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Sunday, October 15, 2006

Davis Enterprise Endorses Target

It's Sunday, a low traffic day on the People's Vanguard. I save the hot and juicy stuff for Monday, so I went into this entry without much of an idea of what I was going to wite about. The Enterprise today is dominated by SMUD, Choice Voting, and Target.

Let me say something quickly on SMUD since I saw a letter that suggests uncertainty means a "No Vote." I do not know exactly what SMUD will mean other than it will mean NO PG&E. I know PG&E is bad in so many different ways. That's enough for me. I'd vote for Bob's electrical outlet over PG&E. Think about that for awhile...

It is of course of no surprise that the Davis Enterprise would endorse Target. I'm not sure they've seen a development or a pro-developer candidate that they do not like. They endorsed Covell Village and Mike Levy for crying outloud. I could have forgiven them had they endorsed Asmundson and Forbes and opted for experience, but Levy? Good gosh, that's hard to stomach. And it's all too telling about where Debbie Davis' loyalties lie (a close ally of the Puntillos). Given that backdrop, it would have been stunning had they not endorsed Target.

But I'd like this blog to be about ideas rather than ad hominen attacks, so let's look at the arguments the Davis Enterprise puts forth in support of Target.

"The 137,000-square-foot Target store proposed for Davis will generate an estimated $659,000 per year in sales taxes for the city of Davis." That was the rationale used by the Council's majority when they heard the issue of Target back in June. They completely ignored the point that now Mayor Sue Greenwald made in opposition to that figure and it was dead on. If you compare the amount of revenue from Target compared to the current vacant field, it is a good producer for city revenue. However, this is a Hobson's Choice argument. The alternative that council and the pro-Target people present is--Target or vacant field. There is a third option--a development that does not include a big-box retailer.

And what happens if you compare the revenue of Target to alternative developments?

The City Council attacked Sue Greenwald but never answered that question. City Staff disagreed with Greenwald but never addressed that question. And the Davis Enterprise never once offers up an argument against that point. Instead they create a Strawman argument in support of Target: "Target critics... argument presumes a high-value auto dealership occupying the site, which cannot be counted on." The argument that Greenwald made had nothing to do with an auto dealership, it was merely offering an alternative development plan.

Now let us suppose that we develop that property with a number of smaller scale stores and shops. It might not generate the same amount of tax revenue as Target will--I'll grant that point. But it won't be a $659,000 difference either.

Moreover, that projected revenue fails to take into account severe potential opportunity costs. First, while it may generate revenue, it may also cause a number of locally owned or smaller businesses to go under. So while you may generate revenue, the question is are you expanding the revenue base or merely transferring it from one business to another?

There are two consideration--first, how much business from Davis leaves town because there is no Target? Do we have an estimate of that? And second, how much business will come from out of town? Do we have an estimate of that? I would guess that there would be a number of out-of-town customers who would stop and shop at Target for convenience while passing through town. After all, the adjacent cities, all have similar shopping opportunities. A good amount of people from Davis go to Target in Woodland and would be more likely to shop at Target in Davis, so from that perspective some of the business would stay in town.

However, there is a fundamental cost that is not economic. We all live in Davis for a reason--whether it is to grow up in a small and safe community with a unique flavor or to attend or work at the university, there is a unique quality about Davis. It cannot be quantified. Bringing in Big-Box retailers like Target will act to change the nature of this city.

The Davis Enterprise closes with:
"Davis' Target store will be an environmental showplace as well--one of only 10 retail stores worldwide... that have achieved LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Deisgn) certification."
Isn't that special. Davis' Target will be "Green." But will corporate Target also change their practices to fit the sensibilities of Davis? Answer: not bloody likely.

From Co-op America:
"While Target is a partner in the EPA Waste Wise program to reduce municipal solid waste, the company has yet to show significant signs of reducing its overall environmental impact."
Moreover are you concerned about sweat shops?
Target has not escaped the heat altogether as fair labor advocates and big box opponents keep a watchful eye on the company. Conditions at some of Target's supplier factories have included up to 180 hours of unpaid monthly overtime and the failure to provide legal minimum wages to 40 percent of workers.
In our discussion on the living wage proposal by Councilmember Heystek and our article on a "Green Target," we pointed out that a person who makes Target wages was unlikely to be able to even live in Davis. Even with Heystek's modest proposal of $10/ hour, it would be a tight budget. So while we may add jobs, there is a good chance that those will not be jobs for Davis residents. A fact that likely did not escape the Davis Enterprise, as they did not mention it in their article.

And this discussion has not even begun to touch on the anti-Union and Union-busting activities that Target has engaged in. While Wal-Mart is more notorious on this front, Target may be just as bad. There is a reason the Sacramento Labor Council (CLC) strongly opposes the building of Target in Davis.

So yes, this Davis Target story may be "environmentally friendly"... in Davis. But the overall environmental record of Target leaves much to be desired, and if you have concerns about the treatment of third world workers and first world minimum wage employees, then the Davis Enterprise really did nothing to allay those broader concerns with their subterfuge about the Davis Target achieving LEED. The marketing technique is actually quite insulting to the collective intelligence of this community. It takes a very quick Google search to uncover some serious concerns about the business practices of the Target corporation. But then again, most of you probably knew that already.

Unlike the Davis Enterprise, the People's Vanguard of Davis does not endorse. Take all of these factors and arguments and make up your own mind.

---Doug Paul Davis Reporting