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2008-08-07
Eureka, CA. Where’s Wally? Wal-Mart Says Job Ads Are An Error

On August 24, 1999, Sprawl-Busters reported that the voters of Eureka, California had deflated Wal-Mart's balloon. By a 22% point margin, Eureka residents rejected Wal-Mart's proposal to build a superstore on industrial waterfront property known as the "balloon track" because of its shape. Wal-Mart, by its own hand, placed Measure J on the Eureka ballot, drafting a long, complicated zoning question that asked voters to rezone the industrial tract for commercial use. Such use of the property has already been rejected by the California Coastal Commission, but Wal-Mart kept on pushing, organizing a "citizen's" group to promote its store. But at the end of the day, after the votes were tallied, Wal-Mart only managed to gather 2,605 voters willing to support their cause. Unfortunately for Wal-Mart, 61% of the voters, of 4,015 people, rejected Measure J. The voter turnout was 50% -- a level higher than some presidential campaigns. Wal-Mart's declared expenditures in the campaign came to over $235,000, or $90 per vote. The Think Twice Committee, which spearheaded the NO on Measure J vote, spent $41,572. "They asked for Eureka to determine their future and we did," said Humboldt County Supervisor Bonnie Neely, who opposed Measure J. "For a special election, this is precedent-setting". Think Twice campaign coordinator Patty Berg told the Times-Standard newspaper that the election showed Eureka's waterfront isn't for sale to large retailers, noting the need for better-paying manufacturing jobs. "In the end," Berg told the paper, "people thought twice." Wal-Mart was roundly criticized during the campaign for its lavish spending, including thousands of dollars on a telemarketing firm that called area residents repeatedly, until the firm was discharged. Wal-Mart conducted an intrusive "credibility" poll in which the company asked voters to rank the credibility of local officials, the area's newspaper, and Sprawl-Buster Al Norman. Wal-Mart prepared mailers with absentee ballots inside, using the County Election's office as the return address. The county told Wal-Mart to change the return address to avoid the appearance of county endorsement of Measure J. At the campaign neared its end, a total of at least 16 groups and government entities went on record against Measure J. The Eureka City Council broke with Eureka's Mayor, and voted 3-1 against the zoning change. The city also received a draft economic impact report which showed that 80% of Wal-Mart's sales would come from existing businesses. "We're obviously disappointed," Wal-Mart's public relations department said. "We still believe this is a great place for a Wal-Mart store." Nine years later, does Wal-Mart still believe the Eureka waterfront is a great place for a store? The Eureka Reporter said this week that rumors were floating in town that Wal-Mart was back to try again. The furor was caused when job descriptions for a Eureka Wal-Mart management team and employees were found on careerbuilder.com and other websites. The Humboldt County planning department was even confused. "It would require a use permit for that from us, unless it is locating in an existing facility," the county's Senior Planner told the newspaper. The 1999 vote rejected Wal-Mart, and the "Balloon Track" is now owned by Security National Servicing Corporation. "The county at that time adopted a policy that any structure more than 50,000 or 75,000 square feet in size would require a conditional use permit," the county planner explained. "There's nothing in our databases that span out as a project that we're looking at for Wal-Mart." Speculation turned to other properties in Eureka, such as the Bayshore Mall. But the manager of that property told The Reporter, "We would have to be notified and we have no notification." A third site in Eureka near an existing Safeway grocery store was also mentioned as a possible Wal-Mart site. But the owner of the local florist shop there said, "If Wal-Mart was trying to come in here, we'd be against it." Even Wal-Mart seemed to be confused about Wal-Mart's plans for Eureka. One spokesman for the retailer told the newspaper the want ads for jobs at a Eureka Wal-Mart were just a mistake. "It's an error," the spokesman said, "I just don't know where the error occurred. Even if we had plans, it would take us years to put that into place and do construction, and we don't do hiring until a few months before." The company could not explain the job ads on the internet. "That's what's so backward about this. We would be disclosing plans much farther ahead than we would ever be hiring for. I lack understanding in how this came out. There are no plans for a new store in the area."

What you can do: Given Wal-Mart's controversial history in Eureka, it's no wonder that people are still keeping an eye on the giant retailer nine years after their defeat at the polls. After all, Wal-Mart has refiled plans in locations where they were defeated years ago, such at St. Albans, Vermont, and Greenfield, Massachusetts. In both those cases, Wal-Mart returned to try a second time after roughly 14 years had passed. For many people in Eureka, Measure J is now ancient history, and its entirely possible that Wal-Mart's recruitment of a management team for a store in Eureka was simply a timing error. The company clearly stated when it lost its campaign in 1999 that is still believed Eureka was a great place for a Wal-Mart. One can only hope that their stunning defeat in 1999 will cause the retailer to "think twice" about pushing its way into Eureka again. Their waterfront location -- which was a totally inappropriate location for a big box store -- now has another owner. The entity which owns the Balloon Track, Security National, also owns The Eureka Reporter newspaper, which is a "member of the Security National family of entities." Security National is owned by Rob and Cherie Arkley. Rob Arkley, known as Eureka's richest man, proposed a big box project of his own called the Marina Center, which Arkley described as "a mixed-use urban-infill retail, residential and light industrial development." The "Marina" had a Home Depot proposed as an anchor store. Readers are urged to email Jill Geist, the Chair of the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors at jill.geist@co.humboldt.ca.us with the followiong message: "Supervisor Geist, Please remember Measure J, and work aggressively to stop any new Wal-Mart plans for a superstore in Eureka. Nine years have passed since their defeat, but the basic economics and land use issues remain the same: Eureka should not welcome suburban sprawl. The voters of Eureka understood that Wal-Mart added no value economically to the county, but would only end up displacing existing retail jobs and sales revenues. The Balloon Track may no longer be the object of Wal-Mart desires, but the scale of a Wal-Mart supercenter is inappropriate anywhere in Eureka. Please keep them out if they try a second or a third time. The best way to do that is to replace your "conditional use permit"process with a simple cap on the size of retail stores, such as 75,000 s.f. Whether its Home Depot at the Marina Center, or Wal-Mart somewhere else -- Eureka will continue to be assaulted by these proposals until you put a size cap in place. Then -- Eureka! -- problem solved."











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

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