Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Monday, October 23, 2006

Consolation Prize

Over the course of the last year and a half, PARD has failed to convince the Pullman Planning Department, a Hearing Examiner, and a Superior Court judge of the veracity of their arguments. But that's okay. At least one Daily Evergreen writer buys their flimsy, biased, anecdotal "evidence.":
Cons outweigh pros for Wal-Mart

People have been touting the success of Wal-Mart for almost as long there have been those who criticize Wal-Mart for its business practices.

People have been touting the success of Wal-Mart for almost as long there have been those who criticize Wal-Mart for its business practices. The mega-store is accused of selling poor-quality goods, running small businesses out of town and into bankruptcy, depressing local economies, and treating employees in an appalling manner.

Wal-Mart – one of the most economically successful businesses in U.S. history – is affecting small towns, cities and all of America in a negative way, no matter how much money it brings in. Wal-Mart has skirted around traditional standards of business and continues to pursue a number of practices that harm individuals and depress the U.S. economy.

Wal-Mart is now knocking on our front door. Last Wednesday, Whitman County Superior Court Judge David Fazier rejected an appeal filed by citizens trying to stop the construction of a store in Pullman. This leaves little short of an appeal by the Pullman Alliance for Responsible Development to the Washington state Court of Appeals in the way of the construction of a Wal-Mart store in our community.

There are a great deal of problems with Wal-Mart that have been witnessed in past years by other communities. I will forgo explaining all of these, though, and focus on the issues that most directly affect us in Pullman. PARD has compiled a list, available on www.pullman-ard.org, that describes a number of the key concerns. These fit into two main categories.

The first primarily deals with noise and air pollution, which would affect senior citizens living at nearby Bishop Place. It also addresses traffic problems created at nearby intersections that would “fall to ‘unacceptable levels,’ according to the city’s own review,” according to the PARD Web site. Other issues include a large parking lot that could attract crime and partying, thus raising policing costs, the site stated.

The second major category has to do with Wal-Mart’s practices and the projected effects on local businesses. The PARD Web site states local businesses could lose “between 47 percent and 63 percent of their sales to Wal-Mart, while receiving little if any ‘spillover’ of business from those attracted to the new Wal-Mart.” These figures are based on national patterns. The loss of business would be due Wal-Mart’s monopolistic business practices and the fact that the store is so large it can stock nearly everything in one location.

PARD states that within three years of a Wal-Mart installation in Pullman, there would be an overall loss of jobs. Furthermore, the new jobs created by Wal-Mart would not pay living wages and could transfer up to $800,000 to Washington taxpayers in social service costs, according to PARD. This is not only bad for Wal-Mart employees and hard on taxpayer’s checkbooks, it could also drag down wages throughout Pullman because of competition.

These are only the beginning. Many sources denounce Wal-Mart for its business practices and, as PARD succinctly puts it, “Wal-Mart’s unethical and often illegal business and labor practices ... are inconsistent with Pullman community values.” There are those on the other side of the argument as well. Businesses and Residents for Economic Opportunity supports the development of a Wal-Mart in Pullman. The group’s Web site, www.letsgrowpullman.com, includes a link to a document that presents “facts” about some possible positive impacts of building a Wal-Mart store in Pullman.

These include such things as decreasing the traffic on the Pullman-Moscow highway, but at what expense? Increasing traffic within Pullman? Another proposed positive impact listed on the document is the collection of new tax revenues that had previously been lost to Moscow businesses. This is unlikely. PARD states that tax revenue will be “far lower than claimed due to hidden costs in city infrastructure, lost jobs and businesses, and social service costs.” There are some advantages, such as one-stop shopping and slightly lower prices, but these will come at a great cost. The positive aspects of a Wal-Mart in Pullman are far outweighed by the negative effects it would have on our community.
I'll let Hearing Examiner John Montgomery, much more of an expert on this subject than Mr. Blue could ever hope to be, address the points raised in the column:
Generally government may not micro-manage every aspect of every development and particularly those which are considered to be unpopular. Government does not have the time, the resources, or the ability to regulate every aspect of every development project, nor to enforce the same. Nor should government take regulatory control of all aspects of any development for which it does not have a significant interest in protection from existing regulations, the general health, welfare and safety, or the result of environmental regulations. For Wal-Mart, as a property owner possessing the necessary zoning classification to be micro-managed to the extent sought by the appellant would be considered blatantly offensive by any citizen of Pullman seeking to develop their own property. Only existing laws and regulation may be lawfully imposed. To that extent, Wal-Mart is a citizen of the City of Pullman, having certain rights relative to its property and those rights already existent under the laws applicable to the development.

