A Thanksgiving column

Am I thankful Walmart got thumbs down? Not really

Am I thankful that four members of the City Council voted to shoot down the Walmart expansion? Not really. I admire their chutzpah, and I enjoyed a tingle of schadenfreude when little ol’ Chico managed to bite the butt of the corporate world’s biggest bully, but I’m not sure the council’s decision would have made much of a difference to the shape and texture of the town whichever way it had gone. We’re talking about a single grocery store, after all.

That said, I don’t think much case can be made that the expansion was needed. Groceries are a zero-sum game. Chicoans aren’t going to buy more of them just because a new store has opened up, and who drives to another town to buy groceries? The ice cream would melt before you got home.

That means the total number of groceries sold—and grocery jobs—stays about the same. Walmart would have created jobs and business only by taking them from other local stores.

Nor do I buy the idea, touted by Walmart backers, that nixing the expansion will scare away other interested parties who’d like to build their own big boxes in Chico. They’ll look around at all the big-box stores the council has approved in recent years and understand that Walmart was a unique case.

I am thankful, however, for a couple of other things the council has done recently. One is the new bikeway from One-Mile to East First Street. It’s now the last leg of my commute through Lower Park to work every morning, and it makes the ride so much more enjoyable. Plus it ends virtually at the back door of the CN&R offices! Thanks, guys.

I’m also grateful for the roundabouts on Manzanita Avenue, and that the council was willing to listen to the folks who were opposed to putting a four-lane thoroughfare through there to connect Bruce Road and East Avenue. I live in the Pleasant Valley High School neighborhood and use Manzanita often, and I can attest that traffic moves through there very smoothly now.

Brian Mickelson, a city traffic engineer, told me the roundabouts pose a problem for the occasional drunk driver but otherwise are highly popular, judging by calls to City Hall. The long rush-hour queues to get through the Vallombrosa intersection are a thing of the past, he said, and there hasn’t been a single T-bone crash since the roundabouts went in.

I’m also grateful for this column. It’s a rare privilege to be able to speak so directly to so many North State readers. I keep that thought in mind every time I sit down to write it, and look forward to getting your responses, whether pro or con.

It’s Thanksgiving, so readers will forgive me, I hope, if I also mention something that has nothing to do with them but means everything to me—that is, how thankful I am for my wife, Denise Fleming, who is beautiful and talented beyond measure and who challenges me in all the good ways; and my kids, Evan, Sophie and Liam Speer, three people who make me proud to be their dad.