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Rohnert Park

Is the Wal-Mart Way the American Way?

Martin J. Bennett, Dollars and Sense
March-April 2011

"We need to uphold the law, we need to apply the law and we need to allow this project to move forward. I believe that not to do so would be un-American." So stated Rohnert Park (Sonoma County, California) City Councilwoman Amy Breeze last year when the council voted to approve a controversial Wal-Mart supercenter-despite a year long campaign against the project by a broad coalition of labor, environmental, and community organizations.

The Living Wage Coalition of Sonoma County challenges Ms. Breeze's definition of Americanism. Though we respect her point of view, we think she is dead wrong. Wal-Mart, we believe, has betrayed fundamental American values. As the largest retailer and private employer in America, no other company has such a profound impact upon our economy and labor markets. It is time for Wal-Mart to change, or face a growing opposition to its plan to build at least one supercenter in every county of California.

Click here for the rest of the story

For more about the anti-Wal-Mart superstore campaign in Sonoma, click here

Lawsuit seeks to stop Wal-Mart expansion
September 15, 2010

Foes of a Wal-Mart Supercenter have sued Rohnert Park, challenging the City Council’s approval in August of the company’s application to expand in its Redwood Drive location.

In the lawsuit, the Sierra Club and Sonoma County Conservation Action argue that the council’s decision effectively violated the land use policies outlined in the city’s general plan, which calls for encouraging supermarkets to be “close to where people live.”

The general plan is “essentially a legally binding document, it’s almost like a constitution for the city, and the City Council doesn’t have the right to abrogate it,” said Rick Luttmann, a Sonoma State University professor and a Sonoma County Conservation Action member.

Click here for the rest of the story

City Council Approves Wal-Mart Supercenter Wal-Mart
Opponents Called "Un-American"

by Al Norman
Wal-Mart Watch, August 2, 2010

On May 10, 2009, Sprawl-Busters reported that a newspaper poll in Rohnert Park, California indicated that the public is losing enthusiasm for big box stores.

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported that its readers were "generally opposed to many of the pending big-box plans in Sonoma County, including a proposed Lowe's in Santa Rosa and a Wal-Mart expansion in Rohnert Park."

54% of readers opposed a plan by Wal-Mart to expand its Rohnert Park store on Redwood Drive by 32,000 s.f., and another 12% were unsure.

Only 34% supported Wal-Mart's expansion plans. "Please, we do not need an expanded Wal-Mart in Rohnert Park," wrote a Rohnert Park resident. "I never go to that store."

Click here for the rest of the story

Is Courtroom Next Stop in Wal-Mart Fight?
by Jeremy Hay
Santa Rosa Press Democrat
July 31, 2010

A day after the Rohnert Park City Council gave the go ahead for the controversial expansion of Wal-Mart, divisions remained razor sharp over the proposed supercenter.

The council late Thursday overturned - and sharply rebuked - an April vote by the city Planning Commission, which had unanimously rejected the application by Wal-Mart, the world's biggest retailer, to add a grocery to its Redwood Drive store.

"The Planning Commission didn't do their job and shame on them,"

Councilman Joe Callinan said in supporting the supercenter near the end of a 5 ?-hour meeting that drew hundreds of people to City Hall.

The commission had worried about the effect on other Rohnert Park grocery stores and said the expansion would be inconsistent with a section of the city's general plan that calls for encouraging supermarkets to be "close to where people live."

But the council, in a 4-1 vote with Councilman Jake Mackenzie opposed, said the project's benefits were greater than its potential negative impacts and the project was consistent with city land use policies.

Click here for the rest of the story

Walmart OK Sets Up Grocery Battle Line
by Nicholas Grizzle
Rohnert Park Community Voice
July 30, 2010

Council Overturns Planning Commission Decision to Deny 35,000 sq. ft. Expansion Into Super Center


Onlookers peer into council chambers through locked doors at Thursday night’s special meeting of the Rohnert Park City Council. The council met to decide the fate of Walmart’s expansion into a super center, drawing hundreds of people to the meeting, most of whom spoke to the council on the issue.


