The full page ad in the San Francisco Chronical reads: COSTCO NEEDS YOUR HELP! “You’re probably surprised to see an ad from Costco in the newspaper,” the ad begins, “but we felt it was important to get this message out. Because a bill has been passed — pushed through by special interest groups for the supermarket industry — that would unfairly limit competitiveness in a way that ultimately hurts you, the consumer, in the form of fewer choices and higher prices.” Wal-Mart, Costco and other big box retailers lobbied against the passage of Assembly Bill 84, that would limit stores over 100,000 square feet to having no more than 15,000 square feet of non-taxable merchandise, such as groceries and prescription drugs. When the California legislature passed the bill, the megacorporations like Wal-Mart and Costco complained that it would end their future in California, even though the bill only restricted stores larger than 2 football fields. On September 22nd, Governor Gray Davis came to Costco’s rescue, by vetoing AB 84. Davis said the bill was “anti-competition and anti-consumer” and “represents the worst kind of end-of-session maneuvering by special interests.” The Governor added: “Consumers should not be limited in their choices simply through questionable government fiat, and that is exactly what this bill seeks to do.” Shortly after the veto, Wal-Mart applauded the Governor’s action. “AB 84 would have stifled competition in the retail industry. The end result would have been higher prices for California consumers. By restricting the selection of merchandise retailers can offer, this legislation would have dramatically changed the landscape of retail competition in California, and changed it for the worse. AB 84 would have taken away local government’s ability to make local land use decisions. That, in turn, would have hampered retailers’ ability to work with local officials in planning developments that best address the needs of their communities….Californians…deserve the right to choose where to shop.”
One has to wonder when Wal-Mart will seek a constitutional amendment to guarantee the “right to shop at Wal-Mart”? AB 84 had nothing to do with the right to shop anywhere, and everything to do with land use, jobs and competition. The Governor of Vermont recently stated that he did not welcome Home Depot in Vermont because in one area in the northern part of his state, 25 hardware stores were closed within a year of Home Depot opening. Dean said national chains suck the revenues out of local communities. Davis however sees the veto of AB 84 as pro-competition. Leave the profits for the big guys. In their full-page advertisements against AB 84, Costco warned “(We) cannot build any more warehouse stores in California.” Apparently a Costco less than 2 football fields in size is impossible to build in California. Wal-Mart adds: “We believe we have been successful in California precisely because of our efforts to be responsive to the needs of our communities and customers. It’s a partnership we hope to continue.” That’s why residents all along the length of the state have been fighting companies like Wal-Mart. Roughly a month ago voters in Eureka rejected a Wal-Mart by a 61% vote. Was THAT an example of a “partnership” with the community? And how about Windsor, North Auburn, Santa Maria, Bakersfield, and all the other California communities that have fought to keep Wal-Mart out? It is precisely that Wal-Mart is so unresponsive to local needs that AB 84 was passed by the state legislature. Want to let the Governor know how you react to his veto? Call Hizzoner at 916-445-2841. Tell him that Wal-Mart and Costco are as much a “special interest” group as anyone else in the golden state.