Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

An Open Letter to T.V. Reed

If PARD's purpose was to bring individual attention to its members and to the fact that a Wal-Mart is being planned for Pullman, it has succeeded.

If PARD's purpose was to stop the construction of a Wal-Mart Supercenter and sway public opinion, it has failed miserably.

Any effort to stop Wal-Mart from opening in Pullman was really doomed from the start. Pullman has traditionally had a hard time attracting business. Our retail dollars have been exported over the border to Moscow for years. As a result, Pullman has the lowest retail sales tax collections per capita of any similar sized city in the state. Combine this with the fact that WSU pays no property taxes and the recently enacted I-695 and I-747, and Pullman is now facing a real revenue crisis. Because of this, Pullman is probably one of the best candidates economically for a Wal-Mart in the whole country.

Other towns that have successfully fought off Wal-Mart have used zoning issues, city council decisions, and popular referendums. The zoning issue was settled 23 years ago, and the Pullman planning and development process, thankfully, has been depoliticized, with no provision for council or popular votes. The SEPA appeal will be heard strictly on the basis of the law, and PARD has very, very little chance of stopping Wal-Mart. The city and Wal-Mart both have scrupulously addressed all requirements. The best you could hope for would be a slight delay. Again, from Wal-Mart's standpoint, Pullman would have to be counted in the top echelon of potential locations.

Back in May, PARD held a press conference where you boldly proclaimed that you had won the PR battle against Wal-Mart by obtaining 7,500 signatures on a petition. Montine Vona-Pergola later breathlessly asserted in the Daily News that "by all academic standards" the petition proved that 3/4 of Pullman residents were against Wal-Mart.

The SEPA DNS comments put a quick end to your overblown rhetoric. The 75 letters against Wal-Mart only represented 1/100 of your petition signatures. The pro-Wal-Mart and neutral letters came out to 76 letters. A statistical dead heat, even after several months of PARD following the Al Norman playbook by organizing, meeting, petitioning, holding press conferences, writing letters to the editor, etc. I'm convinced the 75 anti-Wal-Mart letters are from the same group of people that packed the City Council chambers back on March 1 with tape over their mouths. Wal-Mart garnered 67 letters WITH NO ORGANIZATION IN PULLMAN AT ALL. And those 67 letters only represent the tip of the iceberg.

Your PR campaign has failed. In fact, it has backfired.

The local businesses you claim you are protecting don't want to be "saved". PARD has pompously presumed to know what is best for them and assumes their support of Wal-Mart is based on ignorance. This arrogance has lead to resentment, anger, and now, to action.

A majority of people in Pullman from every walk of life want Wal-Mart. They are local government officials and civil servants, WSU faculty and staff members, professionals, developers, realtors, managers, small business owners, high-tech workers, senior citizens, homemakers, and students.

So far, that majority has been silent, but not for much longer. You can expect to hear from them in the next few weeks.

At this point, you have two choices.

You can immolate yourself on the pyre of Wal-Mart or, if you are sincere about responsible development in Pullman, save whatever political capital you have left and move on to another issue.

If you persist in opposing Wal-Mart, against the will of the majority of residents, you are only going to succeed in opening old resentments between the town and WSU. Those hard feelings will linger long after Wal-Mart has opened.

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