The Rohnert Park City Council approved Walmart’s expansion into a super center at a special meeting Thursday night.

“People say, ‘Don’t be afraid to do what’s the right thing,’ and unfortunately you could hear here tonight, this is a very divided issue,” said Mayor Pam Stafford. “There was no overwhelming feeling one way or the other, but even if there was one overwhelming feeling over the other, that’s not how we get to decide this issue... we have to do it based on the law.

“All our legal and staff reports have told us this is consistent with our General Plan.”

With that, the council voted to repeal the planning commission’s decision, thereby allowing Walmart to expand into a super center, adding 35,000 sq. ft. and including a full grocery store.

“I can’t see where the benefits will not outweigh the significant impacts. I think the benefits are much greater,” said council member Joe Callinan.

“We have been preaching economic development, and we have one of our biggest sales tax companies in Rohnert Park wanting to expand, I think we would look really silly if we didn’t agree with that.”

Reading from a paper, council member Amie Breeze said, “Both of these businesses are part of our community, by my definition, this makes them both local.” She added, “I feel confident that from the reports we have read... there are benefits to this project that do outweigh the significant environmental impacts.”

Council member Jake Mackenzie, the city’s longest standing council member, was the single naysayer in the votes. “I would like to have seen... actual evidence that supports that there will be sales tax revenue increases to this city... or any overall increase in jobs to Rohnert Park.”

His lone “no” echoed in the otherwise silent city hall.

After recollecting the vote regarding the proposed casino just outside city limits, during the vote Thursday night he said, “I would like to point out to this council that I personally believe there are grounds for legal action to be taken in this matter.”

Vice-Mayor Gina Belforte said she did not appreciate the tactics used to sway public opinion in this debate, citing a flyer saying the council was “bulleyed” into voting for the expansion and her personal cell phone number distributed for residents to call with their comments. She stressed, however, that this did not sway her vote.

“I do believe this will drive economic development,” she said. “I do see this as a benefit for the city as well.” She continued, “I don’t think the city council should, in any way, decide which businesses we choose and which businesses we don’t choose.”

Before public comment, which was extensive at the five-hour meeting, representatives from Walmart were given 15 minutes to present their case. They touched on sales tax revenue, the potential closing of Pacific Market and interpretation of the city’s General Plan, which was cited in the planning commission’s denial.

According to Angie Stoner, spokeswoman for Walmart, the Rohnert Park store generated $600,000 in sales tax revenue last year. If this is a total number, which Walmart was unable to confirm before deadline, Rohnert Park’s share would be about 11 percent of that, or $66,000.  The share of sales tax revenue increases to about 16 percent after a voter-approved sales tax increase goes into effect in October.

Regarding a possible increase in sales tax revenue from the grocery expansion, Stoner said, “According to the California Board of Equalization, our American Canyon store experienced an increase of 35.4 percent in taxable retail sales since a Walmart store with groceries opened there in 2007.”

A 35 percent sales tax revenue increase coupled with Rohnert Park’s sales tax increase would mean about $127,000 annually, or almost double the revenue the city currently receives. But the expansion will not be complete for a couple years and Measure E, the sales tax increase, expires in five years. Stoner did not supply data or say where her sales tax figures came from.

With about 80 extra seats in the lobby and 40 outside, police were keeping a strict count on the number of people inside city hall.  Standing room only would be an understatement. A speaker was set up outside for overflow attendance. One city employee estimated 100 speaker cards turned in, each given two minutes to say their peace.

Many were from out of town, but a significant portion were RP or Cotati residents. Many were objecting to or agreeing with Walmart based on ideological principals.

Marty Bennett, Co-Chair of the Living Wage Coalition of Sonoma County said before the meeting, “Walmart would like to put a super center in every county,” but the impact to local markets would be detrimental.  “One super center equals all retail wages in the county going down by 1 percent.”

