Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Thursday, June 30, 2005

War, What is it Good For?

In the Wednesday edition of the Moscow-Pullman Daily News, there was a Town Crier commentary piece by Mark Konty titled “Culture wars or a war on pluralism?” The article reiterates the point that Rodney King made over a decade ago, namely “Can we all get along?”

With regards to the Wal-Mart situation (without mentioning Wal-Mart by name), he states:

In Pullman, the radical elements known as the Pullman Alliance for Responsible Development are fighting a spirited skirmish against the invincible axis of corporation and government. PARD claims the support of the people, as does the corporation’s propaganda machine. Majority support is irrelevant, says the democratically elected government. With only a single-shot public comment left in their arsenal, it looks like the people are left with wet powder.
Mr. Konty makes the point that I have been trying to make all along. We don't want or need such radicalism in Pullman.

I think his characterizations of PARD make them out to be a bit too heroic ("invincible axis of corporation and government" and "corporation's propaganda machine" are reminiscent of WWII Germany). And the words "single-shot," "arsenal," and "powder wet" almost seem to compare Pullman residents to the Minutemen at Lexington and Concord, standing up against the evil Wal-Mart of King George.

I assume he is using hyperbole to drive home his point, but I do have some concerns. Mr. Konty is identified as a “husband and father of two boys whose idea of a culture war is whether or not Spider-Man or Batman is cooler.” It is not mentioned, however, that he is also an Assistant Professor of Sociology at WSU, the very same department that so many PARD supporters are from. I hope there is no contamination going on there.

The law is being strictly followed with Wal-Mart and the only reason the council hasn't held more meetings is they want to avoid more barking moonbat attacks like we witnessed back in March at City Hall.

It comes as a shock to some, I know, that we don't vote on businesses in Pullman, just we like we don't vote on who can live here.

Ironically enough, to illustrate this "culture war," just below Mr. Konty's article, is one of the most radical anti-Wal-Mart letters to the editor I have yet seen, full of bombast and religious and patriotic overtones. The writer, Wiley Hollingsworth, tries to link CAFTA (the Central American Free Trade Agreement), the building of a Wal-Mart in Pullman and the downfall of American civilization as we know it.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

See You In September

Just got an e-mail from Wal-Mart:
Dear Valued Customer,

You’ve probably seen or heard about the support for the proposed Pullman Supercenter, and the letters to the editor and news stories reflecting the sentiments of thousands of Pullman residents.

We wanted to recognize the support we have seen in Pullman for the Supercenter, and thank you for your effort to let your friends and neighbors know that you are a part of a large group of residents in Pullman.

We also wanted you to know that the process for beginning construction of the Supercenter is on track, and just this week the City of Pullman issued a Determination of Non-Significance (DNS) which indicates that all requirements and mitigations have been satisfied. The issuance of the DNS begins a 14 day public comment period during which written comments in support or opposed to the finding will be accepted.

Please consider forwarding your supportive comments, focused on your agreement with the findings of the DNS, and that you agree with the city that all necessary requirements and mitigations have been satisfied. Comments should be sent to:

Mark Workman, Public Works Director
City of Pullman
325 SE Paradise Street
Pullman, WA 99163-2631
We’ll keep you updated on our progress, and expect that we will be able to break ground soon on the new Supercenter. And we look forward to inviting you to our Grand Opening!

Again, thanks for your support, and the letters and comments that have provided overwhelming evidence of the large number of supporters in Pullman.
I'll be there. Look for the guy with the tape on his mouth. Not protesting. Just to keep from laughing.

My, How Times Have Changed

A Daily Evergreen article titled "Population slowly rising in Pullman", dated November 27, 2001, featured an interview with Pullman Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Fritz Hughes:
Fritz Hughes of the Pullman Chamber of Commerce said the main reasons for the population increase are WSU and the agricultural community around Pullman.

“People who are looking to be successful in the agricultural industry can find a good niche for that in Pullman,” he said. “That is where you will find people having the most success in business or their careers.”

He added, “And of course, the university has a large part to do with the town’s population and the increase in population over the last few years.”

However, one thing that does not attract people to Pullman is the prospect of running certain types of businesses, Hughes said.

Because of the difference in tax laws in Washington and Idaho, businesses can save thousands of dollars by being located in Moscow instead of Pullman.

You aren’t going to see many Wal-Marts or huge marketing type businesses in Pullman,” Hughes said. “We just don’t have enough people or get enough foot traffic for those kinds of businesses.”
Compare this to an interview with Mr. Hughes in an Evergreen article published February 16 of this year:
“The last five years, especially recently, has been by far the most growth I have seen since I’ve been here,” said Fritz Hughes, the executive director of the Pullman Chamber of Commerce and resident of Pullman since 1976. “And we’re just starting to kick into high gear.”

