Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Mayor Gray to Walmart: It's Skyland or nothing

Mayor Gray had a face-to-face meeting with Walmart execs yesterday at the RECon commercial real estate conference in Las Vegas. Jonathan O'Connell reports that Gray issued Walmart an ultimatum: include a Walmart store in the upcoming development at the Skyland shopping center in Ward 7, or else forget about the plans to open at any other District locations...including Ward 4.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Next Ward 4 Thrives Community Meeting

Mark your calendars for our next Ward 4 Thrives Community Meeting on June 1st, 6:30pm, at the Fort Stevens Rec Center. We've been busy since the Office of Planning put developer Foulger-Pratt's Large Tract Review on hold. Please join us for updates and ways you can get involved to continue putting pressure on our city officials and the developer!

What: Ward 4 Thrives Community Meetting
When: June 1st, Wednesday at 6:30pm
Where: Fort Stevens Rec Center
1327 Van Buren ST, NW
(b/w 13th and 14th St)

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Now Hiring: Walmart seeks Director of Labor Relations to maintain a ‘union-free workplace’

Via Think Progress, we learn that Walmart is seeking a Director of Labor Relations.

Under the Position Description are the following tasks:
  • Advises HR and Operations leadership in positive employee relations practices that support continued union-free workplace and business mission in a complex labor environment.

  • Leads company response to local and market organizing campaigns.

  • Assess vulnerability to union messaging in market.

Fluency in Spanish is an "additional preferred qualification".

Monday, May 9, 2011

Washington Post: In Chicago, Walmart was a wash for workers

The Washington Post ran a piece authored by David Merriman and Joseph J. Persky, professors of public administration and economics, respectively, at the University of Illinois at Chicago, about the effects that Walmart has had on Chicago, and the findings aren't encouraging. The entire article is reprinted here, and I've bolded the passages that are of particular interest.

Wal-Mart is working to expand beyond its traditional rural and suburban locations to urban sites in Chicago, New York and the District, and its efforts have provoked intense and emotional responses. To some people, Wal-Mart symbolizes corporate exploitation, greed and cultural homogenization. To others, it represents value, convenience and efficiency. While the symbolic importance of our retail choices is undeniable, public policy decisions that facilitate or hinder Wal-Mart’s expansion should be based on rational, evidence-based discussions. What would a new Wal-Mart mean for local businesses? Will it create retail jobs? What impact can it be expected to have on retail sales? One Chicago community’s experience may provide insight as Wal-Mart contemplates opening four stores in Washington.

We worked with researchers from a number of academic institutions to study the impact of Wal-Mart’s first store in a major American city. In the fall of 2006, a new Wal-Mart opened on the northwest side of Chicago. We gathered baseline data before Wal-Mart’s opening and tracked retail activities over the following two years.

In our initial survey, we identified 306 businesses within four miles of Wal-Mart that sold competing goods. Two years later, 82 of those businesses had closed.
We found that businesses closer to Wal-Mart were significantly more likely to close than similar businesses farther away. Although we won’t go so far as to blame the closures on Wal-Mart, our evidence suggests that the new store hastened the decline of some of its competitors.

We also asked businesses about the number of employees they had and the wages and benefits they offered, and we collected information such as the residence, gender and race and ethnicity of the owners. We found that many of the retail outlets were small and were owned by women and minorities who lived in Chicago.

Based on the disproportionate number of business closures close to Wal-Mart, we concluded that, after two years, the number of jobs lost by Wal-Mart’s nearby retail competitors essentially offset the number of jobs created at the new Wal-Mart. With this data, we were not able to directly study Wal-Mart’s impact on new businesses, but Wal-Mart may also have influenced new business openings. The affected competitors had offered relatively limited benefits and offered wages only slightly above the minimum wage. Thus, the wages and benefits of the lost jobs were probably quite similar to the wages and benefits at the new Wal-Mart. From the point of view of workers, Wal-Mart’s opening was close to a wash.

We also examined retail sales data assembled by the state of Illinois, which does account for both new and existing businesses. We found that the opening of the Wal-Mart store had no measurable impact on total retail sales in its immediate neighborhood. This suggests that Wal-Mart’s sales simply offset sales from its competitors.

Of course, our study was confined to a single Wal-Mart store in a single Chicago neighborhood at a particular point in time. But the basic results were consistent with economic theory and the findings of many other studies of the retail industry. Retail employment and sales are largely driven by neighborhood population and incomes and are not greatly affected by new retail developments such as Wal-Mart. Of course, a neighborhood’s retail characteristics can influence which competitors lose out when a store opens. The Chicago neighborhood we studied had a dense network of stores before Wal-Mart arrived, and many of these stores appeared to lose sales to Wal-Mart. Job loss might be less concentrated geographically in a place where competition is more sparse, as the proposed D.C. Wal-Mart sites are reported to be.

