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Walfart 

Thank goodness the Atascadero City Council had the foresight to give its future self a raise. As noted by the current council, the paltry $300 monthly stipend precludes all but retirees and the independently wealthy from holding office. Who else would have time for boring meetings, ribbon cutting ceremonies, and making dumb planning decisions than those who don’t have to work for a living?

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I’m pretty sure this low pay and the sort of politicians it attracts is directly responsible for Atascadero’s stupid decision several years ago to approve a Walmart store. Retirees love shopping at Walmart because of its low prices and sexy greeters, and rich people think the behemoth retailer will appease the poor unwashed masses with its crappy-paying jobs and cheap Chinese merchandise. I mean come on, no one else in his or her right mind would approve a Walmart.

Now, starting in January of 2017, new council members will have $600 a month and the mayor a whopping $750 a month to spend at their new Walmart. Meanwhile, local stores will close, people will lose their jobs, and taxpayers will have to subsidize the world’s biggest retailer by paying for traffic improvements and government subsidies for low-paid Walmart employees.

Good job, Atascadero! You’ve done it again! Your town is already a series of strip malls bifurcated by a highway with neighborhoods that appear to have been “planned” by throwing strands of spaghetti onto a piece of paper and saying, “Hey look! Streets!” Why not screw things up more with a giant, soulless entity designed to suck money out of a community and send it far away?

Eight cents of every dollar spent in the U.S. is spent at Walmart, which brings in $36.5 million an hour, every hour of every day, and it makes $34,980 of profit every minute. Its yearly sales are $405 billion. If Walmart were a country, it’d have the 19th biggest economy in the world. Ninety percent of Americans live within 15 minutes of a Walmart store.

In fact, Atascadero residents already live 15 minutes away from a Walmart in Paso Robles, but in their infinite wisdom, Atascadero officials, including Mayor Tom O’Malley, decided 15 minutes was a bridge too far. Plus, having an Atascadero Walmart will force the community to expand its own Del Rio bridge/overpass.

Since the traffic mitigation costs for Atascadero’s upcoming Walmart have risen from $4.5 million to a now projected $12 million, and since Walmart cleverly arranged its deal with Atascadero so it isn’t responsible to pay for these cost overruns—that means citizens get to pay! Woo-hoo! I smell a sales tax increase coming! See that! Walmart is going to increase tax revenues … by increasing sale tax.

I know what you Walmart proponents are saying. “What about the 300 jobs a new Walmart will bring?” Good question! Some of the people who lost their jobs at a now-closed mom-and-pop store can apply at Walmart. Never mind the negative 15 percent wage gap between Walmart and other retailers. Never mind that “associates,” as Walmart euphemistically refers to its workers, have terrible benefits. Walmart spends 27 percent less on health benefits than other retailers. A leaked internal Walmart memo admitted that its employees would have to be bankrupt before they met their health plan deductibles. Children of Walmart workers are more likely to be uninsured than children of other retail employees. In fact, about 19 percent of Walmart employees’ children are on government subsidies, which means your tax dollars are going to offset Walmart workers’ low wages even though they’re employed by the largest retailer in the known universe.

Think about it this way: Your taxes are going to give Walmart an unfair advantage over stores owned by your neighbors who actually care enough about their employees to pay them sufficiently so that they don’t have to apply for welfare. 

Meanwhile, while Walmart creates crappy-paying retail jobs in the U.S., they’re killing higher paying U.S. manufacturing jobs by buying Chinese products that lead to offshore manufacturing. A full 80 percent of Walmart’s suppliers are located in China.

“Oh, but what about the ‘everyday low prices’ that are saving me so much money?” you ask. Remember that, again, your taxes are subsidizing Walmart’s traffic mitigation costs as well as their employees’ welfare and food stamps. Is saving an average of $17 per Walmart shopper per year really worth it?

Walmart plans to build a 118,000-square-foot store in A-Town, but it has not yet pulled its permits. It has until July 2016, plus five one-year extensions beyond that, so basically if it hasn’t pulled its permits by July of 2021, Atascadero may be off the hook. Of course, between now and then, traffic mitigation costs will continue to grow. Guess who’ll pay when Walmart pulls the trigger?

Look, I love all the online photos of obese Walmart shoppers in ill-fitting clothes as much as the next Shredder, but at some point, you’ve got to take a stand!

The Shredder never, ever shops at Walmart. Send ideas and comments to shredder@newtimesslo.com.

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