The organization, “the leading opponent of the project,” Bennett said, would oppose the same project in any city in the region. “The regional impact will go far beyond Rohnert Park,” he said.

Steve Butler, a Santa Rosa attorney representing Pacific Market, said, “I do believe (the Walmart expansion) is contrary to your General Plan... (which) states ‘maintain land use patterns that maximize residents’ accessibility to neighborhood shopping centers.’ I would respectfully submit that this project would clearly violate that policy as well as other transit and air quality policies of your General Plan.”

City Engineer Darrin Jenkins confirmed after public comment, however, that the project “is consistent with the city’s General Plan policies.”

Pacific Market employees, and owner Ken Silveira also spoke to the council, describing their bleak situation. Silveria wrote a letter to the city stating his store would close if Walmart was allowed to expand. A study sponsored by the market also showed the job loss and economic blight would be significant if Pacific Market were to close, which was likely if Walmart expanded to include a grocery section roughly the size of Pacific Market.

But Stoner responded to these claims, saying, “We’ve met with the owner of Pacific Market and proposed multiple ways that we can assist in getting their business on more solid ground over the next couple years before an expanded store would open. They have responded with silence.

Save for a request to be bought out.”

She added, “Though it is convenient to blame Walmart, it is simply not true that our expansion will ultimately determine the fate of their store here.” Some comments from the public were emotional.

“I’d like to be able to buy my milk at a grocery store a short distance to my house, I don’t want to be standing in line next to some guy buying a gun at Walmart,” said Suzanne Sanders of Rohnert Park.

Shirley Slack of Santa Rosa cited a list of items currently available at Walmart for less than other RP stores, saying, “In this economy, we need this Walmart expansion.”

Crystal Robert, of Santa Rosa said she shops at the Rohnert Park Walmart. “I just think that there should be more opportunities for us lower income families to be able to go to Walmart and find everything that they need there.”

Jan Ogrin, who owns a business in Santa Rosa but lives in RP, was awaiting the council’s decision as a factor in where she would continue to locate her business. “The decision you’re making tonight is really a very major policy decision, and is speaking of where your loyalty lies.”

She concluded, bluntly, “I’m here to find out if it would be safe for me to consider moving my business to Rohnert Park or should I stay in Santa Rosa.”

Wal-Mart Debate Heats Up: Hundreds show up at City Hall to Weigh In On Proposal To Add Grocery to Rohnert Park Store
by Paul Payne
Santa Rosa Press Democrat
July 30, 2010

A bid by Wal-Mart to open what would be Sonoma County's first Supercenter by adding a grocery to its Rohnert Park store was hanging in the balance late Thursday night as opponents and supporters argued their case before the City Council.

"The only way Wal-Mart could conceivably offer any monetary benefit to Rohnert Park would be by cannibalizing the economies of the surrounding communities," Healdsburg resident Robert Neuse said.

Thomas Thunderhorse, a Rohnert Park resident who described himself as a low-income senior, said the council's decision would have political consequences. "If this council votes for the expansion of Wal-Mart, it will show those people in need that you care for them," he said.

"If you vote against it, you will be remembered by them."

Click here for the rest of the story

Opposition to Wal-Mart Supercenters Building Across the Bay Area
By Martin J. Bennett
The Daily Censored
California Progress Report
July 26, 2010

The San Francisco Bay Area has become the epicenter for contentious
battles in California to halt proposed Wal-Mart supercenters that
sell both general merchandise and groceries.

Both the City of Antioch in Contra Costa County and the City of
Rohnert Park in Sonoma County will consider supercenter proposals
this week. The outcome could derail Wal-Mart's strategy to build at
least one supercenter in each county of the state.

In April, the Rohnert Park Planning Commission unanimously denied the
Wal-Mart proposal to enlarge its existing discount store into a
supercenter. Wal-Mart has appealed the decision to the city council.