Although not required to do so, the applicant submitted an economic impact analysis and offered expert testimony at the hearing that showed the proposed Project would not have a negative impact on the City of Pullman, would not cause urban blight, and would generate large tax revenues. PARD was unable to submit any evidence into the record showing that the proposed Project would likely have negative economic consequences on the City of Pullman. Although it submitted several studies of Wal-Mart’s impacts on other communities, the applicant’s expert properly concluded that these studies were not relevant in the City of Pullman and that these impacts could not be expected to occur.

The proposed Project would be consistent with Chapter 3, page 20 of the Comprehensive Plan, which indicates that Moscow has captured the bulk of retail trade in the Palouse region, and that Pullman desires a better balance of shopping and entertainment opportunities. The proposed Project would bring desired retail to the City of Pullman and help balance the retail trade currently existing in Moscow, Idaho.

The proposed Project would be consistent with Chapter 4, page 36 of the Comprehensive Plan which states that Pullman residents should be able to purchase products within the community, that the downtown is recognized as the heart of the community, and that commercial facilities outside of downtown should be clustered in convenient locations. The proposed Project would ensure that Pullman is self-sufficient in its retail needs and would prevent shoppers from shopping in Moscow. The economic impact analysis completed by the applicant concluded that the downtown will continue to be vibrant. The fiscal impact analysis completed by the City concluded that there would not be a negative fiscal impact on the City of Pullman. The proposed Project is located along Bishop Boulevard, which is identified as an area of commercial development elsewhere in the Comprehensive Plan.

The proposed Project would be consistent with several goals and policies in the Comprehensive Plan regarding commercial and economic development, including Goal LU5 and Policies LU5.1, 5.2, 5.3, and 5.8. Although the proposed Project is not located in the downtown business district, substantial evidence shows that it will not have a significant adverse impact on downtown.

The proposed Project would be consistent with Goal LU6 which states that the City should enlarge the economic base of the community by encouraging non-polluting businesses that provide high-wage jobs. The economic impact study submitted by the applicant showed that wages paid by Wal-Mart would not be lower than average.

PARD’s allegations that the scope of the TIA erroneously did not contain certain driveways and intersections is not supported by sufficient evidence; PARD did not enter into the record any evidence showing that vehicular circulation would be negatively affected at the driveway and intersection locations.

PARD’s allegations that impacts relating to trucks and truck turning radii would cause a significant impact to traffic is not supported by sufficient evidence.

The mitigation requirements that will be constructed as a part of the proposed Project will properly mitigate traffic impacts attributable to the proposed Project.

No credible evidence exists to suggest that urban blight will result from approval of the proposal under SEPA. The mere suggestion of such does not establish a significant environmental concern requiring preparation of a Final Impact Analysis under SEPA or a fiscal impact analysis.

The proposed lighting plan does not arise to a level adversely affecting the environment within an urbanized area particularly when reasonable effort has been made to reduce fugitive light

As mitigated the proposal does not result in a significant environmental impact requiring the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement and the DNS is approved.
These are not the words of a pro-Wal-Mart group, but a neutral land use expert. PARD has repeated opportnuities to make their case and fumbled every time. If they decide to appeal to the Appellate Court in Spokane, it will be an expensive (for the UFCW) mistake.

As for tax revenue, I'll let the study funded by No Super WalMart in Moscow explain:
The 223,000 square foot Wal-Mart Supercenter that has been proposed to be built in Pullman will attract approximately $100 million in sales – roughly the equivalent of all current sales in major retail categories in Pullman – according to Wal-Mart’s current national sales averages. This will have an enormous impact on retail activity in the region – in Pullman, in particular, but also in Moscow, as some sales currently being captured by Moscow businesses will almost certainly gravitate to the new Wal-Mart Supercenter.
In case you're wondering, Mr. Blue, that would mean sales tax revenue of $850,000 a year to Pullman.