In considering whether to encourage or oppose Wal-Mart’s entry into the District, our results suggest that job creation should not be an overriding factor. Consumers who shop at Wal-Mart certainly feel they benefit from its availability. However, others may feel that a highly profitable national retailer could adopt more generous labor standards and make a serious effort to preserve neighborhood identity. An open and vigorous debate about these trade-offs is worth having.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Walmart's mailer to DC residents: it's as if they're conducting an ill-fated political campaign

[Cross-posted at The Brightwoodian.]

Walmart is feeling a little wobbly about the chances that the four sites that they've chosen for stores in the District will actually become realities, and here's proof. Yesterday, the mailer you see here was received in mailboxes all across the city. You're looking at the "Ward 4 edition" right now; the version that was sent to parts of the city that don't contain potential Walmart sites received different versions (i.e., the headline on the one I saw that was sent to Ward 3 residents proclaims "Walmart's new DC stores will create 1,200 jobs", rather than the Ward 4-specific language you see above). The piece looks very similar to the kind of literature we're used to receiving from candidates during campaign seasons, complete with a disclaimer notice ("Paid for by Walmart Stores, Inc.").

The "73%" statistic is a reference to a telephone poll that Walmart conducted in the fall of 2010, just before they announced their intentions to move into the District. At community meetings, Walmart representatives have repeatedly referred back to the results of the telephone poll. I was not one of the 800 people surveyed, but I've spoken with a few people who were and I've been told that the questions asked were posed more circuitously than "Do you want a Walmart in your neighborhood, yes or no?" (I have yet to obtain a copy of the actual questions that were asked.)

The mailer's interior again emphasizes that Walmart will create new jobs (though they neglect to mention that they're also likely to take jobs away, as small businesses in the surrounding neighborhoods struggle to survive in Walmart's shadow).

"Access to healthy food" is also emphasized here. But as we've learned from the USDA's recently uploaded online tool, Ward 4 is actually not considered a food desert at all. Richard Layman has also taken note of this. From Layman's post:

WRT Brightwood, considering that there is a below average Safeway at Petworth but the store is going to be upgraded to be roughly comparable to the City Vista store, plus the store at Piney Branch Road, plus the Giant Supermarket at Eastern Ave. and Riggs Road just across the border in Maryland, plus the proposed Safeway at Riggs Road and South Dakota Avenue as part of the Cafritz project, plus the Safeway on Connecticut Ave. in Chevy Chase, not to mention the Yes Grocery, I think it would be hard to say that people are underserved...

I found a mapping tool, and started mapping 3 mile retail trade areas from a handful of supermarkets that serve Brightwood: Safeway in Petworth, Safeway at Piney Branch Road, Safeway in SW DC, Safeway in Chevy Chase, the Yes Grocery on Georgia Ave. NW, the PanAm Market at Michigan and Eastern Avenues, the Giant Supermarket on the DC-Maryland border at Eastern Avenue and Riggs Road in Prince George's County. But since so much of the city was covered just with these stores, I decided to start over.

I changed the radius to 1.5 miles from the store location. It doesn't include the proposed Safeway location on Riggs Road NE or the proposed Walmart on Georgia Avenue NW or New York Avenue NE. It doesn't include the PanAm store on 14th Street NW, or independent supermarkets in Mt. Pleasant, nor Florida Market. A lot of stores aren't listed.

I'm not saying that I don't think Ward 4 could use more food options than it currently has, just that Walmart's avowals that they're rescuing us from the bowels of food-desertism are rather baseless.

Of course the mailer mentions nothing about the true folly: that it's becoming more and more apparent that the site, near the intersection of Georgia and Missouri Avenues, can't realistically support the proposed development without having a serious adverse affect on traffic, pedestrian safety, and quality of life in the surrounding residential area.

The best part by far is this tear-off response card (which requires a stamp, as postage will not be paid by the addressee; how...presumptuous). The first item that citizens are asked to check reads: "I would like more information on the efforts to bring Walmart to DC" (emphasis mine). Efforts? I didn't realize Walmart felt that they were fighting such an uphill battle; which I suppose is a good thing, as it means that the groups that have been advocating for smart development at the Curtis Chevrolet site are making a difference. The next item reads: "I would like to sign a petition supporting Walmart coming to DC" (again, emphasis mine). I've no doubt that we'll see Walmart's "community action" reps roving the streets of Ward 4 trying to obtain our signatures in an effort to show our elected officials exactly how much they're wanted/needed. The third item is a call to increase the size of their community action network: "I would like to get involved in the efforts to bring Walmart to DC". Yes, Walmart is attempting to bolster a "grassroots" effort on their own behalf.

