On Tuesday, March 2nd, the votes for and against Wal-Mart will be counted in San Marcos and Contra Costa, California. In San Marcos, Wal-Mart has invested its corporate funds heavily in an attempt to push its way into town, roughly 7 months after the City Council — by one vote — approved rezoning for a 139,000 s.f. store as part of the University Commons proposal. The project is surrounded by residential property. Residents in San Marcos formed a group called Save San Marcos, and challenged the controversial vote with a referendum, known as Proposition G. A “No” vote on proposition G will reverse the City Council’s rezoning for a Wal-Mart. Mayor Corky Smith and two of his colleagues voted for the Wal-Mart. The Mayor has regaled the Wal-Mart opponents as “elitists”, even though he is backing the richest family in America. The three Councilors just happen to have ties to Wal-Mart’s public relatins consultant. Wal-Mart set up an “astro-roots” group (as opposed to a real grassroots group), and called it San Marcos First — an imitation of names given to groups by Sprawl-Busters, employing the word “First” in their names. Wal-Mart has also lavished at least $100,000 on its astro-roots group. In response, the anti-Wal-Mart forces have received about one-third that amount from union supporters, who are fighting to save grocery worker’s jobs. “It’s been a tough fight,” Wal-Mart opponent Steve Bennett told the North County Times. “We’re fighting the biggest corporate bully in the world. We didn’t ask for this fight, it was thrust upon us. I feel good about it, but I’m not overconfident by any stretch of the imagination.” Bennett cannot vote against Wal-Mart because he lives in the county, not the city, just across the street from the store. Bennett warned that if this project is approved, “People are going to have to bring a meal and a good book if they plan on driving through this part of town.” Wal-Mart is expected to draw 10,000 car trips per day to the site. Ironically, there is already one Wal-Mart in San Marcos, so the second store is certainly not predicated on consumer need. The city is pushing the project for one major reason: sales tax. The city says the project will yield $500,000 in sales taxes — but that is a gross figure, not a figure that nets out the loss in sales taxes to the city from businesses that will go under after Wal-Mart opens. In some communities, as much as 80% or more of Wal-Mart sales are ‘transferred’ from existing merchants. The city says it has protected neighbors by shielding the project from them with a sound wall. The neighbors in Meadowlark Ranch won’t see any meadowlarks across the street when they look out their windows — just Wal-Mart’s lights and sound wall.
In Contra Costa County, voters will also deal with Wal-Mart on March 2nd. This time, it was Wal-Mart that put itself on the ballot, placing Measure L on the ballot to overturn a law passed by the County Supervisors last year that ban any store over 90,000 s.f. that has inside more than 5% of its square footage devoted to non-taxable items, like groceries. Wal-Mart has vowed to build 40 supercenters in California, and to fight any ordinance that restricts their building plans.
Win or lose on Measures L and G, Wal-Mart will be the biggest loser on March 2nd. Residents will remember that a retail store had to fight bitterly to get into town. It’s the worst kind of public relations for Wal-Mart. No other retail store in America has to fight like this to get acceptance. So before the votes are even counted, Wal-Mart has lost, as it continues to slip in public opinion. Dozens of fights against Wal-Mart are being waged all over the nation, in the largest display of anti-chain store sentiment since the 1930s battles against A&P. The more Wal-Mart stays in the headlines, the more damage they do to their own good will with the public. Citizens have already won the Contra Costa and San Marcos battle.