Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Superficial Elitist Anti-Big Box Activists

Another great column from Don Brunell, President of the Association of Washington Business. Notice the scary similarities in his column between the San Francisco superficial elitist anti-big box activists and our own superficial elitist anti-big box activists right here on the Palouse.
Consumers want low prices, good value, and convenience. People want jobs and opportunity, and elected officials want tax revenue.

So you’d think a new Home Depot would be just the thing to reinvigorate a depressed neighborhood in San Francisco. Yet, after ten years, the store has yet to gain city approval.

Opponents have battled the store since the very beginning, and that battle is still raging. Recently, hundreds of people turned out to watch the Planning Commission vote on an environmental study for the project. Protestors and supporters spilled out of the main meeting room into three hearing rooms and hallways. After four hours of public comment, the commissioners voted to accept the study. Opponents immediately appealed the decision.

What could cause such chaos?

Home Depot wants to build a two-level, 140,000-square-foot store in the Bayview neighborhood of San Francisco on the site of an old vacant lumber yard. The rejuvenated location would stop the flight of Home Depot buyers to adjacent suburbs to shop.

Opponents say the store would increase traffic and destroy mom-and-pop businesses in the city. Supporters point to the 200 new jobs – half of which would go to residents in surrounding communities – and $500,000 a year in new tax revenue.

Ironically, some of the project’s most ardent supporters are neighbors who hope the store will rejuvenate their economically depressed neighborhood. "Right now, what do we have? Nothing," said lifelong resident Darnell Helton.

Unmoved, opponents dismiss the jobs and tax revenue the Home Depot would provide, saying they’re more concerned about maintaining the character of the neighborhood and the charm of small businesses in the area.

But many nearby residents want their neighborhood to change. “It's just two totally different realities," said Angelo King, head of the Bayview-Hunters Point Project Area Committee that is counting on Home Depot to provide 100 entry-level jobs. "They're talking about traffic, and we're talking about dodging bullets," he said.

Anti-box store activists like those in San Francisco are in danger of appearing to be superficial elitists who care more about neighborhood charm than the neighborhood people who need affordable merchandize and good jobs.

When you think about it, the pitched battles being waged across the nation against Home Depot and other big box stores overlook the most basic principle of capitalism: Consumers, not the government or the courts, make the ultimate decision about where they shop.

As The San Francisco Examiner editorial board pointed out, “…no one can make San Franciscans spend money at Home Depot, and if people continue to spend money at the homegrown businesses they say they want in their neighborhoods, those businesses will continue to thrive. Businesses that are conveniently located, provide unique goods or services, and enjoy the support of the community have survived or grown even when cheaper alternatives have been available.”

Those editors have it just right.

Consumers are in charge of the American marketplace. They always have been. That’s the way it’s supposed to work.
In my opinion, it is elitism and classism that ultimately drive the opposition to Wal-Mart more than union politics or environmentalism. The modern left wing abhors what they see as the mundane 9-to-5 existence that 99% of the rest of the world experiences. The intellectual elite choose to be professors, lawyers, doctors, activists, professional students, or just unemployed ne'er-do-wells, anything but conform to the meaningless capitalist world. Chuck Millham's column in the Daily News two days ago did a great job touching on the disconnect between the modern Democratic Party and the working class people it supposedly represents.

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