For the curiously aware of Humboldt County
By Skippy Massey
SPECIAL REPORT: MOVE OVER REDWOOD CURTAIN, WALMART IS COMING TO EUREKA
Always Low Prices—Always. Save Money, Live Better?
LOVE IT or loathe it, the facts speak for themselves: Walmart is the largest retailer on the planet. It sets the standard for being the largest public corporation ranked by revenue. With over 2 million employees, the company is the biggest private employer in the world and the largest employer in the United States. Having 8,500 stores in 15 countries operating under 55 different names, Walmart reported a net income of $15.4 billion on $422 billion of revenue with a 24.7% gross profit margin for 2011.
WALMART figures are between staggering and mind boggling. If it were a country, Walmart would be the 23rd largest economy in the world. If its employees were a military force, they would be the largest standing army on the face of the earth. This year everyone on the planet will make an average of 1.1 purchases there; one-third of the US population makes a trip to the Walton family business weekly. If all the Walmart stores were placed together they would cover 32 square miles or 15,300 football fields; 135 Pentagons or 158 Vatican Cities; and the parking lots alone would fill the entire city of Tampa, Florida. For every Walmart Supercenter opening, the obesity rate increases 2.4% per 100,000 residents. Between 2001 and 2006, China’s exports to Walmart accounted for 11% of the growth of the total trade deficit between our nations. We needn’t tell you what’s the most popular search location punched into GPS devices—you already guessed that– but we’ll mention the item they sell surprisingly more of than anything else: bananas.
FOR THOSE who remember, it’s been 12 years since Walmart Inc. attempted a bid to build another one of its empire satellites on a choice piece of Eureka’s Waterfront property. After a long and dirty battle Walmart’s plans were shot down by 60% of the voters in a contentious ballot measure. It was a bruising rejection for the gargantuan retailing behemoth used to getting its way. The Walmart debacle launched the political career of former state Assembly member Patty Berg and many considered the defeat of the Redwood Curtain Walmart as the first big electoral victory for the Humboldt County left. Walmart and its proponents certainly didn’t want to repeat this failed strategy again. Looking at the map of Walmart locations there are a few lonely places that the retailer hasn’t reached yet. The Nevada desert, Death Valley, Modoc and Humboldt County.
UNABLE or unwilling to confirm or deny its coming existence like a secretly held Black Ops mission, Eureka officials and City Manager David Tyson have been mum on the issue refusing to discuss or disclose recent Walmart development plans to its citizens. However, the writing is on the wall: it walks, looks, and quacks like a duck– and the fix is in. Walmart has secretly muscled its way back into Eureka through the back door and without voter approval this time around. A lease has likely been acquired and the global giant will be moving into the Bayshore Mall filling the old Gottschalks space and presumably sliding on over into the former Borders location across the way for some needed extra space as needed. No one’s talking about it, at least officially on the record. For some reason your elected representatives don’t want you to know it’s here or what lies in store. It’s simply none of your business. You need only to shop and buy the product byline: Always Low Prices—Always… Save Money, Live Better. Hook, line, and sinker.
CONSIDER this article describing the process Oregon and other Northwest communities experienced:
Though the developer would not say which retailer would be moving in, it was clear the store would be huge… On numerous occasions over the last decade, some allege Walmart has used deceitful tactics to shoehorn its way into local communities and avoid controversy.
These critics say the superstore works with city officials and local developers to circumvent municipal zoning laws, waiting until the last possible moment to declare a store’s identity, and in some cases, coercing town officials into signing agreements that swear themselves to secrecy. While Walmart denies the allegations summarily, development plans involving a lack of full disclosure raise several questions about sustainable development in some of the communities that need it most.
AL NORMAN, founder of the Greenfield, Mass.-based nonprofit Sprawl-Busters, summed it up this way: “The process by which Walmart developers weasel their way into communities is collusion that ignores the interests of those who deserve the most representation, and it’s happening right in all of our backyards.”
WHY does Walmart develop stores without first disclosing its plans to the community? Very simply because it works as a proven strategy that’s been particularly effective for the Pacific Northwest:
Generally… zoning laws and procedures force developers to declare specifics of their plans from the beginning. Permit applications are set up to ensure a community has a sense of what’s going where, and whether a retail project will yield a small store or a giant mall.
Still, if a developer owns a plot of land and sells retail space as part of a larger development effort, the developer is not obligated to unveil its plans or list individual purchasers until the developer completes the deal and investigates the environmental impacts those tenants might cause.
In 1996, community activists in Gig Harbor, Wash., successfully defeated local developers from building a Wal-Mart due to a zoning issue. Since then, developers in Sequim, Wash., and Oregon City, Ore., kept Walmart plans secret for months, effectively stalling community opposition until late in the process. Both communities now host Walmart superstores that serve thousands every day.
