Yuma, AZ. Wal-Mart Spends $50,000 To Buy It’s Way Into Yuma
There’s no question that Wal-Mart has the best elections money can buy. The world’s largest retailer just spent $8.87 per vote to secure a building site in Yuma, Arizona—outspending opponents of their proposed store by a modest three-to-one.
Wal-Mart Stores was the only cash donor to the business group that formed to front for the retailer. The retailer also threw in staff time and legal services as an in-kind contribution.
Last August, the Yuma Sun newspaper reported that voters in Yuma Arizona would decide the fate of a 41,000 s.f. Neighborhood Market. A citizens group called No Wal-Mart on Eighth Street gathered signatures to challenge the vote of the Yuma City Council in favor of the project, and with sufficient valid voter signatures, the Council vote was sent to city voters.
In June of 2014, the City Council’s voted to change the zoning on the property to allow a big box commercial development on the site. Once the petitions were validated, the City Council had the choice of change the zoning back to its original designation, or put the measure on the ballot.
The timing of the petitions required that a special city referendum be held. Mayor Douglas Nicholls told The Sun, “That’s a special election the city will have to f. This is part of the process. People have the right to file a referendum.” The Mayor estimated that the special Wal-Mart election would cost taxpayers around $70,000.
The second petition filed by residents sought voter action to overturn another City Council vote in July, 2014 to amend the city’s General Plan so the land use designation for the property matches the zoning Wal-Mart wanted. Neither the City’s General Plan nor the zoning code was right for the Wal-Mart request. Rather than make the project fit the zone, city officials decided to make the zone fit the project.
The petitions were filed by No Wal-Mart for Eighth Street, which was headed by two Yuma residents, Val and Teresa Poland, whose business would be impacted by the Neighborhood Market. The Poland family owns a liquor store across the street, and an RV site abutting the property. The Poland family told The Sun the Wal-Mart project would hurt other area businesses, and another grocery store wasn’t needed, because there are already four existing grocery stores, including a Wal-Mart Supercenter less than two miles away. The first petition filed says “Wal-Mart will hurt the neighborhood, displace elderly people from their homes and destroy small businesses.”
City officials said the proposed site was the home of a former mobile home park, which had become blighted. As one city councilor argued, “I think the voters know it’s a very blighted area in need of revitalization and Wal-Mart would be perfect to do that. Wal-Mart wants to put a store in an area that looks like a slum and create 400 jobs.”
This is a gross jobs figure, not a net job result, since the Wal-Mart saturation of this community will result in lost jobs at other retailers, and a Neighborhood Market does not create 400 jobs under any circumstances. That figure would be a stretch even for a Wal-Mart superstore five times larger. A member of the pro-Wal-Mart group, the Friends of Wal-Mart Committee, later clarified that the proposed Neighborhood Market would “create up to 95 permanent jobs.” Once jobs lost at other grocery stores are subtracted, the net job impact from Wal-Mart is likely to be negligible.
A Wal-Mart spokeswoman said she was “thrilled with the strong support” the Neighborhood Market received during the approval process. Wal-Mart provided all the financial funding for their “local” group—a fact most voters may not have known.
According to Campaign Finance Reports filed with the Yuma city clerk dated March 5th, a few days before the election, the Friends of Wal-Mart had $71,950 in receipts and in-kind contributions, of which the only cash contribution came in a $50,000 check from Wal-Mart Stores in Bentonville on January 21st, plus $8,397 in-kind staff time and legal services from the retailer. The Friends group used its money to buy political consulting time from firms in Scottsdale and Phoenix, Arizona. The No Wal-Mart campaign raised a total of $24,933.
On March 10th, roughly 7 months after the petitions were filed, roughly 75% of the voters in Yuma approved the General Plan change and the rezoning, to pave way for the Neighborhood Market. A Wal-Mart public relations staffer told The Sun "Tuesday’s overwhelmingly positive election results underscore what we’ve heard from the community and validate the city council’s decision to revitalize this property. We look forward to starting construction in the next several weeks and welcoming customers to the new Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market in early 2016.”
The newspaper said “the run-up to the election was quiet, with only a few campaign signs visible on major streets from Friends of Wal-Mart, a political action committee funded by the corporation.” The newspaper did not reveal how much money Wal-Mart had spent to fight the elections.
“Voter turnout was light,” The Sun admitted. Proposition 405, which dealt with the rezoning of the property from multi-family housing to limited commercial, was approved by 5,638 voters and opposed by 1,668 voters, or about 76.5 percent to 22.6 percent. Proposition 406, or a general plan change from mixed use to general commercial, was approved by 5,531 voters versus 1,640, again about 75.1 percent to 22.3 percent.
Yuma Mayor Doug Nicholls was one of two council members who submitted statements in favor of Wal-Mart for the retailer’s publicity pamphlet. The Mayor confided, "I do know there are a couple of people who are looking at doing things in the same general area."
The Mayor said some of the people who signed the petitions did not realize the city would have to pay for the special election. "They didn't think the city would pay for the election, or they didn't know how much it would cost,” the Mayor said. "It's a good study case for anyone not knowing the consequences of their actions," he said.
What you can do: Mayor Nicholls may have been referring to himself—for its not likely that the Mayor knows the consequences of his actions either.
What is clear is that the Yuma area is saturated with Wal-Marts. As Teresa Poland told The Sun, "There are going to be five big grocery stores within a two-mile radius, including a Super Wal-Mart. Those customers are already shopping at Food City or Albertson's. That is a lot of grocery stores, and I was concerned for the employees. How many are going to lose hours or get laid off" if the new Wal-Mart opens?”
Poland noted that there were also "a lot of 'mom and pop' stores on 8th Street. Will they lose business? Will they lay people off? Will they board up buildings? Yes, you are going to have a nice Wal-Mart right there, but what about up and down the street?"
Poland said the Wal-Mart would attract other franchises such as fast food outlets, commonly found around the other Wal-Marts, further harming small independent businesses in the immediate area. "I wish they would put something in there that wouldn't jeopardize so many of the businesses right there. I do wish someone would go in there that would make the place look great, but I am worried about the other businesses in such a close distance to the property."
Readers are urged to email Yuma Mayor Doug Nicholls at Douglas.Nicholls@YumaAZ.gov with the following message:
“Dear Mayor Nicholls,
Did you realize that all your city needs to do to prevent having to hold $70,000 special elections for companies like Wal-Mart is to amend your city ordinance to schedule all special referendums at the time of the next regularly-scheduled general elections. Wal-Mart didn’t offer to pay for the elections cost---because they were to busy shoveling money into a phony citizens group backing their plan.
Ironically, Wal-Mart had to spend $50,000 to make it look like local residents had a pro-Wal-Mart grassroots group---but all the cash was imported from Arkansas.
Now you will get a chance to “know the consequences” of your cheerleading for Wal-Mart. Keep track of how many new jobs come with your new Wal-Mart Market---and then subtract how many jobs are lost at other area grocery stores.
Wal-Mart has saturated Yuma. Your superstore is only minutes away from the new Neighborhood Market. This is not economic development, this is economic displacement. Low-end bagger and clerk jobs at Wal-Mart will never lift Yuma economically.
If you knew all this in advance, would have boosted this company?