There’s some serious bank to be made in Pullman, and the good thing is that most of it is going to stay in Pullman.

“The key is that local people are investing in the community, which means a lot of the dollars stay in Pullman,” Hughes said.
As I have stated previously, Pullman's demographics are not very attractive to businesses looking to locate here.

You can read more about this growth and the problems we have faced here.

So what has changed in the last 5 years? We can't do much about the geographic limitations, but our demographics are changing. For one thing, Pullman is no longer just a "company town", completely dependent on WSU.

At a press conference in February of this year, Schweitzer Engineering Labs (SEL) announced plans to hire 200 more employees this year, 125 of which will work in Pullman, bringing the company’s total to 1,150 by the end of the year. SEL has added at least 100 or more new employees every year since 1999, many of whom take up residence in Pullman. SEL is going to construct a new 22,000 square-foot research and development building and a 7,200 square-foot facilities maintenance building. They are also attempting to develop 92 acres next to their location in the Port of Whitman Industrial Park for single- and multi-family housing, restaurants, retail stores, a hotel and convention center.

It is not inconceivable, with the way Schweitzer Engineering is growing (it has doubled in size in the last 4 years), that it will have more employees than the university in 20 or 30 years. In an article in the Puget Sound Business Journal, SEL is reported to be the among the seven largest suppliers in the billion-dollar international electrical relay market, and poised for even greater expansion into other markets.

When you combine that with the WSU biotechnology project, Pullman could very easily become the "Silicon Wheatfield", a center of high-tech industry with high-paying, high benefit jobs to rival anything on the west side of the state.

But before we can get there, the infrastructure has to be in place. In addition to roads, schools, and housing, there also has to be places for people to shop. And not just in Moscow. If Pullman is to grow, we need to keep our tax revenue local.

Wal-Mart is the first step in that process. Wal-Mart is big enough to take the risk of coming to Pullman. They can afford to bank on the promise of what is to come, not what has been.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but there are many students and faculty at WSU who really don't know what is going on in Pullman. They are here for a few years, in a very insular academic environment, and then they move on down the road.

The nattering nabobs of negativism at PARD have had their say. It is time for Pullman to move on.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Professors Against Republican Donations

The Pullman Alliance for Responsible Development (PARD) was formed back in January of this year to oppose the building of a Wal-Mart Supercenter in Pullman. They describe themselves as “grass roots” and say their members range in age from 19 to 81 and include Washington State University professors, farmers, businesspeople, students and homemakers.

That’s funny, because I haven’t seen many farmers, businesspeople, or homemakers in PARD. Virtually every letter to the editor, every press release, and every Web posting I have seen opposing Wal-Mart seems to be from either a WSU faculty member, the spouse of a WSU faculty member, or a WSU student.

Be that as it may, I admit my first reaction upon hearing of the plans to open a Wal-Mart in Pullman was: “Why? There is already one in Moscow.” I have always shopped at Wal-Mart in Moscow because I like more selection and low prices. But seeing as feelings were running so high in the community, I thought I would do extensive research on the issue and reach my own conclusion. You have seen the results of this research in previous posts. A Wal-Mart in Pullman, while good business for Wal-Mart, is even better for this town.

PARD’s arguments about how Wal-Mart will have a negative effect on the local businesses, workers and consumers are simply not supported by the facts. PARD has stated support for a Target or a Costco, which, as big box stores, theoretically would have all the same wage, business, aesthetic, traffic, and environmental issues as Wal-Mart. Even Al Norman, the guru of the anti-Wal-Mart movement, stated:
"Target is every bit as ruthless (as Wal-Mart)," he said, and the problem with most large retailers is that "they usually pick the wrong size and place."

"Target is just Wal-Mart with an attitude."
Yet PARD claims in their position paper:

A smaller Target, on the other hand, would seem to be a more reasonable fit demographically, and has often been a good anchor.
And while so opposed to Wal-Mart as a company, PARD seems to support the one in Moscow. It didn't make any sense to me. So I wondered: “Why is PARD so passionately opposed to Wal-Mart?” Then I saw the following letter to the editor in the June 4 edition of the Moscow-Pullman Daily News from Alicia "Al" Borm. Daily News subscribers may recognize Ms. Borm as one of the PARD activists at a City Council meeting back in March who put tape over their mouths to protest the city's lack of public hearings concerning Wal-Mart.
A recent letter asserted that "the typical super center raises or donates $30,000 to $50,000 per year to local charities" (a figure from Wal-Mart's own Web site). If true, it is good that Wal-Mart is contributing locally and one hopes it does more. The increase in charitable giving by Wal-Mart is probably due partly to pressure local groups throughout the country have put on Wal-Mart to mend its ways. This pressure may eventually force Wal-Mart to transform itself into a company we all can feel good about supporting.