Click here for the rest of the story

Go Local vs. Wal-Mart and Super-sized Chains
July 21, 2010
By Will Shonbrun

On July 29 the Rohnert Park City Council will decide if it will
approve a proposal by Wal-Mart to expand its Rohnert park store by
more than 40,000 square feet, becoming a super center selling both
groceries and retail. Rohnert Park's Planning Commission voted to
turn down Wal-Mart's proposal in April, but the company appealed the
decision to the city counsel.

There are pros and cons regarding this massive project though the
negatives far outweigh the positives. What can be said in favor of
the proposal, and has been in a number of letters to the Press
Democrat, is that it will provide a place for inexpensive foods and
goods to many people on very limited incomes. It can also be said
that it will provide more jobs in the community though these are very
low-paying ones, most with no health benefits.

Counter to the argument for jobs gained is the potential for jobs
lost by local businesses that might well be forced to close; good
jobs paying decent wages and providing benefits, such as Pacific
Market, Oliver's and other groceries, and the 50-60 local and
regional businesses that would be affected by their closure. Just a
few of these local suppliers are Amy's Organics, Alvarado Street
Bakery, Wildwood Natural Foods, Redwood Hill Farms, Kozlowski Farms
and La Tortilla Factory. Nationally Wal-Marts has wiped out thousands
of local businesses and their suppliers leading to an urban decay in
neighborhood shopping centers where stores like Pacific Market are
the anchor and draw for other small businesses.

Therefore the potential for jobs lost would far surpass jobs gained.
Finally, in favor of the expansion it's argued that it will increase
tax revenue for the city, but this is debatable. Most of the
expansion will be for nontaxable food items, and what the super
center might provide in increased tax revenue may well be offset by
decreased tax money from affected local businesses.

Wal-Mart has become a retail behemoth by keeping costs low: wages,
health benefits, reducing full timers to part time, keeping unions
out and buying cheap goods from foreign sources. Giants like
Wal-Marts have closed tens of thousands of local independent
businesses nationally, including pharmacies, hardware stores,
bookstores, groceries and other retailers.

According to a University of Missouri report that examined 1,749
counties where Wal-Mart located and the resulting loss of jobs were
taken into account, "The superstores contributed just 30 jobs on
average" Furthermore, most of the dollars that go to Wal-Mart stores
leave the local economy. A policy study authored by Stacy Mitchell, a
senior researcher with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, cites a
report by the firm Civic Economics, which found that, "Every $100
spent at an independent store generates $23 more in local economic
activity than $100 spent at a chain."

In addition local businesses tend to be much more community involved
than large out-of-state chains when it comes to charitable
contributions and participation in community services and
neighborhood organizations. Profits generated from Wal-Marts go back
to corporate headquarters in Arkansas, whereas locally generated
business revenue stays primarily in the community.

Wal-Mart Expansion A Threat to Transit-Oriented Development
by Martin J. Bennett
Santa Rosa Press Democrat
Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Rohnert Park Planning Commission unanimously denied a Wal-Mart
proposal to enlarge its existing discount store into a supercenter
that sells both groceries and general merchandise. Wal-Mart has
appealed the decision to the city council.

The economic and environmental impacts of a supercenter will extend
far beyond the City of Rohnert Park. All county residents should be
concerned about this proposal. The controversy raises fundamental
questions about future growth and the necessity for proactive city
and regional planning to promote equitable and sustainable

Development in the county is inevitable. According to the Association
of Bay Area Governments, the population of Sonoma County will
increase by twenty-three percent over the next twenty years. In 2008,
voters approved a landmark initiative to meet this challenge,
creating the two-county SMART train that will run on tracks adjacent
to Highway 101 from Cloverdale to Larkspur. The build-out of the
train system provides the opportunity for city-centered
'transit-oriented development' (TOD) around the fourteen SMART train
stations--development that could accommodate ninety percent of the
projected population growth.

