The Marysville, California City Council made it clear last night they don’t want a Wal-Mart supercenter in their backyard. The adjacent town of Linda, California is considering a superstore, so Marysville voted 3-2 to pass a resolution opposing the Wal-Mart plan to expand one of its existing discount stores. Marysville described the vote as a defensive move to try to prevent adverse impacts on its already struggling downtown. Marysville Councilor Christina Billeci was quoted in the Appeal-Democrat as saying Wal-Mart is “doing fine for Wall Street but not for Main Street.” She said a superstore would hurt Marysville’s existing grocery chains and small businesses, eroding its limited sales tax base. “I don’t think we can have the risk of our sales tax revenue and our stores leaving Marysville,” Billeci said. Marysville Mayor Bill Harris sided with Wal-Mart. “I don’t think in a free market system we can limit businesses that come in because they put other businesses in competition,” Harris said, completely missing the fact that zoning can be concerned about a project’s impact on city revenues as it reaches into the general welfare. A Wal-Mart spokesperson claimed that “supercenters actually spur economic development.” But most economic impact studies show just the opposite. Wal-Mart, for example, now controls 20% of all grocery sales in America — a market share largely captured from existing grocery stores. As those other stores close, communities like Linda and Marysville experience a loss of sales tax revenue. Members of the Marysville Business Improvement District also testified against the supercenter plan. Local merchants interviewed by the Appeal-Democrat were against the superstore. “It’s not competition,” one merchant said, “it’s forced extinction.” City Councilor Jim Kitchen noted that Marysville will get most of the traffic, and none of the sales tax revenues. “A great deal of the traffic going through town would pass through our city,” he said. A group called the Yuba County Citizens for a Quality Environment has already gone to court to get a temporary restraining order against the Wal-Mart expansion. William Kopper, the group’s lawyer, said the supercenter expansion would make the store 40 feet high, or about five feet higher than allowed without a conditional use permit. The court will hear the case on Feb. 4 on a preliminary injunction to halt the expansion project. Although Marysville is the county seat of Yuba County, no supercenter is proposed there. A second Wal-Mart supercenter is being planned for nearby Yuba City.
None of this would be happening if Yuba County had a regional land use planning mechanism that allowed communities to plan together — even share sales tax revenue — to prevent one town from destroying another town’s commercial district by playing “cash box zoning.” Under cash box zoning, each town tries to outdo surrounding towns by building bigger and bigger malls. This creates a winner/loser mentality, as demonstrated in Marysville/Linda. Until town officials begin to regionally plan for their retail needs, this kind of “beggar-thy-neighbor” approach will prevail.