In the meantime, however, it is important to know Wal-Mart has contributed not thousands but millions to charter schools and school-voucher causes (USA Today). A community like Pullman, which is filled with state-employed teachers at all levels of the education system, should strongly oppose the building of a Wal-Mart Supercenter here for this reason alone. In our state, Wal-Mart has donated $300,000 to charter-school causes that have been rejected at the polls by Washington voters twice. Sending one's children to a private school is a personal choice, but charter schools and school vouchers weaken the public school system by diverting scarce funds away from it.

It also is revealing to examine Wal-Mart's political donations which mostly went to Republicans in the last election (www.fec.gov). In our state, Wal-Mart donated to the campaigns of Dino Rossi, George Nethercutt and Cathy McMorris, but not to those of Don Barbieri, Patty Murray, or Christine Gregoire.

Nationally, Wal-Mart contributed to Tom DeLay, Katherine Harris (former Florida Secretary of State, remember her?) and George Bush but not to John Kerry. By contrast, 99.11 percent of regionally-based Costco's political contributions went to Democrats, including Don Barbieri. Just so you know where your consumer dollars are going.
Suddenly, it all became clear to me. It has more to do with Don Barbieri losing than with economics, traffic, the environment, or any of the other things that should be the subjects of the Wal-Mart debate. It’s simply politics. Good old leftist, pro-labor, anti-business, anti-conservative, anti-Republican politics. And more than a little regional/class snobbery as well (Wal-Marts tend to fluorish in "red" states and 31% of Wal-Mart's shoppers have annual household incomes of less than $25,000 a year, according to a study by Retail Forward). All of PARD's talk about "traffic" and "public safety" is a smokescreen to hide their elitist, liberal agenda.

I guess on some level, I knew that colleges were bastions of liberalism, but Pullman is hardly Berkeley. Then I started checking the backgrounds of some of these PARD professors. I was shocked to find what passes for higher education at the taxpayer's expense these days.
T.V. Reed, PARD Chairman, is the author of publications on apartheid and popular music, Indian radicals in film, and environmental justice ecocriticism. His website states that “he has long worked for the internationalization of American studies, the effort to undercut the ethnocentrism too often found in the field.”

Nella Van Dyke, PARD Petition Coordinator, did her PhD dissertation on “The Dynamics of College Student Protest, 1930-1990”. She presented a paper titled “How the AFL-CIO Has Mobilized College Students for Labor Protest.” at the American Studies Colloquium Series at WSU last year.

Leland Glenna and Greg Hooks , PARD Living Wage task force, are professors in the Department of Sociology, along with Ms. Van Dyke. Maybe it should be renamed the "Department of Socialism."

Marcie Gilliland , PARD C0-Secretary, is a mental health counselor with an area of special interest in “feminist psychology.”
Apparently, Wal-Mart has become the new Vietnamesque cause célèbre for protesters across the country. Wal-Mart is more accepted and more respected in China, a Communist country, than it is here at home (see the latest issue of Time magazine). It’s truly amazing. Wal-Mart is probably the greatest example of free enterprise and the American Way ever. And yet the left sees it as the root of all evil in the modern world. Why? Because Wal-Mart is viewed as being conservative and Republican. The equally successful and even more monopolistic Microsoft draws no similar ire, because they support more liberal, politically correct causes. If you don't believe me, visit Buy Blue. As Jay Nordlinger put it in the National Review:
Wal-Mart is an all-purpose bogeyman, responsible, in some people's minds, for an array of ills. The anti-Wal-Mart mindset is a kind of religion, like dumb environmentalism, or dumb devotion to gun control, or dumb hatred of the SUV. You can't reason with these people, can't have an honest debate with them: Wal-Mart is simply their devil.
Make no mistake, PARD shares that same zeal. Just ask them yourself. What COULD Wal-Mart do to address their concern about location, traffic, etc. The answer is nothing. They are on a jihad against Wal-Mart, pure and simple. Do we really want to shop based on political party? Do we need these cultural and political wars that are raging in the other Washington in our town? The answer is a resounding NO!

The future of Pullman is too important to be left up to these far left professors and students who arrogantly assume we all feel the same way they do, or would if we just “learned more about the company.” Just recently, in a letter to the editor in the Moscow Pullman Daily News, Janet Damm stated:
I believe that many pro-Wal-Mart residents of Pullman have not done their homework.

