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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Does Target Doom SMUD or PG&E ensure Target's Passage?

I found Richard Harris’ column in last night’s Davis Enterprise rather interesting, making the argument that Target is a “fight with no lasting significance to the life we live.” He describes us as “wrapped around the axle of NIMBYism fighting over where to buy underwear.”

On the other hand, we are missing out on the true issue of paramount importance.

There is a small and effective group of activists and local politicians putting together a pretty good campaign on behalf of Yes on H & I, Yolo Says SMUD Yes (to quote their signs), and I thank them for their efforts. But if you read the newspaper letters, look at lawn signs, run the gauntlet at the Farmers' Market or chat up neighbors, the talk of the town is Target. What a shame.

I guess I take some amusement in naked irony. If the SMUD campaign is indeed overlooked it is at least partly because some of the very same Davis officials pushing SMUD (Souza, Saylor, Asmundson) are some of the very same people who supported Target and put it on the ballot as well.

It is also naked irony in the blatant fact that Target may indeed pass on the back of the SMUD-PG&E mudfight. Recall the strategy of “Triangulation” developed by Dick Morris who was Karl Rove before we’d heard of Karl Rove. The idea was to have President Clinton position himself deftly between the “liberal” Democrats in Congress and the “radical conservative” Republican controlled congress. In that way, Clinton would seem not too liberal but as the alternative to the Republicans who were bent on turning off Sesame Street.

In other years, Target would be the poster-child for corporate excess and greed in Davis. The Target Corporation has outspent the “Don’t Big-Box Davis” opposition by a large margin. They have tried to convince the Davis electorate that they are “Green” and socially responsible. And they have not looked monstrous because of the campaign tactics of PG&E.

PG&E has spent over $9 million on a campaign to convince the people of Yolo County that however much you hate PG&E, SMUD will be worse. The PG&E counterattack is basically while it’s true that SMUD has been cheaper for ratepayers in Sacramento County and part of Placer County than PG&E is for Yolo customers, for Yolo County, SMUD’s underestimated annexation costs would keep that from being the case here. The proponents of the annexation have countered that SMUD is cheaper, greener, more reliable and locally controlled. But PG&E has controlled the terms of the debate through their enormous and unprecedented resource advantage.

Next to PG&E, Target looks downright green, mundane, and nice. Target can subtly point towards PG&E anytime its tactics are questioned.

It will be interesting to see how this ends up, but in many ways, we could end up with the worst of both worlds. The anti-Big Box campaign may end up being doomed because PG&E out-targeted Target. While the SMUD campaign might end up being doomed because Target for whatever reason is the sexier issue for Davis voters.

Harris suggests that SMUD is of much greater importance than Target. I both agree and disagree with that statement. SMUD would provide Yolo County with greener and more locally controlled energy. It remains to be seen at least in the short-term if that would be cheaper, I would guess immediately they might have to pass on the costs of annexation to the rate payer, but that seems a very short term expense.

However, Target would in many ways change the face of Davis. Harris mentioned we’d still shop in downtown if Target won and still shop in Woodland if it didn’t, but face of Davis would be inalterably changed with the building of a Target. And that’s something that we should not take lightly.

The charge of NIMBYism is a red-herring. Growth is inevitable. The U.S. population is now more than 300 million people, however, that does not mean that we have to grow through the construction of big business and corporate monstrosities. On the contrary, with the inevitable growth, it is incumbent upon cities to be even more meticulous in determining what types of business fits the image of the future of their cities.

When Target uses Chico as an example for what Target can do for us, we should shudder. There is a perfect example of how a city failed to annex land on its periphery and failed to protect its future. There are many other examples of Chico—where the character and nature of the town was altered by poorly planned and managed growth. So while I agree with Mr. Harris that SMUD is very important, I think Mr. Harris underestimates how big an undertaking building a Target is.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting