The Junior High School gym was packed recently with local residents wearing anti-Wal-Mart tshirts. The Davis County Clipper newspaper estimated a crowd of at least 700 people showed up, most of them to oppose the application for a 200,000 s.f. Wal-Mart supercenter in Centerville, Utah. The newspaper described the mood as a “restive public.” The hearing before the Planning Commission went on for 4 hours, and officials said they would table action until today, April 28th. Engineers told the crowd that their store on the 22.5 acre parcel would be “as classy as possible.” But of the 47 people who testified, 40 of them were against the store. Wal-Mart has applied for a conditional use permit, a conceptual subdivision, and a conceptual site plan. A number of opponents from the nearby Country Cottages retained an attorney, who told the crowd (quoting Sprawl-Busters) that “small town quality of life cannot be found on Wal-Mart shelves.” He testified that Wal-Mart would cause a substantial loss in property value to the 92 homes in that subdivision. Wal-Mart has promised the city $600,000 to $800,000 in increased tax base (a gross figure that does not include net losses elsewhere). The company also said its store would “bring 475 jobs to the community, three-fourths of them being full-time (36 or more hours), and 78% of them being eligible for benefits. ” The Wal-Mart representative claimed that in Utah, the average wage of a Wal-Mart worker was $9.87 an hour. Wal-Mart, as usual, claimed that their stores “can bring in the people and keep them in town. They’re a central point, and few others can bring in that kind of traffic.” Rather than destroy other businesses, Wal-Mart said “a few businesses have adapted and created their own niche.” Finally, Wal-Mart touted its charitable giving as one more reason to welcome the store. The company says it gave our $684,778 to charities in Utah, and over $2.5 million in the past four years. What donations have to do with land use decisions, was not made clear. “We are plugged into the community,” the Wal-Mart spokesperson said. But for the overwhelming number of Centerville residents who attended the hearing, the main goal was to make sure this supercenter project gets unplugged.
I call it Wal-Math. They don’t teach it in Centerville schools. Those claims by retailers that their projects bring jobs, taxes and prosperity for all. In study after study over the past decade, research has shown that Wal-Mart can cause a net job loss to a community, because of displacement of surrounding jobs at other firms. Wal-Mart jobs are old jobs in new aprons. As for revenues, a recent study by Congressman George Miller (D-California) suggests that the typical supercenter the size of the proposed Centerville store costs the American taxpayer more than $462,000 annually in tax-supported subsidies for the workers. Only 40% of Wal-Mart workers have health insurance, the rest get it from spouses, or government-provided services. Between earned income tax credits, food stamps, and health care benefits, the taxpayers helps float the cost of “associates” at Wal-Mart. People in Centerville have been following the news. They know that Wal-Mart is not a shot in the arm for the local economy, but more like a shot to the head. This week, Wal-Mart will get the chance to present its case with no public comment allowed, but the project will ultimately go to the City Council for a final vote. Continued opposition is expected throughout the process. The Centerville Planning Commission said they will continue to take comments by email at [email protected] For local contacts in Centerville, contact [email protected]