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1999-10-29
Taos, NM. Will Taos Beg Wal-Mart to Stay?

In the same week that Wal-Mart shut down its 120,000 s.f. store in Warr Acres, OK (see next story), Wal-Mart has notified the town of Taos that it will shut down its 79,000 s.f. store on Highway 64, and build a supercenter outside the town's corporate limits. Perhaps this was Wal-Mart's way of expressing its opinion on the new zoning ordinance that the Taos Town Council passed on September 21st which bans commercial developments larger than 80,000 s.f. According to the Albuquerque Journal, the town turned down a Wal-Mart application to build a 180,000 s.f. supercenter on 24 acres of land within the Taos town limits based on the new ordinance. Wal-Mart didn't get mad, they got even. Rumors began flying that Wal-Mart was looking for other sites in Taos County or on Taos pueblo land. A citizens group, called "Taosenos Against a Wal-Mart Superstore" were the impetus behind the new ordinance to put a limit on store size. Now, Town Manager Gus Cordova is publicly worrying about the loss of $825,152 in tax revenue that the Mayor says will go with the store. So the town has decided to take a "poll" of its residents to see if there is public support for allowing Wal-Mart to build in Taos. A survey was mailed to 3,400 registered voters in town, along with a letter that points out the potential loss in revenue if Wal-Mart leaves town, and the "dire impact" that the corporate departure might have on the town's economy. The letter suggests that if Wal-Mart leaves, Taos will have to lay off 30 town employees, or 23% of its workforce. "Many of the services the town provides would need to be reduced, including police and fire protection, library services, parks and recreation, planning, street maintenance, and emergency dispatch services," the Town Manager warned, and hurt the town's bond rating. Taos Mayor Fred Peralta is asking voters to choose between supporting a major cut in town services or a prohibition on big box stores. "As a public official I am concerned over the economic stability of our community," the Mayor said. "I am confident that a public vote will give us the true sentiment of the voters of our community". In other words, if voters are scared enough, they will beg Wal-Mart to come back to Taos. In this somewhat unusual "survey", ballots must be mailed back to the Town Clerk by November 8th. Town officials must be concerned that if a special ballot vote was held, that many Wal-Mart supporters would not have enough interest in the outcome to leave their homes to vote, so the Mayor had ballots sent directly to voters, opening up the issue of possible survey fraud in an unsupervised election process.

What you can do: Taosenos must feel particularly vulnerable to think that their local economy is now dependent on a retail corporation from Arkansas. In essence, the Wal-Mart development gameplan becomes the Taos required gameplan, because if Wal-Mart says a 79,000 s.f. store isn't big enough, the community is "threatened" if it doesn't go along with the program. Wal-Mart wants to build a store more than twice the size of its original operation, and far larger than any other store in town. Many small communities like Taos find themselves financially addicted to Wal-Mart, and see no other way out than to feed the monster that enslaves them. How did Taos get in this subservient situation in the first place? What if Taos and Taos County had regionally planned for such large scale developments, as some communities have done? Do residents of Taos want to continue their dependency on corporate policy, or is it time to declare the "independence" of Taos from the control of one large retailer? The Taos case uncovers the ugly side of what a retailer can bring to town. As Wal-Mart goes, so Taos must go -- or face losing its economic health. Fear creates a static view of the economy, and assumes that the community can develop in no alternative ways except through reliance on out of state corporations. Taos is learning the hard way that locally supported businesses provide more economic stability than the shareholders of Wal-Mart could ever supply. It is humiliating that voters of a town would be put in the position of having to consider repealing an ordinance to keep the Big Company happy. And where is the Mayor's analysis of what Wal-Mart has taken out of the local economy in the form of lost jobs, and increased public service costs, like police and fire? Unfortunately, Taos is not alone in this pathetic struggle bewteen a small town and a large multinational corporation. Read next about Warr Acres...










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

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