Wal-Mart's Second Shot
By Justine McDaniel
Wal-Mart doesn't give up so easily.
On April 22, the corporation was denied an application to open a superstore in Rohnert Park. Wal-Mart has appealed the decision, and Rohnert Park must weigh the pros and cons again.
The plan for the superstore, which includes a grocery section that will be open 24 hours, was first revealed this spring when Wal-Mart proposed expanding its existing Rohnert Park store by 35,000 square feet. The planning commission of Rohnert Park rejected it 4–0.
Opponents say the expansion will close Pacific Market in Rohnert Park, possibly bringing down other small businesses in that shopping center with it. Although Wal-Mart estimates that the opening of their store would create about 85 jobs, only some would be full-time. Furthermore, approximately 105 to 211 jobs would be lost through the closing of Pacific Market and other businesses.
"The jobs being lost are generally good jobs at Pacific Market, although it could affect chains like Raley's and Safeway," says Martin Bennett, a teacher at the Santa Rosa Junior College and co-chair of the Living Wage Coalition of Sonoma County, which has spearheaded the campaign against Wal-Mart. "Pacific Market pays $17 an hour with benefits, and Wal-Mart pays $12 an hour without benefits for full-time, so the difference in job quality is really remarkable."
Bennett charges that most of the profits from Wal-Mart will not stay within the local economy, but will return to its Arkansas headquarters. The store won't create any significant tax revenue because grocery items aren't taxable. It will also increase traffic, especially if other markets close. The environmental and economic impacts could affect residents all over the county.
"It's not just a city of Rohnert Park issue, it's a county issue," Bennett says. "Five hundred low-wage jobs at Wal-Mart will bring down wages in the retail sector everywhere in Sonoma County by about 1 percent. This is a regional issue that extends well beyond the city of Rohnert Park."
The cities of Milpitas and Antioch have also recently denied Wal-Mart the permission to expand. "This isn't just Sonoma; it's all of the Bay Area," Bennett says. Wal-Mart has been pushing expansion in Sonoma, Marin and Mendocino counties, where there aren't any superstores.
"There's a bigger issue here about American values," Bennett says. "Hard work and being dedicated to your employer should pay off, but you get poverty wages from Wal-Mart and no benefits. You can't make a career at Wal-Mart." Most recently, the company was charged with a class action suit regarding discrimination against women employees.
The Rohnert Park City Council will meet on Thursday, July 29 to consider the appeal. The hearing starts at 6pm and will be held at City Hall, 130 Avram Ave., Rohnert Park.
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