View from Lodi, CA: Sprawl Brawl
September 27, 2002, 05:00 AM
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Last Saturday, the Lodi News-Sentinel and I came down on different sides of the Lowe`s shopping center debate.

In its editorial, the News-Sentinel supported the call for an Environmental Impact Report as a necessary step toward going forward with the plan to develop the 33 acres on the northwest corner of Lower Sacramento Road and Kettleman Lane.

The key is that the News-Sentinel wants the Lowe`s shopping center built.

The News-Sentinel feels that with the right combination of "landscaping, lighting, signage and color schemes," locals can expect "a retail hub of distinctive character and appeal."

I have crossed the U.S. many times, have been to hundreds of retail centers and have yet to find one that I could label "distinctive."

In fact, I would be hard pressed to differentiate one from the other.

In my opinion column on the same page, I suggested that Lodi`s ambiance would suffer from the addition of another big-box store. And while I didn`t quarrel with the arguments on behalf of building the Lowe`s shopping center, I did take exception to statements that it would not add to sprawl.

These huge stores are not only eyesores but they create gridlock. Lodi is already suffering from excesses of both.

The Vintner`s Square development would be a further set back to Lodi`s rapidly vanishing appeal as "loveable and livable."  By adding another supermarket, a hamburger joint and a home improvement retailer, the community doesn`t benefit. We already have plenty of markets, lots of places to eat burgers and three home improvement centers less than 10 miles away. To hear how some people talk about going to Stockton, you might think it was in Oregon.

But while the community at large doesn`t benefit from an excessive number of malls and shopping centers, a small handful of individuals do profit.

It is true that the city`s revenue base increases with each new store. In its editorial, the News-Sentinel was specifically concerned about "leaking" revenues. As much as $91 million in sales "leak" from Lodi each year. Lowe`s could recover $16 million of that escaping money. But if the city`s goal is to chase every possible nickel in revenues, then Lodi is doomed to becoming a completely paved over city.

While Lowe`s is beaten back for the moment, plans to develop the southwest corner have reared their ugly head. That development—whatever form it might take—would be subject to the same Environmental Impact Report.

While I am opposed to both the Vintner Square and the Browman Development project, I am a realist. Lodi—like thousands of other communities—has chosen sprawl and development over community.

For those who feel that big-box stores represent more jobs and generate good things for the local townspeople, spend a few minutes looking at the PBS special, "Store Wars: What Happens When Wal-Mart Comes to Town."

If, as rumored, the Browman Development on the southwest corner of Kettleman Lane and Lower Sacramento Road includes a new, massive Wal-Mart, your time researching the P.B.S. program will be even better spent.

The average Wal-Mart employee`s take home pay is under $250 a week. Full-time "associates" earn between $6.00 and $7.50 an hour, average for the discount retail trade but not enough to get you above the poverty line.

This means that the employee`s children qualify for free lunch at schools, a taxpayer subsidy.

One-third of Wal-Mart employees are part-time and do not qualify for benefits. For the remaining two-thirds, the insurance program is so costly—employees pay 35%, twice the national average—that most do not participate.

Because of low salaries and limited benefit programs, Wal-Mart has a very high (70%) turnover rate within the first year. Since the company is strongly anti-union, any efforts to organize end up with employees being fired.

The famous "Made in the U.S.A." campaign is a sham. Wal-Mart is the biggest importer of Chinese made goods and also contracts in Haiti and Bangladesh for Disney items. Over 85% of Wal-Mart`s goods are produced overseas in Third World countries.

Of possible concern to all Lodians is the Wal-Mart practice of closing under-performing stores and leaving them vacant. As of May 2000, Wal-Mart had abandoned 25 million square feet of unoccupied space.

While the company claims to try to sell these units, the only potential buyers are other big-box operators. And Wal-Mart refuses to sell its property to competitors.

I remain steadfastly where I was last week: opposed. The arguments in favor don`t seem very compelling and don`t stand up well under analysis.

Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.