Before you jump to conclusions that a super Wal-Mart would be good for Pullman please do some research.
You have to love the intelligentsia, always looking out of all us poor lumpenproles. Sorry, Janet, I already did my research. And you and your extremist friends do not represent our community or our values. Pullman and Whitman County, excluding the more liberal faculty members and students, is a pretty low key and tolerant place, without much political protest, controversy or strife. In a 2000 study, Demographics Daily rated Pullman 424 out of 632 small cities with a poplulation between 10,000 and 50,000 in the category of "Connection to cultural mainstream/residents feel connected to the outside world." What we care about is our schools (#1 out of 632) and our low cost of living/housing and taxes at affordable levels (#7 out of 632). We don't care for much for what people have done in Hayden, Gig Harbor, La Grande, Bend, Medford, Inglewood, Chicago, or Xanadu. This is Pullman. Perhaps you would be better off in one of those other cities.

But I'm sure the professors will continue to bemoan the "loss" of "their" town in the Daily News, forgetting that they came here to teach from somewhere else in the country and will probably be moving on again in a few years. Those same professors are also in the higher income brackets, which maybe makes them forget that the rest of Pullman and Whitman County, including students, would really like the 400 new jobs and access to a variety of merchandise and significantly cheaper prices, not to mention the benefit of increasing competition among local stores. Many residents, especially seniors, lack the transportation resources to zip over to Moscow, Clarkston or Spokane to shop, or do not have Internet connections to shop online to meet their needs. The anti-Wal Mart crowd has those resources as well as the free time to protest at City Hall, collect petitions and give interviews with the media. Meanwhile, 9-5 workers, seniors, and farmers in the rest of Pullman and the county are too busy with their lives to protest FOR Wal-Mart.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Pullman 2020

The City of Pullman’s Comprehensive Plan states that by the year 2020, Pullman community members hope to be able to say that:
Our city is self-sufficient with regard to its commercial services. Community residents can meet all of their needs for goods and services from Pullman businesses. Residents take advantage of this and purchase products within the community whenever possible.
With 15 years to go, however, the same problems mentioned in the Comprehensive Plan back in 1999 apply today:
The neighboring city of Moscow has, for some time, captured the bulk of the retail trade in the Palouse region. Many in the Pullman community would appreciate a better balance between the two cities with regard to shopping and entertainment opportunities.
The Pullman Alliance for Responsible Development just doesn’t seem to get this. They continue to see Pullman and Moscow as some sort of amorphous entity, even though we are in different states, have different needs, and don’t share tax revenues. This was evidenced by a letter in the Moscow-Pullman Daily News from PARD member Cynthia Hosick:
No please. No Wal-Mart superstore in Pullman, especially on Bishop Boulevard. We have two fine grocery stores already. Which one, like Tidyman's, will be put out of business? We already have a big discount store. Will ShopKo be ousted? Where is this marketing plan coming from? Two Wal-Marts, a ShopKo and six grocery stores for a total Pullman-Moscow population of less than 50,000?
PARD's posiiton paper states the following:
While we understand some people in Pullman who think it only fair turnabout to gain sales at the expense of Moscow, for a number of reasons that is highly unlikely to happen. Moreover, at a time when the Pullman and Moscow governments are seeking to cooperate on a number of projects, including responsible development of the Route 270 corridor, this is no time for store wars to ruin good will.
And even more love was shown for Moscow on Al Norman's Sprawl Busters site (where through a funny Freudian slip, Pullman was listed as being in Idaho and Moscow in Washington!):
Further, this issue is not an isolated "Pullman problem." It represents a serious impact to the city of Moscow, Idaho as well. Moscow, a short eight miles away, already has a Wal-Mart which is sure to close shortly after the Wal-Mart Superstore is opened, thus increasing unemployment in the area."
That's great. Let's keep letting Moscow poach our tax revenue because we don't want to offend or hurt anyone in Moscow. This is the PULLMAN Alliance for Responsible Development, right? No wonder they have obtained so many petition signatures over there. In fact, about half of WSU employees live outside of Pullman as it is. Perhaps the PARD members should just move to Moscow. I understand Moscow is now considering a moratorium on big box stores. Plus, if the Moscow Wal-Mart is closed as PARD predicts, they'll be that much happier.

While entertainment opportunities have increased in Pullman (multiplex theatre, bowling alley, etc.), no major retail stores have opened in the last 10 years (Shopko). The latest available numbers (FY 2002) from the Department of Revenue's Quarterly Business Review show Pullman as having $13,221,289 of taxable sales in SIC Group 53. This group includes retail stores which sell a number of lines of merchandise, such as dry goods, apparel and accessories, furniture and home furnishings, small wares, hardware, and food. The stores included in this group are known by such names as department stores, variety stores, general merchandise stores, and general stores. That breaks down to $510.38 of taxable general retail sales per resident per year. That is an extraordinarily low number and demonstrates the “sales leakage” caused by a significant amount of local residents’ purchases being made outside of the city.

