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NIMBY! San Francisco suburb to use eminent domain to keep out Wal-Mart
May 24, 2006 2:15 PM   Subscribe

Hercules uses eminent domain to keep out Wal-Mart (previously). Fueling the eminent domain fire, now WalMart finds itself on both sides of the debate.
posted by analogue (32 comments total)

 
Much as I like to see WM get bent over this is yet another example of how far out of whack ED is in the US. I can't help but wonder if the city is actually anti ED and just wants a test case with someone with big pockets?
posted by Mitheral at 2:31 PM on May 24, 2006


Eminent Domain has always struck me as a thing that could be too easily exploited by the greedy and selfish. Maybe I am only seeing one side of the issue, but is there truly a public interest in maintaining eminent domain laws?
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:46 PM on May 24, 2006


eminent domain should go back to its original purpose of making poor people move to build freeways for suburban commuters...
posted by troybob at 2:49 PM on May 24, 2006


Some residents and Hercules city officials say the land, which is currently open space, would be better suited for upscale stores that attract affluent shoppers and give the suburb a classy touch.

Boutique stores are now in the public interest?
What a world we live in.
posted by madajb at 2:49 PM on May 24, 2006


Joey Michaels writes "Maybe I am only seeing one side of the issue, but is there truly a public interest in maintaining eminent domain laws?"

Still gotta build roads. Even if we get rid of cars and switch to light rail, we'd have to build tracks. Drainage projects, flood control, sewage projects, power lines.... There are a ton of good reasons for eminent domain.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:50 PM on May 24, 2006


You'd think that Hercules could just throw a trireme onto Walmart, crushing it.

Or something.
posted by selfnoise at 3:01 PM on May 24, 2006 [1 favorite]


but is there truly a public interest in maintaining eminent domain laws?

When you think about it, that's kind of a silly question - ED laws themselves are meant to be exercised only for the public interest. Is there truly a public interest in maintaining laws that are only to be exercised for the public interest? How wonderfully circular.

The real problem is, do we counteract the creeping inflation diluting the defintion of "public interest?" There needs to be a better, much more substantial test of what does and does not constitute "public interest." There are a lot of ways that we can influence the adoption of this test, but the best way IMHO would be to try to influence your state government - Congress has better things to do, and SCOTUS probably isn't going to readdress this issue for some time. If you're really worried about it, try to get your state assemblyman/representative to introduce legislation to restrict the way local governments can invoke ED.

(BTW, I work in pharma, where the phrase 'ED' has a completely different meaning, which makes this whole discussion sophomorically humorous.)
posted by Feral at 3:07 PM on May 24, 2006


There are some legit uses for ED. And if this was about preserving space for community enrichment vis a vis increased high quality green space I'd be all for it. Not sure how I feel about it being used to discriminate one type of shopper over another. There are many reason to be anti-Wal-Mart (which I AM), just seems there would be better ways to handle city development then hauling out ED. Like killing a fly with a shotgun IMO.
posted by edgeways at 3:07 PM on May 24, 2006


I can see ways that ED could be abused but keeping out enormous mega-corps from coming in and destroying what folks there report is a pretty nice life and lifestyle seems to me to be a perfect utilization of the law.

Whatever keeps Wal-Mart from its expansion and homogenization to all corners is a good thing. If ED is the club that is used to beat them into submission then I am okay with that. And I know there are no plans to put a freeway through my living room.
posted by fenriq at 3:17 PM on May 24, 2006


Yeah, right, very important to keep Wal-Mart's homogenization out of Hercules, in favor of unique, small-scale, locally-owned, modestly-priced retailers like Whole Foods, Trader Joe's or Andronico's, and specialty shops like those in Berkeley's swank Fourth Street district that some residents prefer...
posted by twsf at 3:23 PM on May 24, 2006


twsf, I was speaking to the larger issue of keeping Wal-Mart out of everywhere.
posted by fenriq at 3:26 PM on May 24, 2006


Walmart = teh sux
posted by oddman at 3:36 PM on May 24, 2006


Eminent Domain being used for government purposes can be reasonable, if mightily shitty. But taking property throught eminent domain to give it to private enterprise is bullshit.
posted by raedyn at 3:36 PM on May 24, 2006


It's very easy to reconcile resisting Wal-Mart with hapilly inviting other retailers, many of whom offer worse wages and benefits than Wal-Mart. That's because the anti-Wal Mart movement is the about nothing more than the grocery workers unions protecting their turf. Dry goods merchants can't undermine their fat packages, so they've got no problem with them.

