Opposition to Wal-Mart Supercenters Building Across Bay Area

Posted on 26 July 2010

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By Martin J. Bennett

The San Francisco Bay Area has become the epicenter for contentious battles in California to halt proposed Wal-Mart supercenters that sell both general merchandise and groceries.

Both the City of Antioch in Contra Costa County and the City of Rohnert Park in Sonoma County will consider supercenter proposals this week. The outcome could derail Wal-Mart's strategy to build at least one supercenter in each county of the state.

In April, the Rohnert Park Planning Commission unanimously denied the Wal-Mart proposal to enlarge its existing discount store into a supercenter. Wal-Mart has appealed the decision to the city council.

The economic and environmental impacts of the proposed supercenter are regional and extend far beyond the City of Rohnert Park. The controversy raises fundamental questions about future growth and the necessity for proactive city and regional planning to promote equitable and sustainable development.

Development in Sonoma County is inevitable. According to the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), the population of Sonoma County will increase by twenty-three percent over the next twenty years. In 2008, voters approved a landmark initiative to meet this challenge, creating the two-county SMART train that will run on tracks adjacent to Highway 101 from Cloverdale to Larkspur. The build-out of the train system provides the opportunity for city-centered 'transit-oriented development' (TOD) around the fourteen SMART train stations--development that could accommodate ninety percent of the projected population growth.

TOD is densely-built, mixed-use development within one-half mile of transit stations, accessible by bike and foot, and with a variety of retail, office, and small businesses. Through land-use planning and public funding, municipalities can promote development near transit stations that includes good jobs paying family-supporting wages, affordable housing for all income groups, open space, and walkable neighborhoods.

The proposed 170,000 square-foot Wal-Mart supercenter located one-quarter mile from the site of the planned Rohnert Park SMART train station is a direct threat to such careful and appropriate planning.

Opponents of the Wal-Mart supercenter believe it undermines compact and equitable development in Rohnert Park and violates the city's general plan that mandates access by residents to neighborhood supermarkets. The project undercuts transit-oriented development's efforts to reduce low-wage work, support local business, tackle global warming, and lay the foundation for a robust regional economy.

Nearly one-third of the work force in Sonoma County are the 'working poor' and do not earn a self-sufficiency or 'living wage'. According to the Insight Center for Community and Economic Development in 2008, two parents working full-time in Sonoma County must each earn $14.90 an hour or $62,940 a year to pay for food, housing, medical care, child care, and transportation.

Sonoma State University economist Robert Eyler reports that the supercenter will contribute to job quality decline and increase the problem of working poverty. According to his analysis, the county will lose 105-211 jobs---mostly good jobs that pay hourly wages for full-time workers ranging from $17.67 per hour at Pacific Market, a local independent grocer, to $23.36 at Raley's and Safeway. The Wal-Mart supercenter will employ 450 workers, and according to the company, the typical full-time worker at Wal-Mart earns $12.10 an hour.

The loss of good jobs in the grocery industry and the increase of poverty-wage jobs will contribute to the growing mismatch between jobs and housing in the region. There is already a significant shortage of affordable housing in Sonoma County and particularly for Rohnert Park. According to the Sonoma County Housing Coalition, from 1999-2006 Rohnert Park produced just one -third of the lower income housing need as determined by ABAG.

Many Wal-Mart workers will be forced to commute to more affordable housing markets outside the city and the county.

With regard to global warming, the supercenter will have adverse effects on air quality and greenhouse gas emissions. In order to comply with AB 32, a 2006 state legislative measure, all nine cities and the county have pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions twenty-five percent by 2015. However, the Eyler report notes that Pacific Market will close if the supercenter is built, and its 8,000 customers will drive an extra 28,400 miles each week to shop for groceries.

Further, Stacy Mitchell, author of Big Box Swindle, reports that vehicle miles driven per customer will increase because a supercenter draws shoppers from a greater distance than a discount store. Indeed, since Wal-Mart's rapid expansion in the late 1970s, miles traveled per household to shop has skyrocketed by three hundred percent, while total household driving increased by seventy- five percent.

