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Saturday, October 21, 2006

Targeting the Anti-Target Crowd

Bob Dunning, earlier this week, as only he can, derided those who suggested we should boycott business supporting the “No on K” campaign.
Whether this is a lifetime boycott or simply on Friday afternoons during the fall is unclear, but boycotting merchants who have taken a public stand on a political issue is a wrongheaded and distinctly un-Davis thing to do … we're not dealing here with folks who support apartheid in South Africa or suppression of third world workers … we're not even dealing with folks who root for Sac State … no, we're talking about a number of merchants who fear for their very lives and who have — in a fit of self-interest — declared their opposition to competition of any kind …
That’s about as back-handed a derision as you could get. Of course, in many ways, Dunning helped foster this kind of contempt. In his June 25, 2006 column Dunning labeled Downtown businesses as “SELFISH.” Ostensibly, that stands for “Sellers Expecting Lifelong Fidelity In Sacred Hometown”—in reality he’s just calling them selfish and trying to be clever about it.

Dunning stokes the fire and then jumps in as the voice of reason. This is hardly a surprise to anyone who has watched Bob Dunning operate.

As Lori Rumsey, owner of Mother & Baby Source demonstrates in her letter yesterday—just because she doesn’t have an anti-Target sign in her store window, does not mean that she doesn’t oppose Target.

And here’s what people who are supporting Target do not get. As she explains—about half of her store inventory is also carried by Target. But because she does not buy in bulk quantities, she does not get a discounted rate of purchase. Because she does not receive those cost reductions, she cannot compete with Target’s prices.

With that in mind, even Dunning’s opposition to the boycott contains inaccurate innuendos. He says that the merchants have “declared their opposition to competition of any kind”—in fact, as Rumsey demonstrates rather clearly, what they oppose is unfair competition. Target is not on a level playing field from them. They have two fundamental advantages—they buy in bulk—thus they can sell their products for a cheaper price than a small business. And second, they can undersell their competition, making smaller profit over the short-term in order to drive out competition from small businesses. This happens all over the country and it explains why you see the same chain and big box retail stores across the country and very few family run businesses are able to compete.

They don’t fear competition they fear annihilation by a big, faceless corporate entity. If they had fair competition, then I suspect, they’d say “bring it on.” However, this is a tilted table and they know it. Why doesn’t Dunning seem to despite his expressed neutrality to the Target issue?

Craig Mohar writes in the Davis Enterprise last night:
Until the city of Davis has the retail shopping opportunities many residents want, Davis residents will continue to drive out of town to spend their money.
This is the argument that is most frequently cited by supporters of Target. The problem is that Target is but one store. Do we do all of our out-of-town shopping at Target? No. So either, you have a partial solution in the building of Target or you are really laying the groundwork to bring in more of this type of retail. And at the end of the day, I think that’s EXACTLY what the developers have in mind.

Mohar also writes:
The proposed Target store is going to be a very nicely designed building that will be the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified building in Davis and will include landscaping with more than 250 trees and plants.
I’ll give Mr. Mohar this—he has his talking points down. It was almost as though he wrote his letter right from the template. Here’s the problem with his argument however—unless you are a true NIMBY this argument makes no sense. Target is not an environmentally friendly corporation on a global level as we showed in our blog entry last Sunday. Target is anything BUT an environmentally friend corporation in fact. So the only way this argument can at all be compelling is if you only care about the environment in Davis but care nothing about the overall global environment. It’s nice subterfuge, but it misses the larger point.

The Davis City Council and planners knew they could never get a Wal Mart approved by the voters or accepted by the community. However, at the end of the day, Target is exactly the same as Wal Mart except that they’ve been able to foster a better reputation. That’s it. The same practices you hate from Wal Mart are practiced on a daily business by the Target Corporation.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

PG&E's Dirty Campaign

The sentiment of many people I have talked to or received email from was basically that they supported SMUD over PG&E, but it was not an issue that they were passionate about. I guess I just can't get passionate about my electricity the way I do about a police officer violating someone's rights. One makes my blood boil, the other reminds me that I need to go see my accountant.

The People's Vanguard of Davis blog has been up since the end of July and yet the first article I wrote on Measure H & I was on October 11 when I noted that PG&E had spent over $9 million on the campaign against H & I. I've been around politics long enough that I knew PG&E would bring everything they had against this, but I never imagined $9 million, and frankly I looked at another figure--the endorsers of Measure H & I.

