City officials in Delhi, California think a Wal-Mart supercenter will help them get sales tax revenue back from neighboring towns. Instead of engaging in regional planning and sharing the revenue, Delhi is going it alone, and working to get back some revenue from its neighbors — at least until Wal-Mart decides to add more superstores in those other areas as well. According to the Modesto Bee newspaper, some neighbors of the proposed Wal-Mart are angry that city officials are helping the project along. “They’re going to take away our little neighborhood,” said one neighbor, whose cows graze in a pasture about 700 feet from the proposed Wal-Mart. “This kind of expansion is going to take away our country living,” he told the newspaper. City planners think nothing of taking the vacant land, which once housed a dairy farm, and concreting it over for Wal-Mart. The city is finishing up a four year planning process, and the Community Plan calls for a zone that includes 112 acres for big box stores. Delhi currently only has 10,000 people. A few miles north of Delhi is the city of Turlock, which fought off a Wal-Mart by passing a zoning ordinance limiting the size and interior content of superstores. Wal-Mart sued Turlock and lost in Superior Court, and is now in California Appellate Court. Wal-Mart has also sued Turlock in federal court. Delhi officials began wooing Wal-Mart to leave Turlock and come to Delhi instead. As the Merced County Supervisor explained to The Bee: “When people drive to Stanislaus County to make those purchases, Merced County loses that sales tax. The hope is that by attracting new commercial, they won’t have to drive to Stanislaus County, and that would be good for Merced County.” The newspaper quoted me as saying Delhi was “trying to take revenue already in place in other communities. It’s cash-box zoning, and I don’t think that’s a particularly enlightened economic development point of view.” Ironically, while Delhi officials seem eager to pave over their farmland, county officials noted that because the land in question does not have a sewer line, it could take five years to extend the line one mile further out to Wal-Mart, at a cost of at least $2 million. Delhi should not pay a penny of that cost, because it’s being done at the request of Wal-Mart.
If California towns would learn to plan regionally, they could build one regional mall, and share the sales tax from the project, rather than setting up a “win-lose” scenario where one town’s sales tax gains are another town’s losses. This leads to mall-wars, where towns try to trump each other with bigger and bigger malls. For more background on Turlock’s rejection of Wal-Mart, search Newsflash by the name of the town.