I was at the March 11 City Council meeting in Atascadero and would like to respond to Tom Comar's speech on the proposed Wal-Mart. Mr. Comar states that a Wal-Mart will devastate the community. I went on to listen to the reasons Wal-Mart would supposedly devastate our community. Mr. Comar says Wal-Mart will be an economic threat. I just wanted to know whose economics would be threatened by Wal-Mart. I have watched local business in Atascadero struggle as Paso Robles is thriving. The economic forecast for Paso is very promising, despite the economic downturn of most of the state--or even the country, for that matter. People leave Atascadero to shop at the Wal-Mart in Paso Robles because they can stretch their hard-earned dollars a little further.
As they go to Wal-Mart to save a few bucks, they also end up shopping, eating, or buying gas somewhere in Paso since they are already there. Wal-Mart is the hub of an entire business district in Paso. It encourages people to go to Paso and spend money that should be spent in Atascadero. There is a good reason why many business and political organizations advocate for breaking ground on Wal-Mart. There is also a reason the City Council voted 4 to 1 in favor of moving forward with an Environmental Impact Report. The EIR will study the footprint of the overall plan, traffic, air pollutants, fiscal and economic effects, grading, and native trees, just to name a few of the factors.
The tax revenue alone would be a blessing for Atascadero. Instead of another tax increase on homeowners, the money could be had simply by taxing Wal-Mart. The people who don't own homes would benefit from Wal-Mart by saving on items and maybe even having a decent job at the store. Yes, these aren't the highest paying jobs on the planet, but I don't see anybody chasing McDonalds, Burger King or Taco Bell out of town. Wal-Mart does, however, offer benefits, including medical, which in this day and age, is worth its weight in gold. Think about what it would do for our children's schools having all that extra revenue. Think about all the unnecessary pollution being emitted into the air by having to drive all the way to Paso Robles to shop at the Wal-Mart over there. Think about the benefits it would have on the economics of our local streets, parks, police, fire departments, and businesses. We need this revenue.
Wal-Mart is offering honest jobs with stated wages and benefits. They are not misleading, reneging, or taking away from anybody after the fact. As far as urban sprawl, we can't sell the houses we have now. Where on earth would all these sprawlers come from?
Traffic is a genuine concern, but Paso Robles received a lot of assistance from Wal-Mart to rectify that situation. Why wouldn't they do the same for us? This will probably be a contingency based on the Environmental Impact Report anyhow. Furthermore, Wal-Mart has already agreed to a smaller floor plan and less parking.
Mr. Comar also addresses the character of our community. If you look at the geographical location of the proposed Wal-Mart, you will see it is on the northern outskirts of our town.
Will it disrupt the beauty of our Home Depot or Starbucks? I honestly don't see the old-town character on the north end of town. I do, however, see a beautiful downtown area that is being continually improved. If Wal-Mart wanted to build in that area, I would vigorously contest the plan, but they are not. The revenue received by Wal-Mart will allow us to protect and maintain the downtown area of beauty and character that we all love.
Mr. Comar says Wal-Mart would cause the destruction of small local businesses. Again, I ask you to turn to your north and look at Paso Robles and how well their commerce is doing, both large and small. People are passing right by and going to Paso Robles. For the outlets that come and go on the north side of town, Wal-Mart would be a tremendous blessing and keep them in place.
In Mr. Comar's speech to the council and to the public on March 11, he kept making references to independent and academic studies. I didn't hear him identify any of his sources of information. Where are these independent and academic studies coming from? Show me just about any studies or statistics, and I'll show you counter studies and statistics. I'm also pretty sure the City Council, Chamber of Commerce, and the Planning Commission have performed a significant amount of research before pushing forward with this project. I cannot help but wonder if Mr. Comar's information is archaic, incomplete, or just misinforming and would seriously encourage researching alternative resources to his findings.
In closing, a Wal-Mart would not decrease the community consciousness, but rather increase gainful employment and provide much-needed funding for our schools, parks, streets, police, and firefighters. It would help, not hinder, our neighbors, friends, and families. It would increase, not decrease our tax revenue and help a much-underbudgeted City Council. It would not cause urban sprawl, but would rather keep families from living on the streets, keep the downtown area in good condition, and decrease crime. It would not hinder local business, but rather keep people shopping in Atascadero and more connected to our community. It would help the local environment by keeping people from driving all they way to Paso Robles and releasing extra emissions into the air. The time, gas, and money saved would have a significant impact for the good of our community.
John Crippen is a local small business owner. Send comments to the editor at email@example.com.