WALMART officials, however, disagree on the nature of its secrecy, believing privacy is paramount to the company keeping a competitive edge in the marketplace. And they don’t want to disappoint you:
Amy Hill, Walmart’s Northwest community affairs manager, said the company is not in the business of deceiving communities. She said Walmart opts for secrecy to maintain an advantage over competitors like Target and Lowe’s. According to Hill, Walmart often pursues permits anonymously because it doesn’t want to announce intentions until the company is certain it will be coming to an area — so as not to dash anyone’s hopes.
“There’s no reason for us to announce a project until we’re fully committed to it,” she said. “Simply getting ourselves to the point where we’re ready to announce a new store is a long and complicated process.”
As Hill explained it, the process begins with evaluation. Walmart has a “litany” of brokers across the country that work on the company’s behalf to evaluate potential sites, she said. Once the brokers have identified sites, Walmart market research executives research factors such as potential customer base, proximity to other superstores, and traffic impacts. Next, Walmart executives visit the area to inspect it for themselves. After the executives give final approval, the company announces a formal intention to move in.
“We’re not in the process of developing our stores hastily or without thought,” she said. “With that said, our goals are to grow our business and be where we’re not.“
“We don’t know who, officially, the occupant of the building would be. We don’t have any plans that have a name on it. We’ve not been told. The only thing left, I think, is design review for the sign,” Eureka City Manager David Tyson said in August. Not much has been confirmed about Walmart’s existence since then. The design plans simply read ‘Tenant.’
You would think the cat would be out of the bag by now from knowledgeable leaders explaining what’s coming to town… besides Santa Claus, that is.
The North Coast Journal reported the Bayshore Mall’s $4.6-million-dollar retail store construction project is going through a routine plan check in the Building Department after having been approved by the city’s Fire, Engineering and Community Development departments. The plans? Reportedly a huge “73,000-square-foot apparel/grocery/pharmacy big box” that’s been “sailing through the permitting process at Eureka City Hall” encompassing 59,000 square feet of shelves for apparel and food items, an 8,000-square-foot stockroom, 800 square feet of pharmacy, a plan for freezer and cooling units in the grocery section, and racks of dog food shelving for starters.
SOME SOURCES indicate plans lean towards a ‘Walmart Express,’ a smaller discount store with a range of services from retail items, simple grocery shopping, check cashing, optical, pharmacy, movie rentals, or a host of other possible corporate offerings stretching like large tentacles depending on demand and the potential profit within its grasp. The concept is focused on small towns that are not able to support a larger store and locations where physical space is at a premium. Wal-Mart plans to build 15 to 20 Walmart Express stores by the end of its fiscal year in January 2012.
“The Walmart Express model is about having access to a breadth of assortment,” explains Walmart’s Anthony Hucker, vice president of strategy and business development. An introduction of sorts, the Express concept is not unlike the signature greeters at every store door enticing customers to come in out of the cold and experience the good vibes, warm feelings, charm and cheer that only shopping at a newly opened neighborhood Walmart can bring.
ROB ARKLEY spoke to KINS radio back in July and was one of the first and few people to confirm the secret tenant was indeed going to be… Walmart. Employees of the Eureka-based Carrington Company that own the old Gottschalks property are under a strict confidentiality agreement. None will disclose the new tenant’s name. Pattison Christensen, Carrington’s asset manager, confirmed the space is being demolished down to the concrete foundation and rebuilt to install new plumbing and electrical systems. Some sources report the extensive renovations will be completed by 2013.
VALUING the property at $8 million, Carrington bought the building and the seven acres it sits on from the court during Gottschalks’ bankruptcy several years ago.
“We bought it on speculation. We thought it was financially advantageous,” Francis Carrington said. “We didn’t have a specific tenant in mind. We had other tenants in mind but none that gave us the sort of return … as this particular client.”
“We’ve already got Target and Costco,” Pattison Christensen said. “As a fourth generation Humboldt County resident, I wouldn’t bring in any tenant I thought would terrify the marketplace and neither would Carrington. The Mall came in 20 years ago and it did decimate the downtown for a while. But look at it now, it’s vibrant. … What sort of development should we want for Humboldt County? Infill for retail and housing,” Christensen said, adding, “the new retailer will create new jobs and increase the tax base because there is plenty of evidence residents are shopping out-of-county at this particular retailer now.”
OPINIONS of the pending Walmart vary widely across the board like slogans. Some feel it’s a boon for discount shoppers stretching their hard earned dollars while others feel it’s a bust for businesses, labor and wages, and Humboldt’s economy. It’s free market trickle down capitalism at its finest while critics maintain it destroys all competitors and everything standing in its path, extolling the virtues of Main Street while simultaneously steamrolling over it, homogenizing and pasteurizing the country from shore to shore like a cheap plastic container of milk.