TOD is densely-built, mixed-use development within one-half mile of
transit stations, accessible by bike and foot, and with a variety of
retail, office, and small businesses. Through land-use planning and
public funding, municipalities can promote development near transit
stations that includes good jobs paying family-supporting wages,
affordable housing for all income groups, open space, and walkable

The proposed 170,000 square-foot Wal-Mart supercenter located
one-quarter mile from the site of the planned Rohnert Park SMART
train station is a direct threat to such careful and appropriate

The labor, environmental, and local business organizations opposing
the Wal-Mart supercenter believe it undermines compact and equitable
development in Rohnert Park and violates the city's general plan. The
project undercuts transit-oriented development's efforts to reduce
low-wage work, support local business, tackle global warming, and lay
the foundation for a robust regional economy.

Nearly one third of the employees in the county are currently
'working poor' and do not earn self-sufficiency wages. According to
the Insight Center for Community and Economic Development in 2008,
two parents working full-time in Sonoma County must each earn $14.90
an hour or $62,940 a year to pay for food, housing, medical care,
child care, and transportation.
Sonoma State economist Robert Eyler reports that the supercenter will
contribute to job quality decline and increase the problem of working
poverty. According to his analysis, the county will lose105-211
jobs---mostly good jobs that pay hourly wages for full-time workers
ranging from $17.67 per hour at Pacific Market to $23.36 at Raley's
and Safeway. The Wal-Mart super center will employ 450 workers, and
according to the company, the typical full-time worker at Wal-Mart
earns $12.10 an hour.

With regard to global warming, the supercenter will have adverse
effects on air quality and greenhouse gas emissions. In order to
comply with AB 32, a 2006 state legislative measure, all nine cities
and the county have pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
twenty-five percent by 2015. However, the Eyler report notes, Pacific
Market will close if the supercenter is built, and its 8,000
customers will drive an extra 28,400 miles each week to shop for

Further, Stacy Mitchell, author of Big Box Swindle, reports that
vehicle miles driven per customer will increase because a supercenter
draws shoppers from a greater distance than a discount store. Indeed,
since Wal-Mart's rapid expansion in the late 1970s, miles traveled
per household to shop has skyrocketed by three hundred percent, while
total household driving increased by seventy- five percent.

As for local business, there are sixty local suppliers that provide
produce and merchandise to Pacific Market, and more than seventy
supply Oliver's in Cotati. Wal-Mart suppliers, on the other hand, are
nearly 100% national and global firms (and that means increased truck
traffic into the county). The 'Go Local' movement has demonstrated
that patronizing local businesses ensures that more dollars remain in
the community. Studies by Civic Economics demonstrate that
locally-owned firms produce two to three times more economic activity
within the local economy than national chains ---including
locally-retained profits, wages paid to local residents, purchases
from local suppliers, and contributions to local nonprofits.

The Rohnert Park City Council should uphold the decision of the
planning commission, reject the Wal-Mart supercenter, and refocus the
city's planning process to promote sustainable economic development.

Martin J. Bennett teaches American history at Santa Rosa Junior
College and serves as Co-Chair of the Living Wage Coalition. He is a
board member of Sonoma County Conservation Action and the North Bay
Labor Council.

Dept. of Social Science
Santa Rosa Junior College
1501 Mendocino Ave.
Santa Rosa, Ca.

(707) 527-4873 Office
(707) 522-2755 Fax
(707) 939-8933 Home Office

KPFA Morning Show Wednesday, July 7th: Bay Area anti-Wal-Mart Superstore campaigns

Living Wage Coalition Co-Chair Paul Kaplan and California Healthy Communities Network Executive Director Phil Tucker were interviewed by labor journalist David Bacon on the KPFA Morning Show today, Wednesday, July 7th. The segment focused on Bay Area anti-Wal-Mart superstore campaigns in the cities of Rohnert Park, Milpitas, and Antioch.

