Wal-Mart must think that the people of Gilbert, Arizona have good memories — just short. They can’t remember that there are already 2 Wal-Mart stores within 6 miles of Gilbert, so Wal-Mart wants to build another 161,500 s.f. superstore. But to do that, they had to create a dirty little secret. According to the Arizona Tribune, when Wal-Mart recently announced they wanted to build a store in Gilbert, the newspaper said it ended “weeks of secrecy and speculation about the store’s identity”. It turns out that a “small group of town officials said they knew Wal-Mart ws the retailer”, but get this: they “were sworn to secrecy by the company.” This is a often repeated scenario. Wal-Mart quietly enters a town, begins chatting up local officials, swears them to secrecy while the company goes about lining up its land, and poking around town hall for permitting information, lobbying public officials, etc — all without the knowledge of the local residents. In the case of Gilbert, the story is even worse: “Wal-Mart threatened to pull out of Gilbert if they confidentiality was broken, town officials added.” So what did town officials know, and when did they know it. It’s Wal-Martgate. At what point do these public officials say to Wal-Mart:”Hold on, we’re public officials here on public business. The residents have a right to know what developers are proposing, and where. This affects the value of their property, their largest investment. We don’t make secret deals with any developer.” None of that was said, apparently, and the threat from Wal-Mart was enough to keep Gilbert officials mum. A resident’s group has formed against this plan, and blasted Wal-Mart for waging a “stealth” campaign to get into town. How many meetings were held with public officials? Were they meetings open to the public? Were minutes taken of the meetings, were any decisions made? It turns out that Wal-Mart was able, during the period of sworn secrecy, to hire a local attorney and public relations firm, and begin lobbying the neighborhood — all under the cover of town officials who refused to go public with what they knew. As one neigbhor said: “There is nodoubt that our property values will take a nose-dive. Not just because of the increase in crime, but who wants to live in the shadow of this massive structure and the problems it will create.” The site Wal-Mart wants is zoned residential, and nearby homeowners justifiably feel they have been duped. The Lindsay road area is also the location of several area schools, with lots of children walking in the area. With all this going on, one city planner reportedly said: “This will not be a case of the almighty dollar taking precedence over the wishes of the public.” The City Council must vote 2/3rds (4 out of 7) to rezone the land in question. If Wal-Mart is allowed to build only miles from other company stores, the saturation effect will wither other local businesses, and the residents in town will find out ‘what’s eating Gilbert, AZ?’
Sprawl-Busters around the country can contact the Gilbert, AZ Town Council by email, and let them know your opinion of placing Wal-Mart secrecy above the interests of disclosure to local residents. Ask the Gilbert Town Council about their vow of silence. To express your opposition to this stealth Wal-Mart, and official’s complicity, email Mayor Cynthia Dunham at: [email protected], or phone her office at 602-503-6860. Gilbert’s website address is: www.cl.gilbert.az.us.