How super would a ’center be?

One of the hottest debates the past several years—in Chico, Paradise and other municipalities—is the expansion of Walmart. The global retailer not only continues to open new stores, but it also transforms existing stores into supercenters selling groceries and other product lines.

The paradigm behind Walmart’s growth cuts to the core of the Shop Local/BALLE movement, namely the impact of megachains on a community’s business base. This issue will heat up in Chico over the coming weeks as the city’s Planning Commission considers a proposal to turn the Forest Avenue Walmart into a supercenter.

The Planning Commission hearing is scheduled for July 16 in the City Council chambers. The project’s environmental-impact report is online (pdf) at the city’s Web site in the Planning Services department section.

Already in the CN&R, pros and cons have appeared.

Bob Linscheid, president/CEO of the Chico Economic Planning Corp. (known as CEPCO), writes that Walmart “has been part of Chico for more than 15 years and has made a considerable investment in our community by purchasing from local suppliers and contributing significantly to local charities.” He cited a study by a former state commerce secretary that “every community in California with an operating Walmart supercenter benefited from a significant increase in sales-tax revenue and an increase in new business permits.”

Heather Schlaff of Chico Advocates for a Responsible Economy (CARE) has a different view. Her response is that groceries “do not generate additional sales tax” and “even the consultants [on the project] predict at least one of the existing grocers will close if this project is approved. This will not create new jobs. Instead, workers at existing discount grocers … will lose their jobs.”

The existence of this section shows which way the CN&R leans in the Walmart discussion. Most important is where the community leans—where you lean. Read up on the proposal and make your opinion known, lest decision-makers set policy without seeing your sentiment.