To hear the program click on the link below and scroll about one-half hour into the KPFA Morning Show.

June 30, 2010
-- No Wal-Mart Supercenter in Rohnert Park!!
City Council to Consider Wal-Mart Expansion Thursday, July 29th

On Thursday, July 29th, the Rohnert Park City Council will consider the appeal by Wal-Mart to expand their existing discount store to become a supercenter selling both groceries and retail merchandise. On April 22nd, the Rohnert Park planning commission by a unanimous 4-0 vote, rejected the proposed Wal-Mart expansion because the project does not conform to the city's general plan.
Please attend this meeting at 6 pm at City Hall, 130 Avram Ave., Rohnert Park, to demonstrate your opposition to the proposed supercenter. Arrive as early as 4 pm to ensure a seat in the council chambers. Food and entertainment will be provided for those who arrive early. There will be overflow seating outside the city council chamber and a video monitor for those who arrive later. This is a special meeting just on the Wal-Mart expansion proposal, and the council will accommodate all who wish to speak for 3 minutes.

Who Opposes the Wal-Mart Supercenter?

A coalition of community organizations and concerned citizens has formed to oppose the Wal-Mart supercenter that includes: Living Wage Coalition of Sonoma County, Go Local Sonoma County, Sonoma County Conservation Action, Sierra Club Sonoma Group, Sonoma County Latino Democratic Club, Peace and Justice Center of Sonoma County, North Bay Labor Council, California Healthy Communities Network, California Faculty Association Sonoma State chapter, and the Sonoma State University Academic Senate.

Support the Rohnert Park Planning Commission Decision to Just Say No to the Wal-Mart Supercenter Expansion

The event is free and wheelchair accessible

For more information on the issue and the meeting go to:

To contact the Living Wage Coalition, email: or
call (707) 623-7395

Wal-Mart takes another run at Rohnert Park expansion

Wal-Mart, the giant retailer whose bid to supersize its Rohnert Park store by adding a grocery section was rejected by the city's Planning Commission, has appealed that decision to the City Council.

The appeal states that the project is ”fully consistent with the General Plan” and argues that the commission was wrong to turn down the project.

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Angela Stoner, who represented the Arkansas-based company at the commission's decisive April hearing, did not respond Wednesday to calls seeking comment.

Opponents quickly vowed to mount an assault on the application similar to the one that succeeded in April — arguing the expansion will push more workers out of jobs than it will create, and that any jobs that might be created at Wal-Mart would be low-paying jobs.

Click here for the rest of the story

GUEST OPINION: The hidden costs of Wal-Mart's plans for RP store
April 28, 2010
Press Democrat

This expansion adds a grocery component, and the Rohnert Park's City Council, which will soon review the plan, will likely focus on the assumed sales tax generation and job creation such an expansion will provide.

It is important to recognize that an expansion of mainly grocery items will not generate a large amount of additional sales tax revenue, and the assumed loss of Pacific Market could lead to fewer jobs, reduced tax revenues, less consumer choice and create a significant vacancy problem at Mountain Shadows Plaza.

Click here for the rest of the story

Walmart expansion EIR rejected by RP planning commission, 4-0
The Community Voice

By Jud Snyder  April 23, 2010 10:45 am

By a 4-0 vote, Rohnert Park's Planning Commission turned thumbs down on an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) from Walmart to add another 35,256 sq. ft. to their existing store so they could sell grocery items and produce.

City Council chambers in City Hall were filled to capacity before the meeting started at 7pmThursday April 22. A TV screen high up on the wall in the lobby displayed the action and folding chairs crammed in the lobby filled that space. It was SRO everywhere. Several police officers barred admission to the council chambers unless attendees already had a seat guarded by their seatmate.

Click here for the rest of the story

Press Release: Sonoma State University
Tuesday, March 11, 2010 4:30 pm

The Academic Senate of Sonoma State University has joined the Sonoma Chapter of the California Faculty Association in voting to oppose the expansion of the Rohnert Park Wal-Mart into a SuperCenter.