THE QUESTION is, why all the secrecy by Eureka’s elected representatives, Walmart Inc., and the Carrington company? Didn’t the 1999 voter referendum make it clear that Walmart wasn’t welcome in Eureka or have we changed our minds? Shouldn’t there be some community dialogue? Walmart’s coming. In fact, it’s already here.
YOU’LL hear more about Walmart, after it’s all said and done during the Grand Opening rollout– in a carefully publicized and calculated promotional media blitz to be released at a later date.
LAST SNIPPETS, RUMORS, AND HEARSAY MURMERS:
OCCUPY OPTICS: Local eyewitness reports and two refreshingly honest reads we encountered this week came from Two Rivers Tribune’s Malcolm Terence and Civilized Disobedience’s Mikal Jakubal. Former resident and reporter John C. Osborn has also been writing on Occupy happenings in the Bay Area for his new blog The Classist, recently describing the dismantling of the San Francisco encampment and 60 arrests at 1:30 in the morning on Pearl Harbor Day. The cause slogs on through the sleet and snow, the rain and early morning raids, the scalawags and rapscallions, and the 1% sporting rose-colored Louis Vuitton glasses.
CALIFORNIA DOESN’T SEEM BROKE: Caltrans’ request for financial support from the Humboldt County Association of Governments for a $30 million road improvement project was approved on Thursday with an 8-2 vote during the Association’s meeting. Humboldt County agreed to pay for $16 million of the project Caltrans proposed in 2007 to widen the shoulder, and add an interchange and half signal to Airport Road and Indianola Road off of the highway 101 safety corridor between Eureka and Arcata. If given the Holiday green light by the Coastal Commission, Caltrans will begin making the necessary changes after more money is secretly printed off in the Capitol basement bubbling forth like Pennies from Heaven despite the State’s fiscally-challenged Stormy Weather conditions.
POOR STUDENTS AND VANITY CENTERS: While HSU students are experiencing record tuition increases, administrators are asking for $1.3 million from the University Center to expand the Student Recreation Center. Student fee money is being used to pay for the expansion of the West Gym, a state funded building, as students cough up more money simply to stay in school. Administrators advise students to eat more beans and rice and dress warmly for the interim.
THE HUMBOLDT ECONOMIC INDEX REPORT is in and it’s not painting a rosy picture: “Leading indicators universally soured in November. Unemployment claims were up, and help wanted advertising down, indicating potential softening of the local labor market. The number of Building Permits issued also fell. The number of homes sold within the county also contracted as per seasonal expectations. The decline was small, however, and may not be significant. Employment continued to rise, again largely thanks to the increased hiring of state and local governments. Unemployment also increased, though. The sector is viewed as contracting from last month. Hospitality, retail sales, and lumber manufacturing all declined…” You get the idea. Curiously enough marijuana production and PG&E electrical rates weren’t factored in as current economic drivers of the Humboldt economy so the results could be a bit skewed.
APPEARING BORED, DISINTERESTED, AND ILL-ATTENTIVE, the Times-Standard’s mighty Thadeus Greenson is anything but. News seems to settle subconsciously onto his brain while complex paragraphs emanate ethereally from his fast and furious keyboard fingers. How he does this without paying attention is anyone’s guess. Given his always consistent tear of current events and the reporting of complex issues in fairly accurate deadline fashion, Thadeus makes it all look easy. His articles this week include among others (*Spoiler alert!* Clear your T-S paywall cookie here for the links): Sunday’s $400 Million Humboldt Marijuana Economy, Tuesday’s Sage Family’s Proposition 215 Lawsuit Against the City of Arcata, and Chief Probation Officer Bill Damiano Turning the Titanic followed by the Eureka City Council report on Wednesday, and Thursday’s article detailing Hydesville’s marijuana kingpin Stanislaw Kopiej’s controversial probation and $175k forfeiture plea deal. Greenson’s a lean mean media muscle machine, a literary mystery wrapped up in a warm burrito of words.
LAST MAN STANDING: We say goodbye to the last edition of the Humboldt Beacon and the kind words of departing editor Franklin Stover before the whole kit ‘n caboodle of the Eel River Valley newspaper slips into the forgotten memory hole. Goodbye Mr. Stover. We wish you a fond farewell having steered the Humboldt Beacon to its last and final run after 110 years of faithful reporting.
PRECIOUSLY GOOD NEWS: Remember the eight year-old Willow Creek girl named Precious Reynolds who defied the odds after contracting rabies? Given a three percent chance at life by doctors in May, Precious is the eighth person in the world and the third in the U.S. to have survived the virus without a vaccine. She’s what doctors call a medical phenomenon. Two Rivers Tribune editor Allie Hostler tells us more about Precious’ fairy tale happy ending to recovery.