This all you really need to see:
Yolo County Supervisor Duane Chamberlain
Yolo County Supervisor Mike McGowan
Yolo County Supervisor Frank Sieferman
Yolo County Supervisor Helen Thomson
Yolo County Supervisor Mariko Yamada
Davis Mayor Ruth Asmundson
Davis City Council Member Sue Greenwald
Davis City Council Member Ted Puntillo
Davis City Council Member Don Saylor
Davis City Council Member Stephen Souza
And you can add newly elected Davis City Council Member Lamar Heystek to that list, not to mention an equally impressive list from West Sacramento and Woodland. You would be hard-pressed to find an elected official in Yolo County supporting PG&E, which is why Pollack a former County Supervisor is given such a prominent role with the PG&E side.

When do these guys agree on anything? And yet they are all supporters of SMUD (at least in name).

I'm a believer that with local candidates and local iniatives it is all about endorsements. Because people pay limited attention to these issues, if they see a person they normally like or are aligned with, they will tend to support it. And when you see Sue Greenwald and Don Saylor agreeing on something, you figure you have the gamut covered. I figured PG&E would outspend SMUD and the local officials, but it would be hard to get past the endorsements.

I've written more about this recently because I believe PG&E is running a deceptive and misleading campaign (shocking I know). They have attacked SMUD on their strengths--claiming that they overstate the savings that individuals will get from the switch while at the same time making the claim that they are more environmental friendly than SMUD.

They then take up the "No on Measure X" mantle by claiming it's not easy being green (see yesterday's entry for the picture). Legal analysts who have evaluated the misleading and unauthorized used of the "No on Measure X" concur that PG&E has in fact committed an actionable misuse of campaign logos. Unfortunately, PG&E is particularly vicious when they are litigated against, and will attack the litigants with a counter-suit--at the very least sapping the resources of the litigants and in some cases actually prevailing.

Folks, PG&E is a particularly vicious company that does not want their domain encroached upon. I know a lot of people are starting to see that they have underestimated the importance of this issue. Hopefully it is not too late to prevent PG&E from prevailing in H & I.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Friday, October 20, 2006

PG&E Who are you trying to fool?

Someone actually warned me that this was coming in the mail, and it's probably the only thing that saved me from dropping dead, because I've seen a lot of things in my time (and my time has not been that long), and yet, I really don't have good words to describe this. Recall back to last year when a bunch of developers supporting Measure X gathered around and sung "We Shall Overcome." That's the kind of moment that this campaign brochure evokes when you see it.

When I was growing up, PG&E built a nuclear powerplant in my backyard on an earthquake fault. Now PG&E claims to be green and suggests that it is not easy being green (cue up Kermit). And evokes the image of the "No on Measure X" as an argument to support PG&E. This is almost like shooting fish in a barrel. If I'm Dick Livingston, I'm suing.

YES ON K TV ADs and Rich Rifkin

I have to laugh everytime I see the "Yes on K" TV ADs and there is Ted Puntillo trying to sell us on Target. And at some point he talks about how he would like to do all his shopping in Davis and not have to go to Woodland and Sacramento. Do people see through this stuff? First of all, has Ted Puntillo ever gone to Target in his life? Second, even if he has, does all his shopping out of town entail going to Target? It's amazing suddenly if we have a Target in Davis we go from not being able to buy socks and underwear, to never having to shop out of town again. Wow! Target is not just a superstore, it's a miracle worker. And good grief--the very same people who are selling us on Target are the very same people who would never ever shop at Target.

And then you have Rich Rifkin. I will never forgive or forget Rich Rifkin who ripped the HRC for having too many periods in their report on racial profiling. It was embarrassing that the Davis Enterprise gave space to that drivel.

He may have topped that on Wednesday.
"I wouldn't suggest that all members of FETID are stinky, malodorous and in need of a bath. But if you get close enough, you'll find that most FETID don't buy deodorant or soap or undergarments. They never shop at Target. They despise "big box." They are enraged by the idea that the rest of the people in our fair city might actually want a store in town that sells ordinary consumer goods at a decent price, because FETID apparently aren't keen to be clean."
Darn it, he's found me out. He must have read my last blog entry and figured I was on a mission to deprive people of socks and underwear. That I even need to dignify this crap with a response is flat out insulting to me and you. So I'll just leave it up for posterity.

I guess a couple of "substantive" arguments need rebuttal.
"The planners exclaim, "It's four times larger than the permitted store size in the General Plan." That's true, too. It is a big store. But it's a ruse to lean on the General Plan to argue against Target. The General Plan was designed by the people of Davis to serve the needs of the people of Davis. The people, then, have every right to change their General Plan, if it is not serving their needs. That is why we are voting on this question."
Actually the General Plan was designed to protect us from large developments that might harm the character of the city. It was designed specifically to prevent this kind of growth. Now he's correct that people have the right to change the General Plan, but the opponents have the right to remind people that we have the General Plan for a reason.
Let me repeat what Paul Navazio, the finance director for the city of Davis, told me a few months ago: Target will generate $659,000 in new net revenues for our city government. That's a lot of cash. That money's now going to Woodland, Vacaville, West Sacramento and other surrounding cities.
I love this one--oh, he told you that Target will generate $659,000--that must make it so. In a previous blog entry, we cast doubt on that figure. Regardless, that figure is based on a comparison to an empty field rather than a comparison to an alternative development project there that doesn't involve a big-box corporation.
Unlike the geniuses on our Planning Commission, I think most people in Davis would like our city government to keep our sales tax monies. If we vote against Target, we know for certain that the city of Davis will lose $659,000 a year.
Now he insults the Planning Commission. This is flat-out insulting to the Planning Commission and the residents of Davis. They certainly spent a lot more time and energy researching this than he has. If he wants to disagree with them, fine. But be a little respectful of people who volunteer their time and energy.

That's perhaps the biggest beef I have with Rifkin--his irreverence. This type of column backfires because people in Davis are not stupid. They read this stuff as mean-spirited and over-the-top. It's not worth the paper it's written on.

Let's have an honest debate on Target and the future of the city. This is just a bunch of insults wrapped in psuedo-satire. The people of Davis deserve better than that.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Davis Chamber of Commerce Attribution on Sample Ballot Unauthorized

Thanks to a tip, The People's Vanguard of Davis has learned that Bruce Gallaudet, a board member of the Davis Chamber of Commerce and husband of Davis Enterprise Editor Debbie Davis, signed the "Argument Against Measure H" and also the "Rebuttal to Argument in Favor of Measure H."

According to reliable sources, the Chamber has not taken a position on Measures H & I, which would authorize the Yolo County takeover of electrical services by SMUD replacing PG&E. Moreover, Gallaudet was not authorized by the Chamber to use its name as his attribution. This of course creates the mistaken perception that the Davis Chamber of Commerce opposes Measure H.

(Click on the image to the left for the full sized version)

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Assessing the New Human Relations Commission

It's been a week since the Human Relations Commission met for the first time since council dissolved the former group. There have been many charges levied toward the group and there have been many changes designed to prevent what happened last year from happening again. Many in the public feel that the previous Human Relations Commission overstepped their authority.

Councilmember Stephen Souza would agree with that take. In the Davis Enterprise last Friday:
Council member Stephen Souza stressed to new commissioners that their job is to work to bring community members together through education, not by investigating alleged cases of discrimination. "Your role is to educate, not to adjudicate," Souza said.
In Monday's blog entry however, we saw that in fact, according to the Davis Anti-Discrimination ordinance, the Human Relations Commission's role was to do both. The Ordinance authorizes the HRC to "investigate and mediate" complaints of violations of the Davis Anti-Discrimination ordinance. When Jamal Buzayan came before the Commission last summer and complained that the Davis Police Department violated his daughter's rights, the commission was fully within their authority to investigate his complaint and make recommendations to the City Council to address the problems that they found. They did so in their final report on February 21, 2006.

Now the council wants to essentially do away with the power that the ordinance grants the Human Relations Commission.

The California Aggie yesterday ran an article on the new Human Relations Commission. In it they quote John Pamperin, a longtime member of the commission.
"As we progressed in dealing with the political issues I felt some of our constructiveness got caught up in the campaigns for City Council and district attorney," Pamperin said. "It makes it difficult to look at the civil rights concerns when the issues are one candidate's or another's."
Unfortunately, the Aggie does not attempt to contact any of the former members to respond to this article. Nor does the Aggie respond to inquiries from this blog as to why they presented such a one-sided view of things. The quote from Pamperin is accurate, but it is also misleading. The politicizing of the process as Pamperin puts it came after the City Council rebuffed the HRC's attempts to forge a solution within the process. Moreover, it came after threats from the council following a February 7, 2006 meeting to examine the membership of the HRC and possibly make changes to it at that point. While the council would not act until late June to finally disband the commission, the atmosphere was poisoned and the membership within the HRC realized that working with this current City Council was impossible. Even then, the politicizing of the process came from outside of the HRC meetings and only by members of the HRC as private citizens.

Looking ahead

The City Council may have disbanded the former HRC and filled it with new members that it probably hopes will be closer to their own viewpoints, the problems that erupted last spring will not go away. In many ways, the police issue itself which served as the flashpoint for dissension, is only the tip of the iceberg of larger problems that have been ongoing within this community for over 20 years. Indeed past members of the HRC going back to 1986 have noted that the police issue is not new, it came up in the mid 1980s, it came up in the early 1990s, and it has come up again, because no one has done anything about it. If there is one small victory for the past HRC, it is that they forced City Council to start to address the problem of police oversight.

While the Council did not implement the recommended policy of the HRC, they did hire a police ombudsman who for the first time offers independent eyes to investigate the police. Unfortunately, at the same time, the council has made the process less rather than more transparent. There is no public body aside from the council themselves, with the power or authority to listen and act on public complaints about the police. There is no public body that can handle and discuss publicly police issues and complaints.

Furthermore, there is a huge divide within our community on the issue of race. Again, the police issue serves as an illustrater of this divide. When the issue of police came up last spring, the vast majority of people in Davis came out in support of the police--even liberals and progressives. Why? Because most people in Davis have had positive dealings with the police and rely on the police to protect their property and persons from harm. However, there is a sizeable segment of the population--African-Americans, Hispanics, Muslim-Americans and others that have had very different relations with the police department. It is here, where the complaints about not only racial profiling but also violations of civil liberties and rights have emanated from.

The role of the Human Relations Commission needs to be to bridge that gap between white and brown, white and black, so that they can work together to solve these kinds of problems. Unfortunately, this may be the one job that the new Human Relations Commission is least capable of doing.

At Tuesday's City Council Meeting, Stephen Souza praised the new Human Relations Commission as a "very diverse group of people." Unfortunately, I think that assessment is wrong. The Davis Human Relations Commission has traditionally been the most diverse group in the city. On the last commission, there were five or six different ethnicities on the commission, and in fact, it was a minority-majority group. That is no longer true. It is now a largely white body.

Why? Unfortunately, people of color did not apply to the commission. This fact will unfortunately hinder the commission's ability to bring diverse groups together. Many in the minority community were outraged that the commission that advocated on their behalf was disbanded. There was a fundamental distrust of the City Council and City Government to begin with and that has been exacerbated by the disbanding of the past commission.

Moreover, the problems faced by those in the minority community as not always readily apparent to the rest of the city. I'll use myself as an example because if I did not follow the Human Relations Commission and get to know people who were coming forward with complaints against the police, I would never have known there was a problem in this city. I've never been pulled over by the police or had any sort of negative interaction with them. It is only through my acquaintances and friends that I have learned of the true nature of what is going on in our otherwise great city.

Without first hand knowledge and without community trust, the task ahead for the HRC appears doomed. The new chair John Dixon and much of the membership are people of good intentions. But at least right now, none of them seem to have the fire and drive of the former chair to make the kinds of changes that are needed. The minority community lost a great friend when the HRC was disbanded. The progressive community now needs to come together to ensure that this type of thing never happens again.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

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

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Davis Chamber of Commerce is Neutral on Target “After” they Supported It

Forgive me, as a Bush-hater I don’t like to use this reference, but after reading Sherry Puntillo’s response to a criticism of the Davis Chamber of Commerce, I had myself a John Kerry Flashback. (Recall that Kerry in the 2004 Election defended his vote against funding the war in Iraq by clumsily stating: “I actually did vote for the 87 billion dollars before I voted against it.”)

Don Shor wrote a letter to the editor criticizing the Davis Chamber of Commerce for their position on Target.
I have always appreciated the excellent service that Chamber staff provides. I have been a member of the Chamber nearly every year since 1981. But I regret that I will not be renewing my membership now, or likely in the future, because of the Chamber's position on the Second Street Crossing (Target) project… It is bad enough that the Chamber chose to take a position on Second Street Crossing at all. A neutral position would have been more appropriate. But for me, the final straw was when two Chamber representatives spoke in favor of Target at the June City Council meeting. This public support was directly harmful to the interests of many Chamber members.

Debbie Davis then gives her close friend Sherry Puntillo (didn’t we just criticize this in Sunday’s Entry?) the unusual opportunity to respond:

* Editor's note: Chamber CEO Sherry Puntillo clarifies, "When the Davis Chamber of Commerce's position regarding the proposed Second Street Crossing was presented to the Davis City Council, it was in the context of a pending council decision on the project. However, with the council's decision to place the issue on the ballot, the Chamber board decided to take a neutral position on the project."

Yes thank you Mrs. Puntillo for clarifying that—so what you are saying is that you were for Target before you were neutral on it? Yes, that sets everything straight. I’m crystal clear on the chamber position now.

Can someone please explain to me why the Chamber could/ would support the Second Street Crossing when it was a council decision but take no position on it as a ballot measure? That makes absolutely no sense to me.

While I’m at it, it strikes me as very odd that Sherry Puntillo is allowed to respond to this criticism in the same issue, immediately below Mr. Shor’s letter. Of course, it is probably no coincidence that Debbie Davis, Editor of the Davis Enterprise is also a member of the Chamber’s board and furthermore is the very “bestest” friend of one Sherry Puntillo. No, I’m certain that there must be a coincidence because otherwise that might appear to be unethical. I do not recall other members of the public being given a courtesy call and allowed to “clarify” when someone writes a letter to the editor of criticism.

You know I’m sure if someone were to say, criticize the former Chair of the Davis Human Relations Commission inaccurately, Debbie would call up Ms. Escamilla Greenwald and allow her to clarify her actions and position. Oh wait, that didn’t happen.

It is pretty clear who Debbie Davis panders to. Fortunately for us, Puntillo’s clarification makes about as much sense as John Kerry’s and we all know what happened to John Kerry.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Monday, October 16, 2006


Those who only read about the Davis Human Relations Meeting in the newspaper last week may have missed the big story buried under the lead.
"[T]he commission has been charged with reviewing the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance, created in 1986. Dixon appointed a subcommittee to look at the ordinance to see if any changes are necessary."
The article does not mention why they are reviewing the city's seminal ordinance that incorporates one of the most sweeping anti-discrimination laws in the nation into the Davis Municipal code.

At issue is Section 7A-15(C):
"Any person who believes he or she has been discriminated against in violation of the provisions of this ordinance may file a request to have the Human Relations Commission investigate and mediate his or her complaint. The Commission may adopt rules of procedure to accomodate the needs of such investigation mediation. A complaint to the Commission shall not be a prerequisite to filing a civil action under this section, and the findings and conclusions of the commission issued in response to such proceedings shall not be admissable in a civil action."
Councilmember Lamar Heystek brought this section of the anti-discrimination code to the attention of the HRC and Councilmember Souza (a former chair of the HRC himself) who recently helped re-write the commission's charge, was completely unaware of this section of the city's Anti-discrimination Ordinance. The commission sub-committee is charged with determining whether the city council should alter the anti-discrimination ordinance adopted into law by the City Council on Feberary 26, 1986 and approved by Nichols-Poulos, Rosenberg, Tomasi and Mayor Ann M. Evans and opposed by Jerry Adler.

Now recent history of the HRC begs the question--why was the City Council seemingly completely unaware of this section of the ordinance? This is not a mere academic question, one of the reasons that the City Council disbanded the HRC in June was the claim that they overstepped their bounds. When in fact, according to the Anti-discrimination Ordinance, the former HRC not only had the authority but were in fact mandated to investigate the charges of racial bias in the police department by members of the public. Far from exceeding their authority, they were acting within the direct letter of the law. And for doing that, they were disbanded.

The more pressing question now is will the HRC recommend to abrogate their own authority and duties that are authorized under the Davis Anti-Discrimination Ordinance? And will this community allow the City Council to weaken perhaps the most seminal piece of legislation in our city's municipal code?

---Doug Paul Davis Reporting

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