I expect it's only going to be a year or two before the anti-Whole Foods movement starts up ... it'll be tougher to get liberal dupes on board, but I would never estimate the determination of the grocery unions or the stupidity of liberals.
posted by MattD at 3:48 PM on May 24, 2006


Unfortunately this often doesn't work. In other locations where land is more available Wal-Mart will just set its store a few feet outside of the jurisdiction of whatever body voted against them. This results in the larger of the governing bodies having to spend money for law enforcement, road maintenance, or whatever without reaping any tax benefits from the store.

The township I used to live in wanted to prevent a Meijer (regional supermarket) from building on a certain area of land. The result was that the land in question was annexed by the nearest city. The stores location is, ironically, directly across the, now major decided 4 lane, road from the township hall.
posted by 517 at 3:56 PM on May 24, 2006


That's because the anti-Wal Mart movement is the about nothing more than the grocery workers unions protecting their turf.

No, it's not. Thus I refute MattD.

I don't shop at Wal-Mart because their stores are dirty madhouses, most of their products are shoddy and, despite popular conception, over-priced, and the ones I've been in smell really bad. Simple as that.
posted by bardic at 3:56 PM on May 24, 2006


"...That's because the anti-Wal Mart movement is the about nothing more than the grocery workers unions protecting their turf. Dry goods merchants can't undermine their fat packages, so they've got no problem with them...it'll be tougher to get liberal dupes on board, but I would never estimate the determination of the grocery unions or the stupidity of liberals.

Yeah the loss leader Chinese imports and multibillion dollar drag on government aid have nothing to do with not wanting a Wal-Mart near you. And god only knows the evil of unions. What are those people thinking when they ask for fair wages.
posted by 517 at 4:00 PM on May 24, 2006


Dry goods merchants can't undermine their fat packages, so they've got no problem with them.

Can someone explain this sentence to me? Who is them? What are "fat packages"?

Thank you.
posted by mullacc at 4:05 PM on May 24, 2006


mullacc writes "What are 'fat packages'?"

If you don't know, you don't want to find out....
posted by mr_roboto at 4:14 PM on May 24, 2006


Trivial zoning changes that cost practically nothing could have been adopted which would have the same effect. Using ED is so fantastically expensive that it does not make sense at all.

What would make sense? Using a smoke-screen of anti-Walmart sentiment to use public moneys to pay above-market rates to politically connected property owners.

This actually happens quite a bit, but the Walmart-as-bogeyman connection is new. Usually it's minority groups that serve as the bogeyman - as in - 'pay me what I want for this property or I'll sell it to blacks - or for use as a mosque - or some such'.
posted by Jos Bleau at 4:15 PM on May 24, 2006


"...pay me what I want..."

That's not how it works. The state tells you what price they are going to pay you. If you don't like the price you have to show evidence and appeal. Commercial property appraisal isn't as neat and clean as residential property appraisal. There may be no other comparables within the country to certain commercial properties.

If you want to make a profit in real estate you don't plan on doing it with eminent domain.
posted by 517 at 4:21 PM on May 24, 2006


"The state tells you what price" - you're right, that's what they do when they need the land for some purpose. AND the land-owners have no political connections.

But they DON'T need the land in this case.

Whatever they want to do, it isn't JUSt keeping Walmart out. They could have kept Walmart for free, compared to what it costs to buy the land via ED. And the legal fees alone may run into the millions, if Walmart contests this vigorously.
posted by Jos Bleau at 4:30 PM on May 24, 2006


There are a ton of good reasons for eminent domain.

Yeah, but there's practically no goddam oversight. It's mostly up to regional planning committee's that are generally composed of land developers, speculators, and people in the pockets of the aforementioned. And they're generally such old-boy networks that there's little chance of changing that.

As land becomes more and more of a commodity in the US, we're going to see a lot more of this kind of ugliness. I can only hope we have sense enough to seriously think about what serves public interest before it's too late.
posted by lumpenprole at 4:35 PM on May 24, 2006


In my childhood in Southern California, Eminent Domain was synonymous with Dodger Stadium. Discuss.
posted by wendell at 4:59 PM on May 24, 2006


mattd: In another post you point out that Walmart et similar need relatively cheap real estate in order to have enough surface and distribution points , so that they can reach the imperative volumes they need to act as a quasi-monopsony.