WARM, DRY, AND STILL THIRSTY: Kevin Hoover of the Arcata Eye has capably kept us up to date about Arcata’s famous icon and beloved former resident Pete, also known as Manila Pete, Ragman Pete, or simply Pete from Nayarit here in the Eye archives or more recently in this week’s edition.
THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT: but only if you keep an eye on them and don’t believe everything you read. Just when you thought you heard it all, here’s one you probably haven’t heard yet. Urban myth or not? Credible sources vary on its veracity. It’s been a long time since smoking banana peels were in vogue, but bored and crafty kids do come up with the dankest ideas. We relegate this to the dubious pile of tall tales for obvious reasons.
PLEASE DON’T ANTAGONIZE or try to feed and pet the mountain lion that was spotted Tuesday in Arcata’s Redwood Park according to reports received by the Arcata Police Department. The cat was seen near Big Rock Trail, trail four, and Big Rock Cutoff, trail 16. It was not reported to be acting aggressive. Redwood Park is a heavily wooded area and a natural habitat for mountain lions and tasty humans and dreadlocked Trustafarians. Walk softly and carry a big stick until the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Then run like hell.
HUMBOLDT EVENTS AND HAPPENINGS:
CLEAR OUT YOUR CLOSET AND MAKE WAY FOR THE NEW YEAR: KSLG radio is hosting a Warm and Fuzzy Clothing Drive at the Eureka Co-op, 4th and B Streets, on Friday from 6 am to 8 pm. All the clothing collected will be given to Betty Chinn’s group known as “Betty’s Blue Angels.” If this is anything remotely similar to last year, mountains of clothing will magically appear before your eyes out of thin air and presenting a spectacular sight to behold– next to the following day’s lunar eclipse and nativity scenes, of course.
SATURDAY’S EARLY MORNING HOURS will unleash a spectacular total eclipse of the moon starting around 5-6 am. 5 minutes later at 6:05 am, the lunar orb is expected to turn a beautiful-to-bloody sunrise red magnifying greatly in size. Sources indicate it’s well worth waking up the kids and seeing an extraordinary sight not reoccurring for another 3 years. A rare way to start your day. You only have so many, you know.
SNOW AND BLOW: Eureka’s Pacific Outfitters is hosting lots of snow this Saturday from noon to 4 pm at the intersection of 5th and R streets. 40,000 pounds of shaved ice delivered from Pacific Coast Seafood will grace a 12-foot drop rail for snowboarding and skiing enthusiasts. There will be local vendors, contests, prizes, professional boarders and their sponsors. Free and open to the public from noon to 2 pm as long as you bring your own helmet, gear and Red Bulls to ride the rail, getting your own inner Shaun White halfpipe going on.
NOT EVERYONE’S CUP OF POT TEA: Ms. Kemp thoughtfully reminds us of the 8th annual Emerald Cup this Saturday at 2 pm in Laytonville. Additional details and an enormous spliff can be bogarted here. Don’t forget your 50 bucks… or was it $40?
IT’S THAT TIME OF THE YEAR TO STAY OFF THE ROADS in Eureka. No, not New Year’s Eve. The annual run and random honking of the Trucker’s Parade Saturday night from 6 -8:30 pm. Hot cocoa and Christmas caroling will be served at either the Eureka Muni or Cooper Gulch depending if it rains or not.
STEELHEAD AND CRAB COGNOSCENTI: Kenny Priest keeps the fish updated as to where the North Coast humans are in this week’s fishing report and his past archives. Sorry folks, no local commercial crab will be available before Christmas. Keep your fingers crossed for January 16 or later depending if the crusty little shellbacks are fat enough to pluck from the sea. Sport crabbers, however, are free to trap and grab.
CRAFTS, GIFTS, MUSIC, CHRISTMAS CONCERTS, AND NATIVITIES abound this weekend. See the weekend calendar below for times and dates.
THE WEEKEND CALENDAR:
FAVORITE QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
“There is no such thing, at this date of the world’s history, as an independent press. You know it and I know it. There isn’t one of you who dares to write your honest opinions, and if you did, you know beforehand that it would never appear in print. I am paid weekly for keeping my honest opinions out of the paper. Others of you are paid similar salaries for similar things, and any of you who would be so foolish as to write honest opinions would be out on the streets looking for another job.
If I allowed my honest opinions to appear in one issue of my paper, before twenty-four hours my occupation would be gone. The business of the journalist is to destroy the truth; to lie outright; to pervert; to vilify; to fawn at the feet of Mammon, and to sell the country for his daily bread. You know it and I know it and what folly is this toasting an independent press. We are the tools and vassals of the rich men behind the scenes. We are the jumping jacks, they pull the strings and we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes.”
~ John Swinton, former Chief of Staff at the New York Times. Greatly admired by other newsmen Swinton made this candid confession when asked to give a toast before the prestigious New York Press Club in 1880.