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2010-01-02
Poway, CA. Citizenís Group Ready To Battle Wal-Mart Expansion

They say you should learn to pick your battles. But sometimes you can avoid them entirely. Wal-Mart has picked a fight in Poway, California that it could easily have avoided. On April 6, 2008, Sprawl-Busters first reported that Wal-Mart wanted to expand its discount store on Community Road in Poway. Wal-Mart purchased the former Plowboys Market, a farmers market-style retailer in September of 2007, located right behind an existing Wal-Mart, to make room for the expansion. In December, 2007 the company submitted plans to add 49,177 s.f. to the existing Wal-Mart store, which has been in Poway since 1992. This city of roughly 51,000 people, located in the center of San Diego County, says it has carefully planned for "balancing growth with the good life." In fact, the city says life in Poway is "the way California was meant to be." The community likes to describe its way of life as "the City in the Country." The Poway Chamber of Commerce and the City of Poway have launched a campaign to encourage residents to shop locally: "make 'Poway Your First Choice... When you leave town to shop, your sales tax revenue benefits another community." But many residents in Poway don't want Wal-Mart as their "first choice," and they are fighting the retailer's plans to expand its Community Road store into a 200,000 s.f. supercenter. "Poway will not be the same ever again if we let this happen," Connie Messina, chairwoman of the South Poway Residents Association, told the North County Times newspaper. Wal-Mart said in 2008 that it hoped to have the expanded store open by 2010. Wal-Mart has to get the approval of the Poway City Council. Opponents charge that a superstore would worsen the traffic congestion in the area, force other supermarkets to close, and bring low-wage jobs to the area. "We're going to have nowhere else to shop but Wal-Mart," said a spokesman for the South Poway Resident's Association. "We're going to have no where else to work but Wal-Mart." On July 6, 2008, Sprawl-Busters noted that Wal-Mart had actually filed its expansion plans. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, the superstore plan checked in at 197,000 s.f. The market in Poway is already saturated with regional grocery stores near the existing Wal-Mart -- Vons, Statler Brothers, and Henry's. But Wal-Mart has promised that the larger superstore will mean double-wide aisles and new signs. "Powegians will save time and money," a Wal-Mart spokesman said. Before Wal-Mart can build those important double-wide aisles, the Poway City Council has to conduct an environmental impact report. On September 11, 2009, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart had shrunk the size of the store -- but only by 9%. The existing store is 142,937 s.f. and the expansion is now slated to bring the store to 179,933 s.f. instead of 197,000 s.f. The average shopper could not tell the difference in scale by looking at the building. Opponents of the project won't notice the difference either -- because at three times the size of a football field -- the store is still way out of scale, and it will still be open 24 hours a day. Neighbors also are worried about the spike in crime that will take place -- regardless of this minor shrinkage. The comprehensive draft environmental impact report is being written by a private firm selected by the city, paid for by Wal-Mart. The change in size was considered largely irrelevant to the study by the city's director of development services, who told the Union-Tribune, "The reduction in scope won't have a big impact on something of that size." The impact study is expected to be finished around April of 2010, and the newspaper says the City Council vote might not happen until later that summer. Even if the project were approved by the Council and not challenged in court by local residents, Wal-Mart could not have a store open before the spring of 2011. If the case is appealed, add another year or longer onto the delay. The Union Tribune notes this week that a new citizen's group has been formed, called NO WE, which stands for No Wal-Mart Expansion. One of the group's leaders, David Grosch, told the newspaper, "We know we have an uphill fight here because it's not a new Wal-Mart -- it's an expansion." The Union Tribune -- without any data to back up the statement -- wrote this week that "Wal-Mart would certainly bring in more sales tax revenue for the city, an important consideration given the current economy and the struggles of Poway auto dealers and retailers, which have cut into city revenue." The newspaper points out that groceries are not taxed -- but says "Wal-Mart expects that people who go there to buy food also will purchase taxable merchandise." But those sales at Wal-Mart will not be "new" sales, but purchases captured from other existing merchants in Poway -- including the 'old' Wal-Mart. NO WE says the Wal-Mart store currently is five miles from the closest major freeway. "The real question is: Does a big-box store fit in the center of Poway?" Grosch told the newspaper. "I would just say enough is enough."

What you can do: Actually, the real question in Poway is: "Why isn't the current 142,937 s.f. Wal-Mart superstore big enough to just convert into a supercenter?" The fact is, elsewhere in the country, in places like Wisconsin, Florida and elsewhere, Wal-Mart is proposing superstores in the range of 78,000 to 120,000 s.f. The current Poway Wal-Mart has plenty of room to be reformatted as a superstore -- without adding a single additional square foot. Even though Wal-Mart has told Wall Street analysts that the company can make as much profit from a smaller, more efficient superstore than from the larger ones -- projects like Poway are still in the pipeline. Wal-Mart will build as large as they want unless local communities start talking size limits. There are already 11 Wal-Marts within 20 miles of Poway, including the discount store in Poway. All of these stores are discount stores, and Wal-Mart has plans to expand, or shut down all of them. There is no added value to the Poway economy for expanding this store, because the area already has plenty of grocery stores. A Wal-Mart supercenter would survive by capturing sales from those existing merchants, rather than creating new sales and new jobs. For a community that is trying to sell itself as the "city in the country," a supercenter imposes a suburban sprawl pattern that is incompatible with the lifestyle image of Poway. Readers are urged to email Poway Mayor Don Higginson at dhigginson@ci.poway.ca.us with the following message: "Mayor Higginson, The one Wal-Mart in Poway today is one more than enough. If you allow the existing store to expand, all you will get is other merchants shutting down. The retail pie will get sliced thinner. The supercenter is neither a revenue nor a jobs project -- it's economic displacement. The image of Poway "balancing growth with the good life," will tip the balance to leave the 'good life' on the short end. This expansion is what you would expect to find in suburban sprawl developments. A Wal-Mart three times the size of a football field also generates an enormous amount of traffic and crime. The recent shrinkage in store size was too little to make any significant difference. Wal-Mart is submitting superstore plans today as small as 78,000 s.f. So why is their 142,937 s.f. store in Poway too small to convert into a supercenter? It's only a 17 year old building. This is what Wal-Mart calls an 'in-box conversion.' They take their existing store, and remodel the interior -- without adding a single square foot, and probably without needing any new permits. As Mayor, you could lead the way to request an in-box conversion, which would have no further impact on the environment. It would increase traffic -- which you need to have carefully studied. Once Wal-Mart adds groceries, don't expect to see sales tax revenues grow. All Wal-Mart does is cannibalize your existing retail sector. If you approve this expansion, you can forget about your 'shop local' campaign -- unless you consider Arkansas local. You have two choices: lead growth, or follow it. When you let big box stores take the lead, you will end up with 'sprawl in the country' as your outcome. In this case, a new store isn't even needed, because the 'old' one could be retrofitted."










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

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