November 3rd will not be pretty in Cave Creek, Arizona. Voters in this small community will decide at a referendum whether or not to rezone land to accommodate a Wal-Mart supercenter. As usual, Wal-Mart has flooded Cave Creek with money, creating an “astro-roots” group, and funding it fully out of Bentonville. In a Wal-Mart democracy, the side with the most money wins. Just days before the election, Wal-Mart had outspent its opponents by a margin of 15 to 1. Before the final spending totals are revealed, Wal-Mart has already spent $36 per person in Cave Creek. On September 20, 2009, Sprawl-Busters reported that the giant retailer was opening up its corporate wallet to try to ‘buy’ the vote. The company-owned group, the “Friends of Cave Creek,” has been the local pass-through for Wal-Mart’s lavish spending during the run-up to the election. On April 7, 2009 Sprawl-Busters reported that Cave Creek already has 10 Wal-Marts within 20 miles, half of which are superstores. There are two giant superstores just 12 and 13 miles away in Phoenix. The tiny town of Cave Creek had a 2007 population of 5,120 — about one-tenth of what it takes to keep a Wal-Mart supercenter alive. But according to the Arizona Republic, Wal-Mart has not finished saturating this area with stores. The retailer set up neighborhood meetings in Cave Creek in May, 2009 to let residents know of its plans for their proposed store, located on Carefree Highway. But resident response was anything but carefree. Opposition formed quickly to the project. Residents charge that the superstore will make traffic congestion at the busy intersection even worse, and take away from the town’s rural character. The site is also located close to three schools, and the local school district has asked Wal-Mart to hold deliveries to the store during high pedestrian traffic hours — something Wal-Mart was unwilling to do. The land Wal-Mart coveted was not properly zoned. The retailer had to get the zoning on its 20 acre property changed from residential to commercial. To create a supportive political climate, Wal-Mart had to soften up the voters with a few neighborhood meetings, the first of which took place in early May. Wal-Mart seems to have a good lock on town officials, who expressed support before the project even reached the public hearing stage, because of misconceptions about the sales tax revenue they believe the town will gain. Wal-Mart claims their supercenter will generate between 300 and 350 jobs. At 128,000 s.f., the project is somewhat smaller than the average footprint of a superstore. “We have supercenters that are 100,000 s.f.,” a Wal-Mart spokesman said, “and we have supercenters that are 220,000 s.f.” The town’s manager is already in Wal-Mart’s pocket too. He said Wal-Mart’s plan met the town’s ordinances — even before the project had come before any town boards. “The store looks like it’s not a typical Wal-Mart store,” the Manager explained. “It’s going to be responsive to the Cave Creek environment and the Cave Creek lifestyle.” But at the May 6th hearing, some very unhappy residents of Cave Creek expressed their opposition to placing this store in their residential neighborhood. Cave Creek’s Town Council voted on June 15th to rezone the land. This project has kicked up dust since Wal-Mart first tried to get the town’s General Plan amended in 2007. That proposal was later withdrawn by Wal-Mart as their growth plans changed. Then, in 2008, Wal-Mart bought the 20 acre property for a reported $8 million. Residents opposed to the project have openly asked why Wal-Mart is trying to rezone residential land, which was clearly not meant for commercial use, when there are parcels nearby already commercially zoned? “This type of rezoning is so anti Cave Creek values,” Councilwoman Grace Meeth told The Republic. “What’s the big deal about leasing land when there is commercially zoned land (nearby)?” Shortly after the Town Council voted to rezone, a citizen’s group announced it would appeal the rezoning. A group called PRIZE (Protect Residential Integrity Zoning and Environment) organized a citizen’s referendum to overturn the Council decision to change the town’s General Plan to support the Wal-Mart. According to the Arizona Republic, the Town Council hearing was a standing-room-only crowd. Rebecca Lester, the chair of PRIZE, said the voters will have a chance to decide Wal-Mart’s future by voting in the referendum. “I certainly want all of our neighbors and the community to have input in the process,” she told The Republic. PRIZE gathered sufficient signatures to place the referendum on the November 3rd ballot. The Cave Creek town clerk said a special election will cost the town between $8,000 and $10,000 — almost as much as PRIZE has raised to win the vote. “Under Cave Creek’s General Plan,” PRIZE explains, “commercial businesses are prohibited on residentially-zoned property. An amendment to Cave Creek’s General Plan is necessary to up-zone residentially-zoned property to general commercial zoning. Cave Creek Proposition 400 was a Major Amendment to Cave Creek’s General Plan as it changed the overlay to allow general commercial zoning on residential land. There are actually two propositions on Tuesday’s ballot. Cave Creek Proposition 401 is a rezoning of residential land to general commercial. This rezoning is contingent on the passage of Cave Creek Proposition 400. The General Plan Amendment, Proposition 400, is the more important of the two propositions. Only a “No” vote on Proposition 400 will restore the private property rights of Cave Creek citizens. If residents of Cave Creek vote NO on both Propositions, the Wal-Mart project is dead, because the land will remain residentially zoned. As long as the rezoning in Proposition 400 is defeated, it doesn’t matter what happens to Proposition 401. PRIZE says that the Wal-Mart will be only 159 feet from homes. PRIZE does not have access to the corporate money that Wal-Mart provides. The Arizona Republic reports this week that Wal-Mart has given $185,000 to the Friends of Cave Creek, compared to $12,350 raised by PRIZE. According to one PRIZE member, “This is the largest retailer in the world. They can throw as much money as they want at it that we can’t.” The Wal-Mart front group claimed that Wal-Mart’s total funding of the group just showed their interest in Cave Creek. “The financial support provided to Friends of Cave Creek by Wal-Mart is further testament of their commitment to be a contributing member of this community,” the treasurer for Friends of Cave Creek told the newspaper.
Mayor Vincent Francia believes this superstore will bring his small community an extra $2 to $3 million in sales taxes. The Mayor has said that if this Wal-Mart is not approved by voters, he will have to raise property taxes on the average homeowner by $400 to $500 a year. “Why would you want to do that to your citizens?” Mayor Francia told the Republic. “Even though I understand we need it, I still would be reluctant.” Wal-Mart has spent like a drunken cowboy to win this November 3rd. election. The major advantage they have over PRIZE is their unlimited access to corporate funds to influence voters. Giant corporations have all the rights of individual citizens, but they have more rights in the sense that they can vastly outspend their opponents. Wal-Mart has been known to spend more than half a million on such ballot questions. The ‘eclectic’ desert lifestyle of Cave Creek does not seem a good fit with the suburban concrete image of a Wal-Mart superstore. The scale of the store, which will be bigger than two football fields, is definitely out of scale and uncharacteristic of a rural Arizona community of less than 5,200 people. Cave Creek can enjoy all the amenities of big city life being a suburb of Phoenix. Area groups, like the Black Mountain Conservancy and the Desert Foothills Land Trust are not likely to warm up to the idea of paving over 20 acres of land for suburban sprawl. Tourists who come to the Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area to see the wildflowers, will not cheer the coming of yet another over-stuffed Wal-Mart. Readers are urged to call Mayor Francia at 480-488-6612 with the following message: “Studies show that for every supercenter that opens, two other grocery stores close. The store being proposed for Cave Creek is bigger than two football fields. This is totally out of character with what the town describes as its eclectic, desert character. Is Cave Creek for sale to the highest bidder? I hope the voters tell Wal-Mart on November 3rd that Cave Creek voters cannot be bought.”