In the Senate's vote, which occurred today, the resolution passed nearly unanimously, with only one opposition vote. The CFA Chapter voted on March 3 and passed a similar resolution unanimously.

The Senate's resolution states that the body opposes the expansion of the Rohnert Park Wal-Mart "because of the adverse effect this expansion will have on the community in which Sonoma State University is located."

The rationale for the resolution explains that, while many local residents may be attracted to being able to purchase groceries more cheaply than at present, there are significantly high costs to such low prices. These costs include:

+An adverse effect on the labor market in the area, since Wal-Mart's typical positions include few or no benefits and pay so far below a living wage that employees must rely on government-funded services;

+Driving other local grocery stores (such as Pacific Market or Oliver's) out of business, with the attendant urban blight spreading through the shopping centers they anchor;

+bypassing local suppliers, many of which will be unable to survive without access to customers; and

+Funneling local dollars spent on groceries out of the area instead of recirculating them within the economy of Sonoma County.

Although local city governments are struggling financially, an expanded Wal-Mart would not bring in significant additional revenue since it would be selling primarily groceries, which are not subject to California sales tax.

The Rohnert Park Planning Commission will consider Wal-Mart's request for an expansion permit in the near future. A party that is unhappy with the decision of the Planning Commission may appeal the decision to the Rohnert Park City Council.

For more information contact Professor Rick Luttmann, Department of Mathematics,
664-2543 and

Down the Wal-Mart Low Road: What Are the Costs of a Supercenter?
Living Wage Coalition of Sonoma County
Winter 2009-2010 Newsletter
by Martin J. Bennett

Wal-Mart recently announced plans to convert its existing discount store in Rohnert Park to Sonoma County's first 'supercenter.' Many cash-strapped cities are tempted to hastily approve retail projects that can generate- substantial sales tax revenue given the current economic downturn. However, we should pause to consider, not only the benefits, but also the costs of the proposed supercenter for Rohnert Park and Cotati.

In late March the Rohnert Park City Council will consider Wal-Mart's application to expand the existing Wal-Mart discount store in that city to a supercenter.

A supercenter is a 200,000 square foot store that sells both general merchandise and groceries. Since 1988, Wal-Mart has opened 2300 supercenters nationwide. Wal-Mart announced in 2002 that it would build more than forty of these megastores in California. By 2008 thirty-one were built, with organized grassroots opposition and environmental lawsuits blocking the others.

Wal-Mart is now the nation's largest grocer and pharmacy, with sales exceeding the combined total of major competitors, including Target, Safeway, Albertsons, Kohl's, and Kroger. How did Sam Walton develop a rural, southern discount store into the planet's largest retailer and the nation's largest employer?

According to UC Santa Barbara historian Nelson Lichtenstein in his new book, The Retail Revolution: How Wal-Mart Created A Brave New World of Business, the main reason for Wal-Mart's phenomenal success is containment of labor costs by a relentless downward pressure on wages and benefits, and a near-perfect record thwarting unionization.

Most Wal-Mart workers are the 'working poor' in America. According to the company's own reports, the average wage for a full-time Wal-Mart worker in 2007 was $10.51 an hour. The average wage of a Wal-Mart employee is 26 percent less than other large merchandise stores, and 18 percent less than large grocery stores, according to the New York University Brennan Center.

Kaiser Family Foundation reports that less than 50 percent of Wal-Mart employees receive health-care benefits. Full-time workers must wait six months to receive medical benefits, and part-time workers wait two years. Half the work force turns over annually. As a result, part-time employees, who are more than one third of the work force, rarely receive benefits. For others, high deductibles, copays, and coverage limitations make the company-provided health plan unaffordable.

