Marko the Mysterious

Nothing is ever as it first appears. This week the United Way held a brief meeting in the Chico branch of the Butte County Library that included representatives of about two-dozen non-profit organizations. The meeting featured Marko Mlikotin, (pictured) who, the press release said, is from Wal-Mart. Mlikotin was scheduled to update the progress on the two Chico Wal-Mart supercenters—expansion of the existing store on Forest Avenue and construction of a new one on the old Sunset Hills Golf Course in north Chico—and how those expansions will double the big store’s largess to local non-profits. Turns out Mlikotin doesn’t actually work for Wal-Mart; he owns a public-relations firm that is contracted to represent Wal-Mart in communities like Chico. Mlikotin told the gathered that they should all be excited, like he is, to have two supercenters on the way. Don’t believe the hype you read in the media about Wal-Mart, Mlikotin advised. That news, for the most part, is planted by union agitators. (When I asked him questions, he would say, “I’m not sure,” or “Don’t quote me,” odd answers from a PR guy.)

Mlikotin’s excitement for Chico’s coming supercenters is a curious thing. A little research reveals a really busy guy and you have to wonder how he finds time to care about Chico’s nonprofits. Mlikotin lives in Folsom. In 2004, his PR firm was paid $22,000 to help Arnold Schwarzenegger communicate with the people. Mlikotin also worked for Schwarzenegger’s election campaign team as well as his transition team. And he was the governor’s chief campaign fund-raiser. Last fall Schwarzenegger appointed Mlikotin to the board of directors for this year’s state fair.

That’s not all. Before he worked with Arnold, Mlikotin served as deputy appointments secretary and deputy political director for Gov. Pete Wilson. More recently he was chief of staff for former Rep. Doug Ose. (This is probably where Mlikotin learned about Wal-Mart’s giving nature. In the 2000 election year, Ose received a $2,000 campaign contribution from Wal-Mart.) Mlikotin also fights against those who want to ban biotech crops in the state. His firm represents The California Healthy Foods Coalition, an ag-corporation-funded group that bills itself as a “grass-roots coalition of leading agricultural organizations and community leaders.”

There’s more: Mlikotin is executive director for the California Alliance to Protect Private Property Rights, where he works with former State Sen. Jim Nielsen. According to the Yolano Group of the Sierra Club, the alliance “seeks to protect wealthy and politically connected developers from the legitimate activities of duly elected representatives to protect Yolo County’s natural resources.” The property in this case is the 17,000-acre Conaway Ranch, which sits along I-5 north of Davis. The owners of the property—group of 10 developers and land speculators—want to build on the land. Who knows, maybe they want to put a Wal-Mart supercenter there. But Yolo County officials, working with the Rumsey Band of Wintun Indians, want the land saved as open space. The property in question was once owned by PG&E and put up for sale in 2004. County officials tried to buy the land, but the company selling it on behalf of PG&E did not allow the county to participate in the open-bidding process.

The county, denied the right to bid for the property, filed for eminent domain. Five months later the ranch was sold to the developers for $60 million. A letter from the Yolo County Board of Supervisors to Mlikotin, chastised the alliance because one of its representatives said at a public hearing in October that the Native Americans would be poor stewards of the land and weren’t really even American citizens. Assemblyman Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, working with the alliance, went to bat for the developers and land speculators and for his efforts was awarded, just last month, the California Alliance to Protect Private Property Rights award for legislator of the year for his efforts to help develop open space into what could turn out to be a new Wal-Mart supercenter. Nothing is as it appears.