Pullman candidates vie for two seats
By JOEL MILLS of the Tribune
PULLMAN -- Judy Krueger is running for the Pullman City Council's Ward 3, Position 3, seat to keep Wal-Mart out of town. Her opponent, incumbent Ann Heath, said if the world's largest retailer follows the law, there's nothing the council can do to stop it.
"A special interest group does not get to use the city council as a bully pulpit to go after a business they don't like," Heath said, referring to the Pullman Alliance for Responsible Development.
Krueger, a PARD board member, said she is the only anti-Wal-Mart candidate among the two contested council races.
In the other contested race, Washington State University student Joshua Coke is challenging incumbent Bill Paul for the Ward 1, Position 7, seat.
Krueger said the council can have plenty of say on the Wal-Mart issue.
For instance, the council can order a fiscal impact statement, "to find out the impact (Wal-Mart) will have on other retail development in the community," she said. "Other communities have required that."
Los Angeles has, and other communities have passed other regulations, such as requiring Wal-Mart to pay for at least some employee health care.
Coke said he gives Wal-Mart a thumbs-up.
"Economically it makes a lot more sense than fighting it," Coke said, adding that Pullman is "under-retailed."
The lack of retail business is leading to a tax gap that will leave Pullman's reserve fund dry in three years, Coke said, citing a study by city Finance Director Troy Woo.
Woo said that projection is a little outdated, and the city would make adjustments before it ever ran out of cash. But if things continue as is without the addition of retailers to stem the flow of business to Idaho, the projection would hold true, Woo said.
And Coke said he's tired of having to go elsewhere to buy his necessities.
"Every time you want something, you have to not only leave the city, but the state," he said about trips to the Moscow Wal-Mart and other Idaho stores.
The city also can better fund its services like police and fire with the sales and property taxes a Wal-Mart Supercenter would bring, Coke said. And students would be eager to snap up the jobs created, he added.
Coke's opponent, incumbent Paul, is running for his second full term on the council. He said he is strongly in favor of Wal-Mart locating in Pullman for four reasons.
He said the store fits in with Pullman's long-planned growth around Bishop Boulevard. "That area is set aside for commercial use," he said. "We've already done the proper zoning, the planning and the environmental commissions, and all those were open to the public."
Paul said he encourages citizens to get involved in those early stage planning efforts so they aren't surprised like the community seemed to be when Wal-Mart announced its intentions. He also wondered if anti-Wal-Mart groups from out of the area weren't exerting some influence on this election.
Another reason Paul gave for supporting Wal-Mart is the city can't discriminate against any business for personal reasons. Wal-Mart will help Pullman broaden its tax base too, he added, and it will encourage other businesses to come as retail traffic in the area grows.
Paul said he personally has no objection to Wal-Mart, and doesn't know whether various accusations about its business practices are true.
Krueger said she decided to run because she was upset that the city hasn't held a public hearing specifically on the Wal-Mart issue, something she would do as a councilor.
The public has had an opportunity to comment on Wal-Mart's site plan, but that's not enough, she said. City planners approved the site plan, but with 35 conditions Wal-Mart has to address.
PARD is appealing that approval and an assessment that any environmental impact by Wal-Mart would be insignificant.
Increased traffic, proximity to a cemetery and light pollution are other Wal-Mart problems Kruger listed. And she included her personal distaste for the way it does business.
Heath said she understands that Wal-Mart has gotten into trouble before, but trusts the legal system to keep it in line.
"Trust me, if Wal-Mart is being a bad guy, someone will take them down," she said, adding trial lawyers have the money to match Wal-Mart's legal might dollar for dollar.
Heath, like Paul, said the council zoned the land around Bishop Boulevard for commercial development in 1982, and Wal-Mart fits within that zone.
"I think there's a certain group of people who simply want the city council to stand up and make a big stink, even though there's no legal basis to do so," Heath said. "It's not happening."
Sunnyside Elementary School fifth-grade teacher Gary Johnson has filed as a write-in candidate for the Ward 1, Position 7, seat. Johnson didn't return calls requesting input on the Wal-Mart issue before press time.
But he will be able to offer input at a candidate forum next week, if he chooses. The 7 p.m. Wednesday forum at the city hall council chambers is sponsored by the Pullman League of Women Voters and the Pullman Chamber of Commerce.
Alan Sorensen and C.B. (Barney) Waldrop are running unopposed for the Ward 2, positions 1 and 2 seats, respectively. The general election is Nov. 8.
Thank God Ann Heath, Bill Paul and Joshua Coke had the courage to tell it like it is. And big kudos to Joel Mills of the Tribune for nailing the story. This election IS a referendum on Wal-Mart. Make no mistake. And I agree with Bill Paul that organizations outside Pullman are trying to influence it. As I have said before, PARD is part of a greater national anti-Wal-Mart movement. It has nothing to do with "saving Pullman." PARD has been soliciting donations nationally at Sprawl Busters, Wal-Mart Watch and at Wake Up Walmart
FACTS are going to be coming out soon to counter PARD's lies. And just in time for the election, Judy.