On August 24, 1999, Sprawl-Busters reported that the voters of Eureka, California had defeated Walmart on a ballot referendum by a 22% point margin.
Eureka residents rejected Walmart's proposal to build a superstore on industrial waterfront property known as the "balloon tract" because of its circular shape. Walmart, by its own hand, placed Measure J on the Eureka ballot, drafting a long, complicated zoning question that asked voters to rezone the industrial tract for commercial use. Sprawl-Busters spent several days in Eureka helping sway voters against the project.
This week, 12 years after Walmart's embarassment in Eureka, Sprawl-Busters received this email from a local activists in Humboldt County about Walmart secret campaign to try again in Eureka:
"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."
Here are excerpts from the blog on The Humboldt Sentinel about Walmart's stealth campaign in Eureka:
Why does Walmart develop stores without first disclosing its plans to the community? Very simply, because it works and it’s a proven strategy that’s been particularly effective in the Pacific Northwest...Walmart officials however, disagree on the nature of its secrecy, believing privacy is paramount to the company keeping a competitive edge in the marketplace.
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 for Walmart’s existence since then. The design plans simply read ‘Tenant.’
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’s 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 for 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. 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 and what lies in store. It’s simply none of your business. You only need to shop there and buy the product byline: Always Low Prices—Always… Save Money, Live Better.. Hook, line, and sinker.
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. Walmart 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.
Rob Arkely (the developer) 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."
WHAT YOU CAN DO
"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 else 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? You should know what’s coming to your town. Don’t let the code of silence by Walmart and community leaders fool you. 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.
Sprawl-Busters readers are urged to email Eureka Mayor Frank Jager at firstname.lastname@example.org with the following message:
"Dear Mayor Jager, Secrecy may be appropriate for national security projects, but certainly not for local governments working on retail projects. Walmart is not important to our national security, so Eureka City government should have nothing but transparent dealings with developers and their tenants. The impact of a Walmart is not the same as a Gottshalk's—in terms of traffic, impact on existing merchants, etc. In assessing the economic and site related impacts, it's important to know what kind of retail project you are dealing with. As Mayor, you should release all the pertinent information on this project as a public record, and stop playing any whispering games with Walmart. You owe full disclosure to your constituents."