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2005-09-07
Yelm, WA. Citizens Pile On Testimony Against Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart's plans to build a supercenter in Yelm, Washington, has become one of the most contentious issues local residents can remember. In early August, Sprawl-Busters reported that the issue had become so silly that local officials mandated that residents not use the words "Wal-Mart" in public. Now the hearings in Yelm on the supercenter have taken place, and here is an report from a local activist in Yelm about the outcome: "The traffic engineers, land use planners and wetlands experts have spoken. After almost a year of pitched battle, it comes to this: one man, public hearing examiner Steve Causseaux, will determine whether Wal-Mart can move forward with their plans to build a 188,000 s.f. "superstore" in our town of Yelm. Whatever his decision, tears will be shed and names will be called -- they already have been. The 72 year old man holding up the "Wal-Mart Screws its Workers" sign outside the building gets flipped off almost as often as he gets honked at. As civics lessons go, this one has been long and somewhat disillusioning, but ultimately hopeful. There have been moments of raw courage, on both sides. Local people have stood up, legs and voices shaking, to speak publicly for perhaps the first time in their lives. "Please don't destroy our town." "I live on a fixed income. I NEED Wal-Mart." "I've owned this business for 30 years. My daughter works at the grocery store. My son works at the pharmacy. I know it's not personal, but you will destroy our livelihoods." There has been corporate double-speak. Wal-Mart's traffic engineer, when asked to paint a picture of the wretched state of our local traffic (level of service "F" in many places -- I wasn't aware that traffic was graded), could only mutter about formulas and finally refuse to answer. Their lawyer, piggy-backing off of my comment at a public meeting that Wal-Mart, the world's largest corporation, provides health care for less than 50% of their employees, leaving spouses and taxpayers to pick up the tab for the rest, trumpeted that indeed, over 90% of Wal-Mart's employees have health care coverage. There has been cowardice, particularly on the part of our city government. After our repeated attempts to get the town council to declare a moratorium on big box development until traffic, environmental and economic impact issues could be considered in depth, Yelm made the national news when the council banned the words "Wal-Mart,""big-box stores"and "moratorium" at council meetings. The mayor's response to a complaint filed against them by the ACLU was that he doesn't answer to the ACLU. Nor to the citizenry, apparently. But mainly, there has been simple brilliance. I have watched in delight as so many local people have stood up and unveiled clear, reasoned, well-researched arguments as to why Wal-Mart would be detrimental to our town. Some initiated their own traffic studies; others researched Department of Transportation statistics and land use planning manuals, a helpful remedy for any insomniac. Then there were the citizens who wrote letters -- at 4:50 on Friday,192 letters arrived for the hearing examiner, an overwhelming last minute response. There were also those who signed petitions, and gave money -- thousands of dollars over the months. That generosity allowed us to keep going. Without it, there would have been no hearing. For now, we wait. We won't know until the end of October whether the hearing examiner will allow the Wal-Mart application to move forward or call for a full-blown environmental impact study."

What you can do: Actually, the Wal-Mart case will not come down to a hearing examiner's decision. The citizens in Yelm, whom I'm not sure were represented by a land use attorney, will surely need one now. The decision of the Hearing Officer can be appealed to a higher level, and should be appealed. If the developer loses, he will appeal as far as the eye can see. Local officials understand this. They understand that developers who do not get what they want by regulation, will try to get it by litigation. The citizen's groups often scramble around to patch together their own traffic data, because they didn't have the funds ot hire a traffic engineer. In this case, the residents of Yelm need to be prepared to go to court, if need be, to challenge this case. This case is far from over, unless local citizens really believe that Steve Causseaux, a hearing examiner, has the final say. Now is the time for Yelm residents to be talking to their land use attorney about the next steps, what testimony was placed into the record, and how to use it on appeal. For local contacts in Yelm, contact info@sprawl-busters.com.










 
 
"Norman has become the guru of the anti-Wal-Mart movement" ~ 60 Minutes

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