Wal-Mart ensures that wages and benefits remain low by a systematic, company-wide policy to suppress unions. A report by Human Rights Watch about Wal-Mart concluded, "while many American companies use weak U.S. laws to stop workers from organizing, the retail giant stands out for the sheer magnitude and aggressiveness of its anti-union apparatus."

Between 1998-2003 the National Labor Relations Board issued 94 complaints and found that Wal-Mart illegally fired workers for union activity, forced workers to attend anti-union meetings and video screenings, spied on workers who supported unionization, and claimed workers would lose pay raises and benefits or the store would shut down if the employees voted for a union.

Not one Wal-Mart store is unionized in the U.S. When Quebec workers voted for representation by the United Food and Commercial Workers in 2005, the company closed the store.

What are the costs when a Wal-Mart supercenter opens in a community?

First, good middle-class jobs are replaced by poverty-wage jobs. Grocery prices at Wal-Mart are 15 percent lower than those of competing firms, and half of these major grocery chains, like Safeway, Raley's, and Albertsons, are unionized. The 'union premium' for combined pay and benefits is 30 percent more than nonunion. In Southern Nevada, Wal-Mart opened sixteen supercenters, and by 2002 1400 union jobs were lost when Raley's closed eighteen stores. According to Nelson Lichtenstein, 13,000 traditional supermarkets were closed and twenty-five regional chains forced into bankruptcy from 1992-2003 due to Wal-Mart.

Second, the taxpayers end up providing public assistance for Wal-Mart workers. A 2004 study by the UC Berkeley Labor Center, "The Hidden Costs of Wal-Mart," concludes that uninsured Wal-Mart employees in California rely on programs like Medi-Cal and Healthy Families at a cost of $32 million a year to the taxpayer. The report also demonstrates that Wal-Mart workers earning poverty wages rely on federal and state programs like the Earned Income Tax Credit, Food Stamps, Section 8 subsidized housing, and child-care assistance to make ends meet, at a cost of $54 million per year.

Third, local merchants are hurt when Wal-Mart enters a community. In 1995, economist Kenneth Stone found that, a decade after the opening of a Wal-Mart in rural Iowa, 60 percent of the retail sales captured by Wal-Mart came from existing retailers. Hundreds of grocery, apparel, hardware, and drug stores closed. University of Missouri economist Emek Basker examined county-level employment impacts of Wal-Mart from 1977-1998. She demonstrated that, for every one hundred new jobs created by Wal-Mart, fifty retail jobs and twenty wholesale jobs were lost over the next five years.

Moreover, a 2007 study by UC Berkeley economists Arin Dube and T. William Lester calculated that, "every new Wal-Mart in a county reduced the combined or aggregate earnings of retail workers by around 1.5 percent" as competition from Wal-Mart decreases both average pay rates and total employment in the local retail sector.

Sonoma State students employed in grocery and retail will be directly affected by a new Wal-Mart supercenter: stores nearby such as Pacific Market will certainly close, as the draft EIR notes. Raley's and Oliver's will face stiff competition from the supercenter while employee earnings will decline across the retail sector in Rohnert Park and Cotati.

This is an appropriate moment for an informed public dialogue, and a county -wide mobilization to oppose the megastore proposed for Rohnert Park. The Living Wage Coalition has joined with independent grocers and small businesses in Rohnert Park, the North Bay Labor Council, Sonoma County Conservation Action, the Sierra Club Sonoma Group, Go Local Sonoma County and the United Food and Commercial Workers to urge that the Rohnert Park City Council deny Wal-Mart's application for a supercenter.


Wal-Mart has appealed the decision by the Rohnert Park Planning Commission to deny their application for a Wal-Mart supercenter. We anticipate that the appeal will come to the Rohnert Park city council in late June or early July.  Please check our web site and we will soon post the exact date for the city council meeting:

Martin J. Bennett teaches American history at Santa Rosa Junior College, serves as a Co-Chair of the Living Wage Coalition and serves on the board of Sonoma County Conservation Action.


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