Now let’s compare total taxable retail sales from all sources in Pullman to other comparably sized cities in Eastern Washington:
Walla Walla
Population: 30,500
Taxable retail sales (FY 2004): $418,873,639
Average taxable retail sales per resident: $13,733.56

Population: 28,760
Taxable retail sales (FY 2004): $690,902,992
Average taxable retail sales per resident: $24,023.05

Population: 25,905
Taxable retail sales (FY 2004): $299,871,863
Average taxable retail sales per resident: $11,575.83

Population: 16,390
Taxable retail sales (FY 2004): $327,571,297
Average taxable retail sales per resident: $19,986.05

Moses Lake
Population: 16,110
Taxable retail sales (FY 2004): $393,905,075
Average taxable retail sales per resident: $24,450.97

Population: 14,520
Taxable retail sales (FY 2004): $219,081,773
Average taxable retail sales per resident: $15,088.28
Pullman has the lowest average taxable retail sales per resident of any small city in Eastern Washington. I also find it extremely significant that Wenatchee and Moses Lake, which lead the list in terms of taxable retail sales per resident both have Wal-Marts located there.

Even Clarkston, WA, our smaller neighbor to the south with a population of 7,266, has more average taxable retail sales per resident at $16,921.24. Certainly Clarkston must experience sales leakage to Lewiston, ID, it's bigger twin across the Snake, but the presence of big box store Costco, helps balance things out by importing retail sales from surrounding areas (including Pullman).

Without a Wal-Mart Supercenter, we will never realize the Comprehensive Plan’s vision. I have it from a reliable source that Target and Fred Meyer have already rejected Pullman. And why not? As of 2000, 49.4% of the population was between 18 and 24 (average age 22.5) and the median household income was $20,652, both significantly below the state average because of the large student population. And those student residents are gone 3 months of the year, reducing the town’s population by 75%. Pullman is also located 70 miles from the closest interstate highway.

According to a study by Retail Forward, 31% of Wal-Mart shoppers have an median household income income of less than $25,000 per year. 37% of Wal-Mart stores are located in areas with less than 500,000 residents.

The two largest groups of Target shoppers, both with 21 percent of the customer base, have median household incomes between $50,000 and $74,999 and greater than $100,000 a year. 58% of Target's stores are in areas with greater than 2 million in population.

Will Costco do a "preemptive strike" on Wal-Mart by moving to Pullman as hoped for by PARD? Not likely. The median age of a Costco member is 51.8 with a median income of $85,000. More than 42% of Costco members earn more than $100,000 a year.

In Pullman, according to the Census Bureau, only 12.3% of households make $50,000-$74,999 a year and an even smaller 4.7% earn over $100,000 a year

Only Wal-Mart seems to be willing to take the risk because they are the best fit for Pullman both demographically and geographically.

Wal-Marts’s opponents constantly point out that its "predatory" business practices will destroy local businesses. Hogwash. How can anyone believe that in a town of 25,000 that is served by one mid-size retail store, one drug store, and two grocery stores that we are over-retailed? If anything based on the numbers above, we are severely under-retailed. There is plenty of room for more players in our economy. Besides, competition is good. Look at Tri-State in Moscow. Everyone predicted that the Wal-Mart there would kill them off, but it hasn’t. Tri-State has refocused its market and recently renovated its store.

Speaking of Moscow, since Wal-Mart opened there approximately 15 years ago, not only is the downtown area still vibrant, but a book/music/video store, a sporting goods store, two office supply stores, a restaurant, and a hotel have opened up next door. And how about Lewiston? There is a Wal-Mart there also, but so is K-Mart, ShopKo, Safeway, Albertsons, Sears, J.C. Penney and Home Depot, all very close to Wal-Mart. That doesn't seem like economic desolation to me. That seems like economic vitality. I dare anyone to name one store in either Moscow or Lewiston that has closed solely because of Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart, contary to what its opponent say, is often a catlyst for redevelopment. The southern part of Pullman has several vacant businesses (i.e. Leisure Lanes, KFC/Taco Bell, the old Safeway site). The presence of a Wal-Mart will no doubt re-invigorate Wheatland Mall.

And we should also disabuse ourselves of this notion of “local” businesses, many of which allowed PARD to colelct petition signatures. ShopKo, which Ms. Hosick is so passionately concerned about in her letter, is a chain store based out of Green Bay, Wisconsin. Safeway, another mega-chain, is based out of California. Rite-Aid’s corporate headquarters are in Pennsylvania. And let’s not forget Les Schwab out of Oregon and Dissmores from Spokane. Why should we care if national chain stores duke it out for our business? The only true Mom and Pop type stores in Pullman are small boutique stores that cater to a specialized clientele (used books, crafts, specialty clothing, etc.). They will not be threatened by a Wal-Mart in Pullman anymore than they are threatened by a Wal-Mart in Moscow now.

This whole nonsense was brought up in a PARD advertisement thinly disguised as a March 31 cover story in The Inlander, the preferred liner of bird cages across the Inland Northwest:
"We believe the city has taken a narrow interpretation of their own codes in regard to the fiscal impact of Wal-Mart," says T.V. Reed, PARD's chairman. While some anti-Wal-Mart activists claim the city of Pullman is star-struck over the prospect of all that sales tax revenue from a Wal-Mart supercenter, Dickinson (ed. Pullman's planning director) insists the city is simply playing it safe. "We wrestle with the issues we are required to wrestle with under the city code," he says. "Something we're required to review is the fiscal impact, [but] as the city defines it — it's impact on the city's revenue, not necessarily other [business owners]."

Dickinson says the city could only rightfully refuse Wal-Mart "if there is evidence that the supercenter will drive out other businesses to the point that it would affect the revenues and expenditures for the municipality." That's unlikely, considering whatever money the city loses from businesses closing their doors can be made up easily by Wal-Mart's booming sales.

The message from the city of Pullman to its private business owners, it seems, is "You're on your own."
Gee. I guess I didn't realize it was the City of Pullman's job to regulate competition among private enterprise. No surprise then, I guess, that the Communist Party of Canada is against Wal-Mart.

Face it. Pullman is in no danger of being overrun by urban sprawl. How often do we hear students complain it is a rinky-dink little town? And people on the West Coast see us as the Jed Clampett of the PAC-10. I can’t remember how many cracks I have heard about Pullman while watching Cougar football on TV, such as: “Pullman is the only PAC-10 city without a four lane highway leading to it” or “to get to Pullman, go to the middle of nowhere, take a right and drive 80 miles.”

But Pullman is growing and diversifying in ways not related to the university. The residential and commercial development we are currently experiencing is relieving pent-up demand and is in no way bad for the city.

The city estimates that in the year 2020, our population will be 33,650. I personally think it will be higher, as we have been growing around 1% a year lately. My challenge again to PARD and the other Wal-Mart opponents is this: Instead of always being so negative and pointing out all of Wal-Mart's flaws, what do you propose as a viable solution to Pullman’s retail woes other than Wal-Mart? If you can’t guarantee a Target or a Costco will open soon (and you can’t), then why not support Wal-Mart for the good of the community?

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Good News at Last!

Just saw this at the Pullman Alliance for Responsible Development website:
City Public Works Director Mark Workman has just announced his decison on the Wal-Mart Supercenter SEPA report:

A "determination of non-significance." (DNS)

Of the three possible rulings, this is the best decision possible from Wal-Mart's point of view, the worst from the point of view of most Pullman residents (ed. - only to a small group of professors and students. The permanent residents of Pullman win with this ruling.)

This means Workman does not even believe there are significant mitigations to be made, only minor ones.

The time for public comment is now, finally, open. It will last utnil (sic) July 11th. All interested parties are urged to express their views.
Formal comments can be submitted to Mark Workman, Public Works Director, at City Hall. I urge everyone to do so and express your support for Wal-Mart. I know I will be.

Send your letters to:
Responsible Official
Public Works Director Mark Workman
Pullman City Hall
325 SE Paradise Street
Pullman, WA 99163
After July 11, the city will issue a final determination on the SEPA checklist at some point. Once that is done, the public will have 10 days to file an appeal requesting a hearing. PARD has already made it clear they are going to do so on several issues.

That hearing will be a circus. Wal-Mart supporters will need to be out in force to counteract the PARD radicals. The time to organize is drawing near.

Junk Science

In a letter to the editor publsihed in the Moscow-Pullman Daily News on June 20, Montine Vona-Pergola boldly proclaimed:
By definition, a survey is only a portion of the population targeted, and all surveys use the resulting percentages to represent the the population as a whole. PARD's petition signatures are no different.

Thus, if two-thirds of our now more than 8,000 signers against the Wal-Mart Supercenter are from Pullman, then it follows by every academic standard that, if the entire population of Pullman were surveyed, the results would probably be very similar.
Huh? Daily Evergeen readers may remember Ms. Vona-Pergola as the PARD protester who urged the city council to "use the Force" to oppose Wal-Mart at a meeting back in March. "Every academic standard?" Maybe in the Department of Philosophy at WSU, or the Jedi Council, but not in the real world.

PARD announced at a press conference in May that they had obtained 7,500 petition signatures. However, they also admitted that 1/3 of those signatures were obtained from non-Pullman residents. I'm no expert, but I would think if you are trying to determine public opinion in one town, you don't contaminate the survey by going to a town in another state and gather signatures. PARD gathered petition signatures at HyperSpud Sports, Bookpeople, the Moscow Food Coop, the Farmer's Market, and other locations in Moscow, Idaho. So that leaves around 5,000 signatures from Pullman. Students make up around 75% of Pullman’s population. Applying that same ratio to those 5,000 signatures would mean they have around 1,250 permanent resident signatures. 1,250 out of 7,500 permanent residents. Hardly 2/3 of the population. And this is the best-case scenario. PARD has yet to allow public scrutiny (only the press and city officials have been offered the chance to examine them) of their petition. The number of student signatures or duplicate/bogus signatures could be much higher.

