In April of 2011, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart’s legal team had drafted a 60 page zoning document that allowed it to build a huge superstore in the small city (pop 15,000) of Kerman, California — completely bypassing the community’s elected City Council. This intimidating move was enough to scare local officials. Ironically, the one who may suffer the most is the city’s Mayor.
In Kerman, the Mayor Gary Yep, whose term does not expire until 2014, is part owner of a grocery store, and according to the Fresno Bee had been an “outspoken critic” of Wal-Mart. The Bee said Wal-Mart’s end-run of the City Council has “left some accusing the retail giant, which bankrolled the initiative, of muscling its way around local leadership and oversight — and created hard feelings in town.”
“It’s more of a democratic process to give the decision to voters,” a Wal-Mart’s explained in 2011 — implying that from now on there is no need for zoning decisions to be made by the planning board and city council. By going on the ballot, Wal-Mart can also avoid any of the “conditions” that are placed on projects by Planning Commissions and City Councils. Such “conditions” help mitigate impacts on the community, such as limits on hours of operation, location of loading docks, traffic improvements, etc. Wal-Mart would avoid all of these controls by voting in their self-serving plan.
The City Manager and his staff told the Fresno Bee that a huge Wal-Mart made financial sense in this small town, and would add about half a million in sales tax to the city’s treasury. This of course is a gross figure, and not net, and fails to account for the lost revenues that will come as the downtown of Kerman shuts down and is converted into a boutique street. City Manager at the time said the Wal-Mart would add 300 jobs to the trade area — but he has no evidence that this is the case — and such conclusions fly in the face of many studies (including some prominent research from California) that Wal-Mart kills more jobs than it creates.
The Planning Commission in Kerman overwhelmingly supported Wal-Mart’s plan. In February of 2011, the City Council was ready to make a decision, but Wal-Mart short-circuited the process by starting an initiative petition. To avoid an election, city officials caved, and voted to approve the superstore.
On the city’s website today, the city proudly states that it approved the project on April 20, 2011, and that construction began in late October of 2012, and should be completed in August of 2013.
But some residents in Kerman are not ready to throw in the towel. Four years ago, Mayor Yep told ABC 30 News, “I believe the downtown area will suffer. I think a lot of the businesses will lose between 20 and 40 percent of their retail sales.” Yep, whose family- owned grocery store has been in Kerman for more than half a century, said he was not afraid of competing with Wal-Mart, but he and others are concerned the city will be giving away too many incentives to get the store to stay, incentives that should go to local businesses. The owner of a local hardware store said at the time, “Our town is built on family, and Wal-Mart is not part of our family.”
Perhaps sensing that he has lost the battle, Mayor Yep told KSEE 24 News this past week that he is optimistic the new Supercenter will be a positive addition. “Kerman has about 14% unemployment, so anytime that you can create that many jobs in a city, it’s always good for a community.” But if his grocery store fails, it will subtract from the “new” jobs created by Wal-Mart, and the Mayor faces a good chance of losing his family business.
Having boxed-in the city council with the threat of a ballot vote, Wal-Mart opened this week a hiring center, supposedly to hire on 300 people. But by the time this store celebrates its first birthday, residents will realize that opening up new grocery stores does not make residents eat more or spend more, and the local businesses that they said they would support, are gone.
Readers are urged to email Mayor Yep at: [email protected] with the following message:
“Dear Mayor Yep,
It’s time for to tell the truth about Wal-Mart. Your grocery store is an endangered species. The citizens of Kerman may not understand the dynamics of how Wal-Mart captures sales from existing businesses — but you are a retailer — you know that if you add major new stores to a city with a small population, that the slice of the pie just gets thinner.
Wal-Mart bullied its way into Kerman, and they have used the same tactics elsewhere — threatening to put the city through an expensive special election. You’re statement in 2009 was the truth: local businesses could lose 20% to 40% of their sales — and for many — that will be enough to drive them under.
You can’t buy the truth on any shelf at Wal-Mart, but as Mayor, perhaps its time to give people fair warning of what will happen after Wal-Mart opens. It doesn’t happen overnight, but the company that brought us dead workers in Bangladesh, will now bring you dead businesses in Kerman.”
In April of 2011, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart’s legal team had drafted a 60 page zoning document that allowed it to build a huge superstore in the small city (pop 15,000) of Kerman, California–completely bypassing the community’s elected City Council.