I would prefer it if the company would directly address the issues that it knows it's dealing with at its proposed Ward 4 site. In February, we (myself and a small group of neighbors) met with Victor Hoskins, the deputy mayor for economic development. We drew him a map of the proposed site, the surrounding streets and current traffic patterns, the six schools that are within a three-block radius of the site (yes, you read that right, six schools within a three-block radius...and five of them are elementary schools), the proximity of the Fourth District Police Headquarters building, and the proposed location of the loading dock off of Missouri Avenue (and how the 18-wheelers will turn from narrow, two-lanes-in-each-direction Missouri Avenue into the loading dock area). Hoskins sat back, looked at the drawing, and said that it looked like a total mess to him, and that if it's really as bad as the drawing made it look, there was a good chance that the project wouldn't pass a traffic study.

We're seeing now that Hoskins was onto something. Yet Walmart still refuses to acknowledge that. They want this deal to go through that badly.

View Larger Map
The section of Missouri Avenue that will soon be the site of a loading dock entry, if Walmart gets its way.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Ward 4 Thrives meeting: Friday, May 6, 6:30 pm, 4D HQ (6001 GA Ave. NW)

Given the recent news that DDOT has recommended that the Large Tract Review for the proposed Walmart in Ward 4 be put on hold, there's much plotting and planning to do! Please join us tomorrow, May 6th, to discuss ways to pressure the developer into altering the proposal, and how to make sure our city representatives don't capitulate!

When: May 6th, Friday at 6:30pm
Where: Fourth District Police HQ Community Room, 6001 Georgia Ave
(b/w Peabody and Quackenbos)

ANC 4A unanimously opposes LTR as currently submitted

A report from Tuesday night's ANC4A meeting, from Michele Baskin:

I made it out to the ANC4A mtg at Fort Stevens Rec Center on Tuesday night where Wal-Mart's LTR submission was on the agenda. It was really unclear what the commissioners would choose to do since DDOT released their letter earlier in the day noting problems with the LTR and requesting a hold on approval.

All commissioners were present but very few community members. About 3/4 the way through the meeting, Muriel Bowser made an appearance.

The commissioners were originally going to vote on the comments from the ANC either in support of or opposition to the LTR plan. It was suggested that they postpone the vote in light of DDOT's letter. Dave Wilson, the commissioner tasked with creating the ANC's comments, suggested that they go ahead and vote on the LTR as is, in case the window for submitting comments did close as scheduled on May 30th. He also stated that the concerns brought up by DDOT were the same concerns he was bringing up in comments, making the DDOT letter in support of the ANC's proposed comments. After much wrangling around process, a very lengthy motion was crafted (I am still trying to get the exact working from Wilson or Whatley) that stated that ANC4A was in opposition to Wal-Mart's LTR as written but that this would be suspended if Wal-Mart submitted a new LTR in response to DDOT's letter or if the comment period was extended to June 30th at the earliest, at which point any new submissions by Wal-Mart would be reviewed and a new motion submitted. There was a lot more legalese, but basically this was a vote to oppose the LTR as currently submitted. The vote was 8-0 to oppose the LTR by Wal-Mart.

So let me repeat, ANC4A is on the record as opposing the current Wal-Mart LTR in a unanimous fashion.

The commissioners also took up a separate motion concerning a community benefits agreement. There was much discussion about the reality of enforceability and the fact that Wal-Mart has never signed one of these. There was also concern that it would be problematic to have each ANC in the city craft their own CBA or list of demands. I suggested that the ANC take a look at the draft from Respect DC, our fellow coalition members, and it was agreed that they would table any CBA motions until Respect DC's proposal was read.

Bowser suggested that the ANC need not worry about a CBA because she and her fellow councilmembers would take care of it. She seems to think that she can leverage LTR approval and building permit issuance to get favorable terms and a binding agreement on a CBA. So let's be on the look out for that mess.

There was much mention of the upcoming ANC4B meetings and people were directed to next week's meeting to receive more information around the Wal-Mart issue.

The next ANC 4B meeting regarding Walmart will be held on Thursday, May 12, at Emory Methodist Church, 7100 Georgia Avenue NW, 7-9 pm.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Office of Planning says traffic study for proposed Ward 4 Walmart site is seriously flawed, Large Tract Review process put on hold


Summary from ANC Sara Green: "Bottom Line: Walmart did not provide traffic/transportation data for 7 out of 10 categories DDoT asked for (during December 2010 meetings). Therefore the city cannot approve the project at this time."

OP Walmart Document

USDA: There are no food deserts in Ward 4

The parts of the District that are recognized as "food deserts" by the USDA are highlighted in pink in the map above.

This was called to our attention by sagacious Ward 4 resident Michele Baskin. She says:

So you know how Wal-Mart is claiming that they are coming to the rescue of "food deserts" in DC? Well this is a link to a map produced by the USDA of food deserts in the US. Type in your address and it will zoom in on DC. And low and behold, what do you see? No food deserts in Ward 4, that's what you see! There are some pockets in Wards 5, 7, and 8, but nothing near us. We can now confidently say that according to the USDA, there is no food desert crisis here that needs to be fixed by a Wal-Mart.

A screenshot of the whole city is above; if you'd like to look at the map more closely you can do so here.