Small businesses in Fairfield, California are going to be tutored by Wal-Mart on how to survive the giant retailer. That’s one stipulation in a bizarre agreement city officials reached as part of a vote overturning the rejection of the superstore last month by the city’s planning commission. On November 2, 2006, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart lost a tie vote by Planning Commissioners in Fairfield. The retailer wanted to transfer from their current location on Chadbourne Rd. to the vacant Mission Village Center in Fairfield. There are 4 Wal-Mart discount stores within 15 miles of this site, so there is no market need for this project. But one month later, the Fairfield City Council unanimously approved, on a 5-0 vote, a Wal-Mart Supercenter on 18 acres of a former shopping center. The public hearing for the 201,000 s.f. store lasted four hours, when the vote was taken at about 1 a.m. this past Thursday. The city council thus overruled its own planning commission. Under the approval, Wal-Mart must pay for bus passes for any employees who want them, must continue noise monitoring, accept no deliveries until after 7 a.m. and not sell guns in the store. A deed restriction will prohibit Wal-Mart from limiting other uses on the site that could allow it to “sterilize the competition.” As a final insult to local merchants, Wal-Mart also will pay for two seminars run by a small business organization that instructs local retailers how to compete with its supercenter. The mayor boasted that the project will contribute $1 million in tax revenue to the city (that is a gross figure, not a net figure that subtracts out lost sales elsewhere, or the city’s costs of serving this project). An existing smaller Wal-Mart in the city will close and those employees will be offered jobs at the new Supercenter, the Mayor said. But Wal-Mart opponents are not done. The Mayor told the Vallejo Times Herald that he expects a lawsuit challenging the project’s environmental impact report. Citizens complained that the store will be a mismatch for the surrounding residential area near Fairfield High School and elementary School, and said traffic will overrun the area. Many noted that the superstore will run smaller businesses out of town. Wal-Mart said it was going to close its current store regardless of the council vote. The current Wal-Mart in Fairfield generates $400,000 in annual sales tax, so that new store will add $600,000, not $1 million.
The numbers here really don’t add up. The old Wal-Mart closing means the loss of $400,000. The new store, the Mayor says, will contribute $1 million. Obviously the old store’s sales have to be subtracted from the total, plus the loss of the Albertson’s and the Payless shoe store that used to be in this mall. From what’s left, subtract any other sales losses at existing merchants — and the Mayor could be left with less than 20% of what he’s expecting. Then subtract the added cost of policing a 24 hour supercenter, and the proceeds grow even smaller. Fairfield gets an empty Wal-Mart, that could become blighted, higher public safety costs, worsening traffic woes — all in exchange for a little added revenue. If local homeowners come in from property tax abatements for damage to their homes’ values, the Mayor may end up with enough to buy lunch for the developer of this project. At least the local merchants will get two free seminars on how to swell tropic fish and antiques to “survive” Wal-Mart.