Meanwhile, instead of jumping on the ideological bandwagon, Mr. Blue should have examined the benefits Wal-Mart would have for WSU students, and there are many:

  • Wal-Mart's low prices save every American $895 a year and increases real disposable income by 0.9%.

  • The presence of a Wal-Mart Supercenter in a market lowers food expenditures by 25%

  • The opening of a typical 150-350 person Wal-Mart store increases retail employment in a county by an average of 137 jobs over the near-term and levels off to a 97-job increase over the long-term. Approximately 100 of the jobs at the new Wal-Mart will be part-time, giving students much greater employment opportunities than they currently enjoy in Pullman.

  • But, ulimately, those facts won't matter. Mr. Blue will have probably moved on down the road by the time our Wal-Mart has opened, just as many other anti-Wal-Mart students and faculty have done over the past two years. You see, it's not really "their" community. It belongs to us, the people who will live here the rest of our lives, and we want Wal-Mart. Soon, despite Mr. Blue's and PARD's ideological objections, we'll have it.

    UDPATE: I should have known. Scotty reports that Jimmy Blue, the author of the above column, is the WSU Young Democrats "Director of Communications." We'll see if the Evergreen gives anyone a shot at a rebuttal. Don't hold your breath. They're learning all about "journalistic integrity" and "free speech" in the mainstream media at an early age.

    Technorati Tags:


    April E. Coggins said...

    Just another (hopefully the last) example of the Daily Evergreen being used as a mouthpiece for PARD. Oh well, the worst that can happen now is that PARD gets to enjoy a taste of the frustration the Pullman community has endured for the last two years.

    Scotty said...

    He is the Young Democrats Director of Comunnications. But, the thing that is so horrible about the opinion piece is that it seems like a "cut and paste" of PARD's website. There is no though nor OPINION of his own in there.

    Does he really think that there will be students choosing to go party in the WalMart parking lot? Look at the WalMart in Moscow... crime problems? Tons of stores in Moscow closed down? Partying in the parking lots? All jobs in Moscow now at minimum wage?

    No to every one of those claims!

    Paul E. Zimmerman said...
    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
    Paul E. Zimmerman said...
    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
    Paul E. Zimmerman said...

    I'm not going to hold my breath on the Evergreen allowing for a real rebuttal, but I'm also not going to waste my breath on it. I read the article with a smile today, because it sounded to me like the last dying gasp of a stupid, doomed ideology. The battles are over, the war is won, and the victory is ours.

    However, this has made me consider again something I'm going to talk over with my business partners at N22. My thoughts as of late are that we should not give the Evergreen one more penny of advertising revenue. They certainly like the money businesses can provide, but they seem to have no qualms about turning around and attacking legitimate, legal businesses - they bite the hand that feeds them.

    They like to hide behind their walled version of the fourth estate and remain blissfully unaccountable for their follies, but perhaps in this way we can send a sapper under their walls.

    Paul E. Zimmerman said...

    By the way, does anyone want to grab a 30 pack of beer and hang out in the parking lot of the Moscow Walmart? Woohoo! Party!

    Yeah, right. Next!

    April E. Coggins said...

    Paul, a boycott might be tempting, but the intended targets will not be affected. Do what's best for your business first. This will all blow over. Again.
    Tom has it right, this is all temporary and next year no one will remember because most of the players will have left town. Again.

    Paul E. Zimmerman said...

    April -

    Our business boomed after we began a campaign of guerilla marketing. The Evergreen and radio advertising never did that much for us, but we at least stuck by the Evergreen for a while.

    Our latest round of advertising was greeted with "articles" attacking our industry, run at the same time our rather expensive ads were running. We're not confident that a change of the guard amongst the paper staff will change anything about their character, so chances are we will not spend any more money with them.

    Things like facebook and using our own business cards as part of a customer-based referal program are working so much better. I've thought for a while now that convential advertising is dead. After all, I pay $19 for two Sirius satellite radios so I don't have to listen to it anymore...