Yet in this post you point out that one could reconcile expelling Walmart with inviting other megachains, formally more friendly to some union. Wouldn't other megachains suffer the same fate of Walmart in Asia, if the surface cost is such an imperative for big retailers as Carrefour and Walmart ? Why should a chain approach a city in which Walmart was rejected if they work , at least in principle, on the same kind of economy ?
posted by elpapacito at 5:38 PM on May 24, 2006


I expect it's only going to be a year or two before the anti-Whole Foods movement starts up

I don't know about your neck of the woods, but up here, the anti-Whole Foods movement is in full swing.
posted by madajb at 6:00 PM on May 24, 2006


This is racism and classism. The affluent burbclaves don't want Wal-mart there because poor whites, hispanics and blacks will start shopping there. And then, probably, buying houses there.
posted by nyxxxx at 7:45 PM on May 24, 2006


Yeah, right, very important to keep Wal-Mart's homogenization out of Hercules, in favor of unique, small-scale, locally-owned, modestly-priced retailers like Whole Foods, Trader Joe's or Andronico's, and specialty shops like those in Berkeley's swank Fourth Street district that some residents prefer...

Y'know what? Fuck Wal-Mart. Fuck 'em good and long with a rusty cheesegrater.

But feel free to build a Trader Joe's, well, anywhere near me. Hell, I'd be pleased as punch if you built one in my closet or right out my back door or something. It'd probably even have better than average parking for a TJs.

Besides the fact I like the tasty food, snacks and booze, the prices are nice.

And they treat their employees like humans. Every time I go there it's a surreal pleasure, like walking through some wormhole to some far removed Twilight Zone land. People smile. People are polite, even though Trader Joe's locations are often cramped and crowded. The employees are helpful, humorous and obviously not hating their jobs. It's like an oasis of sanity in an increasingly unthinkably insane world.

By comparison, Wal-Mart is starkly different. It's hell on Earth. It's like going to the Welfare office the day before rent is due. The employees are all roving, snappish, mindless, stinkingly broken beasts born straight from the darkest firey maw of hell itself - they hate their jobs, they hate their lives, and they might as well be on welfare for all the good working for Wal-Mart does them.

As documented extensively in lots of places, Wal-Mart is bad for communities, it's bad for America and it's bad for consumers, employees and suppliers alike.

There's a place out here near Phoenix, AZ that has two MegaSuperUltra-Wal-Marts within about 2.5 miles of each other. Guess what? It's practically a ghost town. Small business for miles all around the two stores are gone. They're even having a hard time keeping non-competing small businesses in the shopping centers where these two Wal-Marts are.

Hell yes there's a geniune Public Interest in keeping Wal-Mart out. Wal-Mart is a fucking cancer, a poison, a way of life and a way of doing business that's terribly shortsighted, greedy and even outright malicious.
posted by loquacious at 7:49 PM on May 24, 2006


This is racism and classism. The affluent burbclaves don't want Wal-mart there because poor whites, hispanics and blacks will start shopping there. And then, probably, buying houses there.

So, what you're saying is that Wal-Mart drives down property values?
posted by loquacious at 7:50 PM on May 24, 2006


Trivial zoning changes that cost practically nothing could have been adopted which would have the same effect. Using ED is so fantastically expensive that it does not make sense at all.

I was thinking the same thing. I don't know much about zoning codes, but couldn't they, for example, simply have proposed that all new commercial developments along the waterfront be limited to a specified (modest) size, so as to encourage local and independent business and discourage the seventeen-acre big box stores? Seems to me it would encourage economic and aesthetic diversity, making for a more vibrant and visually interesting neighborhood, all without having to engage in the dubious business of seizing land for the use of private business.

On a side note, I'm a little sad that the residents describing what they'd prefer instead, they could name only other, less obnoxious corporate stores. I miss commercial enterprises with individual character.
posted by bcveen at 8:07 PM on May 24, 2006


"eminent domain should go back to its original purpose of making poor people move to build freeways for suburban commuters..."

If that actually worked, Hwy 880 would be like 20 lanes wide by now. :-)

And this decision was.. eh, kind of iffy:

"The city contends Wal-Mart's plan to build a discount store does not fit with its plans to develop the waterfront into a pedestrian-oriented village with high-end shops and homes."

Basically they're saying that Wal-Mart is too lowbrow for their area. *turns up his nose* And instead of one chain, they simply want another chain to build there.

And loq: "The employees are all roving, snappish, mindless, stinkingly broken beasts born straight from the darkest firey maw of hell itself" = classic line. May I steal it? ;-)
posted by drstein at 8:37 PM on May 24, 2006


Using a smoke-screen of anti-Walmart sentiment to use public moneys to pay above-market rates to politically connected property owners.

yep ... that's exactly how small towns and cities work ... not to mention that the owners of said boutiques and whatever are likely to be local and politically connected, too

it's not that common that a local chamber of commerce wins against a megacorporation ... but it can happen

it's not a question of the "people" against big money ... it's smaller money against big money and fuck the "people"
posted by pyramid termite at 8:57 PM on May 24, 2006


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