Wal-Mart spokesman Eric Berger put it well in this March 12 Spokesman Review article (requires paid subscription to view):
Berger said that because some of the alliance's signature-gathering took place on the WSU campus, it's not indicative of what full-time residents want.

"We feel we have strong support from long-term Pullman residents that know what's good for their community," he said.
Petitions are notoriously unreliable. That's because such petition signers are not selected at random from the general population. That is the point that Ms. Vona-Pergola misses. A petition is hardly a survey. The public and policy makers are not going to pay any more attention to a petition with thousands of signatures from all over the Palouse than they would to a "poll" run for a day on the Web.

Why doesn’t PARD commission a scientifically-based statistical poll? I suspect it is because they fear the results. PARD has tried every way possible to spin their petition numbers and declare a PR “victory.” Quite the contrary. Only obtaining 3-5,000 signatures out of 18,000 fairly liberal college students (28 out of 30 Pullman precincts went for Kerry) is an embarassing defeat. In fact, I believe most students at WSU are for a Wal-Mart, they're just not as vocal. I also think the fact that PARD obtained signatures from outside of Pullman really turned a lot of people in the community off. This latest proclamation just shows their desperation.

Wal-Mart contacted every permanent resident of Pullman by mail (about 9,000 postcards) and received back 6,000 responses. They claim 4,000 of those support Wal-Mart, a ratio of 2 to 1. Wal-Mart also contacted more than 1,000 registered Pullman businesses and an even larger majority expressed support. PARD says that Wal-Mart’s numbers are slanted. I’m more inclined to believe Wal-Mart’s numbers since they sent their survey out on a relatively random basis. Plus, Wal-Mart knows how people really vote: With their wallets. I’m sure Wal-Mart has done extensive studies at their Moscow store of how many shoppers are from Pullman. Many of them I'm sure who signed the PARD petition and will also shop at the one in Pullman, petition or not.

In any case, it doesn’t matter. We don’t “vote” on new businesses in Pullman. As long as the land is zoned for the purpose, any business is free to open after they meet regulatory requirements. As stated in the Daily Evergreen on Janury 25 of this year:
“We want to be extremely careful,” (Pullman Mayor) Johnson said. “We have to treat the developer — no matter who it is — equally.”

...The land Wal-Mart might develop is zoned C-3, or general commercial, and the type of commercial development proposed by Wal-Mart is consistent with the C-3 zoning designation, according to a report presented to the council in November.

Any attempt by the City Council to change the zoning of the property now would be an unconstitutional deprivation of the property owner’s rights to use the property as it is zoned, according to the report.
So, there you have it. Equal protection under the Constitution. Thank God for that.

The proposed Wal-Mart site was zoned C-3 some 23 years ago. 23 years. That is how long it took to get someone to develop that property. No one can say that this process has been rushed. The pace has been positively glacial. Why did Wal-Mart's opponents wait until now to get started?

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The Case for the Pullman Wal-Mart Supercenter

In my opinion, the case for a Wal-Mart Supercenter in Pullman has been made. In a recent Moscow-Pullman Daily News article (“Real estate tax won’t be the savior once thought”, June 14), it was reported that Pullman lost $1.3 million per year from the elimination of the motor vehicle excise tax (I-695). City Supervisor John Sherman stated: “...a solid, ongoing expansion of our tax base. Not only property tax, but utility tax. We’re also looking at expanding our sales tax base. We’re very interested in expanding our commercial sector.” A Wal-Mart Supercenter would fit all of those needs nicely. The City of Pullman will receive an .85 percent sales tax on all business done there. Whitman County will receive .15 percent of sales in tax revenue. There will also be a one time lump sum sales tax on the multi-million dollar construction of the Wal-Mart building, as well as yearly utility and property taxes. Plus, as has happened in Moscow, other stores will open up around Wal-Mart and generate even more tax revenue for the city. All this means millions more for the city and county over the years to come.

I realize that there is some opposition to a Wal-Mart in Pullman. However, to those detractors, I would say: “How do you propose to resolve the city’s revenue crisis?” Wal-Mart is willing to build NOW. With only one mid-size multi-purpose retail store in town, our tax money is being exported to Moscow, Lewiston and Spokane when Pullman desperately needs it. I don’t think we can hold out for the slight possibility of another, more politically correct big box store down the line locating in Pullman. Personally, I don’t care what people in other towns have done. In Pullman, our situation is this: Over 20,000 people attend or work for an organization (Washington State University) that pays no property taxes and generates no sales tax revenue. At the same time, those people require services such as schools, sidewalks, fire, police, etc. from the city.

Anyone can see Pullman’s dilemma. That is why Whitman County is the only county in Washington that is party to a lawsuit trying to overturn I-747, which limits property-tax growth to 1 percent a year. The money has to come from somewhere. I would rather see a Wal-Mart than sky-high property taxes. It's hard enough as it is finding affordable housing in Pullman.

Let’s all unite behind welcoming Wal-Mart. It’s the right thing to do for Pullman.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Pullman Gets Hosed

Well, it's summer time again, and in Pullman that means the flag persons and orange cones are out in force. It made me start thinking about the new gas tax in Washington that was passed at the last moment back in April by the legislature.

In 2002, Washington citizens overwhelmingly rejected R51 which proposed a 9 cents a gallon gas tax increase. In 2003, the politicians in Olympia went ahead and increased the gas tax by 5 cents a gallon anyway. This year, they added another 9.5 cents a gallon on to our gas tax giving Washington the "honor" of the highest gas tax in the country, plus a variety of increased vehicle licensing fees (in clear violation of I-695).

That's a 60% increase in TWO YEARS!

What does Pullman and the Palouse get out of all this?


Since Seattle residents are already paying for Sound Transit and the monorail (both incredibly over-budget boondoggles with nothing to show for all the money spent), the rest of the state is now being asked to pay to replace the Alaskan Way viaduct and the 520 floating bridge. Of course, this latest 9.5 cent increase won't even come close to fully funding those two projects, so we can expect even higher gas taxes passed as "emergency" legislation down the road. In fact, the Viaduct and floating bridge have no construction plans and no timetable. The Greens in Seattle want to replace the viaduct with a more aesthetically pleasing and "environmentally friendly" tunnel, which has the potential to become the biggest money sinkhole ever seen in this state.

Of the approximately $7,139,900,000 to be generated by this latest round of gas taxes for capital projects, a whopping $4,058,800,000 is earmarked for projects in King County and Seattle. Whitman County gets only $9 million. All of our local politicians voted against the measure, but the tyrannical Seattle lobby got their way, as they always do.

The gory details can be found here. I ran some numbers just for fun:
King County population - 1,761,411
Whitman County population - 40,702

Money allocated per King County resident for projects- $2,304.29
Money allocated per Whitman County resident for projects - $221.12
Some would make the argument "Well, King County has more road projects." Okay, fine. let them pay for it then. Why should we in Pullman fund projects that are of no benefit to us?

To put it another way: Of every 8.5 cents per gallon of gas sold in Pullman (1 cent of the 9.5 cent gas tax goes back to cities and counties), 4.8 cents will go to King County, while 1/100th of a cent will stay here. Insane. Better go to as many Mariners and Seahawks games as you can to get some use from the roads your hard-earned money will pay for.

"Governor" Gregoire has touted how every county in the state is getting money from this tax. When Gregoire was in Pullman for a WSU commencement speech, she mentioned bridges to a group of local leaders as one of the "benefits" we were getting from the tax. The WSDOT plan calls for Whitman County to receive $4 million each for bridges in Oakesdale and Colfax that need repair. I guess even our unelected Governor realized this was pretty pathetic as she almost apologized: "If eastern Washington ever has a need, I'm sure the rest of the state will pitch in to help out". Yeah, right.

We have many highway needs already that aren't being addressed. The Palouse Economic Development Council's Regional Transportation Plan has identified about $172.71 million in road projects for Whitman County (see Page 9 of Table 8). Of that, only $30 million is currently funded. That funding is for the widening of the Moscow-Pullman Highway, which was supposed to be paid for with the last go-round of gas tax raises and yet we have yet to see one shovel of dirt broken for construction and it is already in danger of running out of money before it even starts. Click here for details. Ironically enough, the bridges being funded with this latest tax are not even listed in the PEDC's plan. Figures. That's what happens when west side bureaucrats are in charge. Meanwhile, the widening of US 195 between Colfax and Spokane goes unfunded and people continue to die on that dangerous highway.

In addition, we will end up paying a second tax. Goods in Pullman stores have to be shipped by truck over long distances. These extra gas costs will be passed along to us the consumer. And as drivers flock to Idaho, just 8 miles away, for cheaper gas, Pullman gas stations will feel the pinch and may be forced to close.

What can you do?

I-912 has been proposed to roll back this egregiously unfair new gas tax. If you are a registered Washington voter, go out today and sign a petition to put I-912 on the ballot in November. Send me an e-mail if you don't know where to find a petition.

There are only 19 days left to obtain 250,000 signatures. Let's send a message to those Seattle tax-and-spend liberals that they can't ignore Pullman until Apple Cup every other year.