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October 3, 2015

That Walmart Mailer

I assume every registered voter in Desert Hot Springs got the same mailer from Walmart that I got. In my short twelve years in California, this is a new thing for me — a developer building a political campaign before releasing the Environmental Impact Report. But I have to acknowledge that Walmart is probably the expert at stuff like this. It was not long ago I found out that in California a developer can resort to the initiative process in order to bypass the Planning Commission and City Council and seek approval directly from the voters. I would think this could explain some of the more horrible development projects I've seen around the state, but I know that there are enough incompetent Planning Commissions and City Councils in the state that we don't need any additional means to explain bad projects.

But to return to the Walmart mailer. This is the first direct interaction Walmart has had with the public here since they had a couple of preliminary EIR discussion meetings which took place some years ago. I favor eventual approval of a Walmart here (going through the usual Planning Commission process), even though I think Walmart is a sad and sorry place to shop. Clearly there are millions of shoppers out there who think differently than I. We know that LOTS of Desert Hot Springs residents already shop at Walmart. A good survey might even show that the majority of grocery shopping by DHS residents takes place at Walmarts in other cities. That's just a guess, but if you're already working in another city (and most are) and you're trying to extend your budget, it would be hard to skip past Walmart and go spend more for less at Vons.

Besides the shopping, we know that DHS is the big labor supplier to the valley. How many of our residents already work at Walmart? My spidey-sense tells me the answer is A Lot. The better ones will be able to transfer to a DHS Walmart, making everyone happier.

Some time ago, when people thought Walmart was coming faster than it was, some out-of-towners remarked during public comments at city council meetings that Walmart would destroy our downtown businesses - a standard criticism of Walmarts. I wanted to ask those out-of-towners to name one downtown business in Desert Hot Springs. A new visitor to our city seeing the empty storefronts in our downtown might reasonably assume there was already a Walmart in DHS. The optometrist at Pierson and Palm will experience some tough competition, as will the two auto supply stores. The supermarkets will be hard hit, but as Jan Pye observed once (I paraphrase), if Stater Bros. is an example of the best we can get from a supermarket chain with union labor, then we'd be better off with a Walmart. All of those business can compete by providing better service and better products, two areas of weakness at Walmart. But they need to start their improved competitive services now, as KMart has done, and not wait until the day the Chamber organizes the ribbon cutting at Walmart (and we know it will be the Chamber doing the ribbon cutting, because there's no way Sanchez will still be mayor then). Stater Bros. and the optometrist are the deer in the headlights, IMO.

I guess it's not popular or effective to point out that Walmart is a private corporation that owns the land where it wants to locate and that one does have the constitutional right to develop ones property, so long as it is in conformance with the law. The fact that one does not like the legal business practices of any particular corporation is not any justification to keep them out of the city. I'm sure some people object to marijuana dispensaries, but there they are. Some people find Dollar General offensive, but we've got one. Liquor retailers? How many have we got, despite the problems they generate? I have found the customer service at Rite-Aid stores to be consistently abominable, but you don't see me circulating a petition to drive them out. If free people want to spend their money at objectionable businesses, then we should probably let them, like pretending this is still a free America, you know.

But aside from all of that, here's what I found so objectionable in the Walmart mailer (yes, back to that). If you want to tear off the postcard that is attached to the mailer in order to get on the Walmart informational mailing list, you will also be endorsing the statement "I support Walmart and the jobs and benefits it brings to local communities." A pretty sweeping statement. I would be willing to say I support a DHS Walmart because I think they have a legal right to build and operate their store, but they don't give me that option. You can also check the box indicating you want to join the euphemistically entitled "Desert Hots [sic] Springs Citizens for Jobs and Economic Growth." If I found out that several of our local citizens had organized that group and then had a vigorous discussion about whether we would get more jobs and economic growth with or without a Walmart, then it might be a worthy organization to join. But we know it's nothing like that. It's a bunch of corporate lawyers and other paid shills for Walmart who want nothing more than to create a long list of names of unsophisticated, poorly informed DHS citizens. So I will not be putting myself on Walmart's mailing list.

I wonder if Walmart has considered making substantial contributions to all of our local organizations for youth, seniors, the poor (nearly all of us), literacy, animal care, and more? Would they volunteer to pick up half the cost of construction and operation of a new fire station somewhere in the Palm and Dillon vicinity? Wouldn't it be nice if Walmart would subsidize a food truck to show up every time the pick-up crew is at work? Or how about dropping a few million into the city's sidewalk fund? I would love to be bribed like that.

I think we would all be better off concentrating on what sorts of concessions we can extract from the fabulously wealthy Walmart corporation in their process of seeking approval for their store. I certainly wouldn't want to see the Walmart decision put to a vote. The Planning Commission (which is not the City Council, I take pains to point out) and the staff that supports them are far more knowledgable about what can and should be done in the approval process than all of our voting residents combined.

Filed under Desert Hot Springs,Shopping | permalink | October 3, 2015 at 08:51 AM

Comments

Thank you Ron for a well thought out article keep up the great work

Posted by: Bruce Barrett at Oct 6, 2015 10:11:09 PM

Say what you want, and call me what you want, but here is what I think.
What a BS flyer, my name won't be on that, who knows what they will do with my name & where it winds up.
In any case, a bunch of years ago, when I was the Pres. of the CoC, Walmart came to town with this proposal.
Personally, I hate shopping there, way too big, too much time walking, blah, blah, blah.
I'm a man, I know what I want, and want shopping to be quick & painless.
At that time we had a campsite near Dixon, IL, a boyhood town of Ronald Reagan out in corn country.
So while the wife was shopping for camping supplies, I did an un-solicited survey outside with what I thought were the Regular folk of Dixon about the NEW Walmart there. Sorry ladies, but it was mostly men.
The survey says- That in this town the Walmart was a blessing, people got jobs that were not available, both for the young & old, they donated a boat load of $$$ into the area for non-profits, and as the CoC Pres. i wanted to know the biz end of the impact.
Without question, the answer was; the business' that left or closed, were doomed to fail anyway, Poor Customer service, lack of inventory, and general dis-satisfaction.
This was in an old farming Community, I spoke with the old guard, and yep, they liked what they called the 'Wally Mart.
Perhaps someday I won't have to drive across the freeway to buy something as simple as ink for my printer, or God forbid, shoes, or shoe laces, etc.... K-Mart stinks....
Sorry for being long winded, but this subject and those against a Walmart get under my skin.
I'm sure this will be a bigger debate later that I don't have time for.
I'll still shop at Stater's and Vons, but I'll hope all our $$ that we spend on the other side of the freeway will finally stay Local.

Posted by: Russ A at Oct 3, 2015 6:20:45 PM

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