The day has finally come. After five years of public protests, city hall testimonies and lawsuits, the five members of the Rohnert Park City Council will decide next Tuesday whether to allow the corporate colossus that is Walmart to build the first supercenter in the North Bay, and so tighten its grip on the city and the region. Which side will our representatives be on, the people's or big money's?
At stake is more than the nominal number of mostly low-wage jobs the supercenter would bring to Rohnert Park and the low prices it would offer the public—two so-called benefits often peddled by supporters of expansion.
These superficial benefits pale in comparison to the retail behemoth's many well-documented negative economic, environmental and fiscal impacts on its host communities and beyond. To name a few:
• A supercenter will undermine local agriculture due to Walmart's reliance on distant factory farms for its meat, dairy products, fruits and vegetables.
• A supercenter's supply chain and operations, of which only a tiny percentage would come from clean energy sources, will thus increase greenhouse gas emissions and reduce air quality in the region.
• Walmart's low prices are based on low employee compensation, which forces competitors to also slash wages and benefits.
• For every new job created by a supercenter, 1.4 jobs are lost elsewhere in the county's grocery and retail sectors.
• Each new supercenter with 300 employees costs the taxpayers nearly $1 million annually in food stamps, rental assistance, Medicaid and other state-subsidized healthcare services.
If Black Friday protests at Walmart's Rohnert Park store over the last three years are any indication, the number of North Bay residents aware of the retail giant's role in the national—and global—race to the bottom is growing. If you're among these folks, council members need to hear from you Jan. 13 at 5pm. We'll save you a spot.
Luis Santoyo-Mejía is lead organizer of North Bay Jobs with Justice.
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