As for local business, there are sixty local suppliers that provide produce and merchandise to Pacific Market, and more than seventy supply Oliver's, an independent grocery in nearby Cotati. Wal-Mart suppliers, on the other hand, are nearly 100% national and global firms (and that means increased truck traffic into the county). The 'Go Local' movement has demonstrated that patronizing local businesses ensures that more dollars remain in the community. Studies by Civic Economics demonstrate that locally-owned firms produce two to three times more economic activity within the local economy than national chains ---including locally-retained profits, wages paid to local residents, purchases from local suppliers, and contributions to local nonprofits.

The proposed Wal-Mart supercenter will undermine transit-oriented and equitable development in the North Bay. To accommodate population growth and to promote sustainable development, all cities along the 101 corridor in Marin and Sonoma counties must prioritize the creation of good jobs and affordable housing nearby SMART train stations.

Other Bay Area cities are lining up against Wal-Mart -- and this has national significance: Wal-Mart has targeted the region for expansion given it's limited market share compared to other major metropolitan regions. The City of Milpitas in the South Bay recently rejected a similar proposal to expand an existing discount store to become a supercenter.

Elsewhere in the Bay Area, the cities of Santa Clara in 2009, and Dublin in 2008, completely banned superstores. These battles against the giant retailer over the last few years may foreshadow an emerging regional coalition of labor, faith, environmental, and local business organizations to halt the development of all new supercenters.


Martin J. Bennett teaches American history at Santa Rosa Junior College, serves as Co-Chair of the Living Wage Coalition of Sonoma County, and is on the board of Sonoma County Conservation Action. For more information about the Wal-Mart superstore campaign go to: http://www.livingwagesonoma.org.

It makes no sense to oppose expanded Walmarts. They provide good jobs and lower prices for our poor.

Great piece Martin...as anyone knows that's done any research, Walmart is a job, environment, and community killer...

You've laid out a lot of the facts here...I'd also suggest people see the film "WAL-MART: The High Cost of Low Price", which adds yet more FACTS to the slam dunk case against this corporate abomination.

"I do not think it is such a good idea to build a new Wal-Mart in Murphysboro,” it was my first impression of this article after reading it. Surely, Wal-Mart is a very useful and helpful supercenter, and then I often go to there for shopping. That supercenter is open all the time and deals with so many items.

Firstly, if a new Wal-Mart is built in Murphysboro, a lot of local businesses would face a problem of profit from their job. Wal-Mart has still more items synthetically, and sells their cheaper the other independent stores. How does its difference affect local businesses? Generally speaking, independents will be deprived of their own profit by Wal-Mart supercenter at least because of systemic backup is a system which can have a power to gain a plenty of item from a great deal of distributor, and Wal-Mart can sell it to customers more and cheaper than individuals. It is obvious that Wal-Mart has several ways to treat a great deal of goods more and cheaper than the others. So, the local stores which ought not to have a big supporter like a Wal-Mart. Besides, getting less money makes some small business owners lose their job, and causes severe living.

Secondly, I guess tax income from Wal-Mart is not so important thing for Murphysboro. Some approvers have a reason why they accept New Wal-Mart would be related to the tax revenue from the new Wal-Mart, though there is already one, next to Murphysboro and some stores would be existed. A large amount of revenue from Wal-Mart supercenter might be brought to Murphysboro in earnings and the town would be enriched. However, would it be a temporarily thing? Or is this also exaggerated? “There are 3,000 Stores in the U.S.” (2005), as this article says, so many Wal-Mart supercenters are in some places not only U.S but some area in the world.

Finally, I guess that again that Wal-Mart should not to be built a new one in Murphysboro because it has the possibility to cause some problems that affect citizen’s lives greatly. A town is not only composed of Wal-Mart’s profit, but also of many businesses which support it with much financial taxes.