On November 19, 2009, Sprawl-Busters reported that the city of Milpitas, California was embroiled in a Wal-Mart controversy that could have been avoided.
Wal-Mart decided that its existing discount store in Milpitas, which is 131,725 s.f., was not big enough. So the retailer approached city officials with a plan to add 18,457 s.f. to its existing store on Ranch Drive. “It’s a pretty small expansion,” a spokesperson for Wal-Mart told the Milpitas Post. “It will be a Wal-Mart store with a supermarket.”
For some unexplained reason, Wal-Mart is not referring to this 150,182 s.f. store as a ‘supercenter’ — even though the store will have fresh produce, baked goods, a deli and other grocery items. Square footage is being added specifically for grocery sales and a deli. There are already 7 Wal-Mart stores within 15 miles of this Milpitas location — none of them supercenters. Wal-Mart has been trying to push supercenters in California, but has run into a Wal of opposition at almost every turn. That could explain, in part, the decision to not call a supercenter a supercenter.
The retailer claims that expanding the store will create 85 “additional” jobs, but this is a gross figure that fails to net out the jobs that will be lost elsewhere in the Milpitas trade area, especially at existing grocery stores.
The spokesman also claimed that the “majority” of the new jobs would be full-time workers earning an average of $11.90 an hour — but many of these jobs will be part time positions paying even less. That wage cited by the Wal-Mart spokesman is even less than what the company posts on its website for California. According to Wal-Mart’s website, as of February 2010, the average wage for regular, full-time hourly associates in California was $12.10. These wages are lower than those made by union workers at other grocery stores in the trade area, so the Wal-Mart wages will be a step down for the area — and many of the jobs will not be full-time — and as many as half the workers will not have health insurance.
The new Wal-Mart application was approached cautiously by Milpitas Mayor Bob Livengood. The Mayor did not come out and embrace the proposal. He told the Post that he wanted to see more information on the plan before reaching a decision to support it or not. “I’m going to stay open minded until we get more information,” the Mayor said. “I want to be fair to them.” City officials may also be concerned about the impact of another grocery store coming to Milpitas. There already is a Nob Hill, Lucky’s, and Safeway in the city. Ironically, the ‘expansion’ is not even needed. Wal-Mart has been building 80,000 s.f. supercenters, and converting existing stores the size of the current Milpitas store into supercenters, merely by reformatting the interior of the store, avoiding the need for any zoning permits. Wal-Mart could have avoided this confrontation entirely.
On Wednesday, March 24th, the Milpitas Planning Commission will be put on the spot. The Commission has to review the Environmental Impact Report, and take a vote on the conditional use and site plan permits for the project, including the operation of the store on a 24/7 basis. Wal-Mart also wants to be able to sell alcohol.
Wal-Mart has attempted to turn their zoning request into a popularity contest based on who has given the most money to local charities. One of the groups supporting the plan is the Milpitas Chamber of Commerce, which has abandoned its smaller members to support the national chain store.
The Chamber’s Board of Directors has voted unanimously to give Wal-Mart what it wants. A Chamber spokesman told The Post that Wal-Mart had given the city “consistent revenue to the local economy” and “numerous employment opportunities to Milpitas residents.” The Chamber even submitted an article to the local newspaper praising Wal-Mart as a “16-year member of the chamber of commerce.” The Chamber says that “Wal-Mart defines what it means to be a true community partner by supporting Milpitas non-profit organizations, government and schools with annual support of approximately $30,000, in addition to making available funds for national programs and grants. Wal-Mart is a strong advocate of programs such as the Firefighters Toy Program, Milpitas Food Pantry, Milpitas Police, PTA, Lions Club and Rotary Club of Milpitas just to name a few.”
Apparently the bar is set pretty low to buy the Chamber’s vote. $30,000 is a few hours cash receipts for Wal-Mart. A few gifts from Wal-Mart sprinkled across the community, and the Chamber is ready to go to bat for the national corporation. That position no doubt left many of the Chamber’s smaller members aghast.
One worker from the Save Mart grocery store told The Post that Wal-Mart would consume jobs in the community — not create them. “I do feel that the Wal-Mart will have a great impact on myself and my co-workers,” the Save Mart employee explained. There are 65 jobs at the Milpitas Save Mart that could disappear if the market does not survive Wal-Mart. “As Wal-Mart has gone into other communities they were able to take away business,” the worker explained. “They put other businesses out of business and that’s not good.”
The Planning Commission’s decision can be appealed either by Wal-Mart or unhappy residents. Once an appeal is filed, the City Council would have to hold a hearing within two months. At City Hall, officials are keeping track of the emails and letters that have been submitted about the project. “I did a final tally and it’s approximately 380 pieces of correspondence,” a city official told The Post. The final tally of public comments will be given to the Planning Commission on March 24th.
Readers are urged to help the Milpitas tally by sending an email to Mayor Robert Livengood at [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Mayor Livengood, The ‘small’ expansion of Wal-Mart brings no added value to your local economy. You will see no net gain in jobs, because according to a study by Retail Forward, for every Wal-Mart superstore that opens, two other grocery stores will close. So this is a net loser for Milpitas. Don’t be lulled by Wal-Mart’s claim of new jobs, or your Chamber of Commerce’s shallow statements. If you want to find where Wal-Mart jobs come from, go to Safeway, or Lucky’s, or any of the smaller merchants that pay their workers more. Wal-Mart could reformat their store internally without any permits, and could have spared the city the time and expense of processing this plan. As Mayor, you should direct the energies of your office into creating real economic development — not just retail cannibalism.”