Is Wal-Mart a corporation, or a citizen? It’s hard to tell in Eureka, CA, where Wal-Mart is leading an effort to put a “citizen’s” initiative on the ballot. It turns out the initiative is just an 8 page special rezoning deal that Wal-Mart wants to extract from voters rather than wait for the normal municipal review process. Democracy can be too slow, so Wal-Mart is trying to jump start the process by going to the ballot. The Wal-Mart plan for Eureka is to place a 130,000 s.f. supercenter on a piece of waterfront property. Because the city has been busy dredging its harbor and getting primed to handle “break bulk” cargo, many people believe waterfront propert in the city has a higher and better use than for a large retail store. Especially since the malls have already helped empty out many properties in downtown Eureka, where commercial space is now renting for less than 50?? a s.f. The Wal-Mart move has also infuriated the Humboldt County Supervisors, who represent 78% of the voters in the county. Wal-Mart wants those county residents as customers, but not as voters. The “citizens” initiative is only for Eureka voters. Opponents to the store argue that a Wal-Mart this size will take $26 million from existing merchants. Based on an average sales per employee of $94,000 annually, that loss amounts to 275 jobs, or 25 more jobs than the 250 Wal-Mart says it will “create”. County Supervisors are moving ahead to make it harder for megastores to locate anywhere in the county. But in Eureka, city officials still believe a Wal-Mart on the waterfront will make a big splash in town. Despite the fact that the Bayshore Mall in the 1980s and Costco in the 1990s did nothing to kick up total sales, city officials think they can stimulate sales taxes without creating more consumers. Because the Eureka area is already ringed with Wal-Marts to the north, east and south, the only place for consumers to come to the county is by sea, and the closest destination is — Japan. Not a very good bet. So Wal-Mart will soon be busy helping to gather “citizen” signatures, and spending a small fortune in Arkansas money trying to influence the outcome of a California election. That’s what corporate citizens do these days. Nearly 600 residents packed a town meeting this week to express their hostility to the waterfront Wal-Mart. Even if Wal-Mart’s “binding” initiative passes, it will still have to go before the Coastal Commission for approval. Since the county has lost one third of its manufacturing jobs over the past 15 years, and replaced them with largely lower paying retail jobs, it is not likely that non-waterfront uses like retail will gather much political support. Too many residents appear poised to tell Wal-Mart that their waterfront store is all wet.
To find out more about Citizen Wal-Mart’s foray onto the ballot, contact the Friends of Humboldt County by calling Larry Henderson at 707-442-6226.