision "is not just a pipe dream," said Assistant City Manager John Fitch. "There has been lot of discussion of how to tie these two areas together. We're trying to make this into a small, Western-type Seaport Village."

Did I mention that the city threw $1.3 million in incentives at the developers? Color me jaded, but I don't buy any of the hoopla about the proposed Town Center redux. I don't think it is going to be anything more than a taxpayer gift to a bunch of developers.

Wal-Mart brings in a lot of traffic, and noise. A group of people trying to get signatures for a recall petition back in the mid-90s did an unofficial survey. 85% of the people going in to Wal-Mart were NOT from Poway. Almost every one of them drove to Wal-Mart in their car. From their homes to the freeway. On the freeway, to Scripps Poway Parkway or Poway Rd. And then on to Wal-Mart. Add to that all the Wal-Mart trips from Powegians and from the folks in Ramona, and it adds up to a lot of traffic. It would have been more appropriate to locate a venue that attracts so much traffic up in the industrial park rather than in downtown Poway, especially now that Poway is trying to build a lot of multi-family housing in the center of town.

There is something about shopping at Wal-Mart, or any big box store that affects the psyche. There is just so much to try to tune out, from dodging cars and shopping carts in the parking lot, to the gum-stained apron, the security cameras, the immense amount of stuff to buy, the long lines at check out, and the final, visual shake-down to see if you are stealing anything. The big box shopping experience is impersonal, frustrating and competitive. Maybe that is why so many people seem to be constantly talking on their cell phones. I used to think they were just plain rude, but perhaps they are just trying to maintain personal connections in a hostile environment.

Remember the 141 day supermarket strike in 2004? The grocery chains insisted they needed to pay cheaper wages and fewer benefits in order to compete with the Supercenter Wal-Marts. The end result was a two-tier pay structure where new employees would get lower pay and fewer benefits. It's a race to the bottom. Thanks, Wal-Mart. Now the grocery stores have lots of turnover. I don't think they can keep anybody working in the bakery section at Vons on Poway Rd for more than a couple of weeks. Hot bread at five? It is rare that the bakery is even staffed in the evening.

I miss Plow-Boys. I shopped there for all my fruits and veggies during the strike and I continued to shop there afterwards because they had the best prices and best ambiance of any grocery store in town. What is really strange is that Plow-Boys wasn't driven out because they couldn't compete; they were driven out because Wal-Mart wanted the space where they were located. It is becoming a recurring theme in this town; long time, successful businesses are driven out because somebody else has a hankering for that property. Considering all the commercial vacancies on Poway Rd, you gotta wonder whose brilliant idea it is to push out businesses that seem to be making it on their own, without government subsidies.

The video below shows the exponential growth of Wal-Mart across the country. I find this very, very scary. It's not just all the lives and communities that have been impacted. It's not just that for every Supercenter that opens, 2 grocery stores close or that Wal-Mart is the largest private employer and most of their employees are not making a living wage. What really scares me is that Wal-Mart's business model is unsustainable. When something this big pops, it is going to be devastating to the entire country.

The Diffusion of Wal-Mart and Economies of Density



The Poway Wal-Mart’s proposed SuperCenter needs to be considered as a quality of life issue.

Many South Poway residents in the Midland Road/Community Road/Old Poway Park area have not been happy campers with the Aubrey Park-PGSL (POWAY GIRLS SOFTBALL LEAGUE) scream-athon. PGSL’S so-called “field of dreams” is an ongoing field of nightmares for Aubrey park residents. This is in addition to -- yet another -- city sponsored 80-unit low income housing complex under construction on Brighton Avenue near Midland Road. The impending negative impact of this high density housing complex has many nearby residents upset.

Thus, the last thing this former quiet and desirable neighborhood needs is another high-traffic, high-density monstrosity. A gigantic 200,000 sq. ft. Wal-Mart SuperCenter operating 24 hours a day/7 days a week is simply too intense of a commercial facility to place in the middle of this South Poway neighborhood -- surrounded on three sides by families and lots of kids in apartments and homes.

Besides, where is the benefit to the City of Poway? After Poway deals with expenses for extra sheriff staff and traffic-related problems and costs, there will be little, if any, net gain in sales tax for the city. Note that Wal-Mart's proposed expansion will primarily sell groceries which are non-taxable. Inevitably, one or two of South Poway’s current grocery stores, Von’s, Stater Brother’s and Henry’s, will likely be forced out of business which will eliminate shopping choices for all Powegians.

In order to proceed with building the SuperCenter extension, Wal-Mart will need approval from the City of Poway for a CONDITIONAL USE PERMIT (C.U.P.). Concerned Powegians are strongly encouraged to contact our City Council Members and let them know what you think about this proposal.

Anonymous said...

I am not particularly fond of Walmart and some of their practices, but I honestly feel that the city council can't do much to stop this even if they wanted to. And I don't think they want to stop the Walmart expansion.

Why would the council want to stop this expansion? If you put car dealerships at the east of town you want high traffic flow in the area. And that will require masses from outside of Poway coming to town. Lease and sale value of commercial property is partly based on area traffic flow. High traffic translates into business and raises the value of these properties. I doubt you will find many, if any, retail business owner in Poway against area traffic. The city council would be shooting themselves in the foot if they crossed Poway business owners.

Walmart probably wouldn't be proposing an expansion if they weren't already being successful in Poway. In my opinion, if you want to stop Walmart you have to show Walmart executives that the community does not want them here. That requires grass-root community involvement and you need a large base of resident supporters.

The community of Poway has changed radically in the last 20 years. I am surprised when I hear people still quoting the words, "The City in the Country," like it implies Poway is a country town or that local government has fought to make it so. Poway has good community people, but it has become a city of franchise retailers, big-box stores, and strip malls. There are still some good one-of-a-kind mom and pop stores here, but many have been forced out. I still mourn over the loss of Mikey's Coffeehouse, but places like that don't fit into the model of some people's Poway.