On July 6 2006, Sprawl-Busters related the efforts of citizens in Atascadero, California to keep a Wal-Mart supercenter at bay. In response to resident efforts, the San Luis Obispo Tribune News reports that now there is a pro-Wal-Mart group forming, what we like to call an “astro-roots” group, since it is a phony “grassroots” group usually manufactured by the developer or the big box retailer. In this case, the new group is ostensibly led by the county Assessor, and has sent out a color flier to 10,000 households in Atascadero. The astro-roots group, the Central Coast Taxpayers Association, extols big box stores like Wal-Mart as “the best way to hold the line against new taxes” and a key to reviving the city’s economy. The flier says the so-called Annex project is “the perfect opportunity for the city to increase its sales tax revenue, provide improved services like police and fire protection to its residents, and become financially secure.” The flier claims “Wal-Mart will strengthen the local economy.” The glowing quotes in the flier are signed by a city firefighter, the county assessor, and a former Mayor. Wal-Mart has purchased 26 acres, part of the Annex project introduced by The Rottman Group. The astro-roots group claims to have more than 500 members in San Luis Obispo County, including two public relations professionals whose clients include Wal-Mart. The Tribune newspaper tried unsuccessfully to get the group’s membership list, and its contributors. But many area residents smell where the money is really coming from. “What’s the money trail?” asked Tom Comar, a spokesman for the local group, Oppose Wal-Mart. “How did they put out a flier?” The Rottman Group disclaimed any connection to the mailer, as did Wal-Mart. But the giant retailer hired a public relations firm, Meridian Pacific, that happens to be part of the new “astro-roots” group. The PR firm would not discuss its Wal-Mart contract with the newspaper. One of the principals in Meridian Pacific worked as Western States Political Director for the Republican National Committee.
The pro-Wal-Martd flier is correct on one point. This project will provide “improved” police and fire services — but to Wal-Mart. City taxpayers may not be pleased to foot the bill for the beefed up police presence at Wal-Mart, but that’s pardt of the cost of big box development. For other examples of groups created by PR firms to promote big box stores, search Newsflash by “astro-roots.” For contacts in Atascadero, contact [email protected]