Guest Opinion: With Walmart vote, City Council aligns with the '1%' | May 18, 2012 | Pleasanton Weekly | |

Pleasanton Weekly

Opinion - May 18, 2012

Guest Opinion: With Walmart vote, City Council aligns with the '1%'

by Matt Sullivan

In its zeal to be a mouthpiece for Walmart and the Chamber of Commerce, the Pleasanton Weekly has not only misrepresented my position but has done a disservice to the community by not reporting on the consequences that the Walmart grocery store will have on our local economy and community.

The simple fact is that we already have too many grocery stores, confirmed by a city prepared market evaluation. Less than 6 months after the second Safeway opened, our only locally owned store, Gene's, was sold due to the resulting loss in sales. According to the Pleasanton Patch, the new owners will be cutting the workforce and wages by up to half. We're now seeing reduced hours and pay to workers at Raley's, Lucky's, and other stores due to lost sales, and this before Walmart even opens.

These lost workers, wages, consumer spending, and city sales tax revenue will have a ripple effect throughout our already struggling local economy. And what will happen to that lost wealth? It will be extracted from our community by Walmart and sent directly to Bentonville, Arkansas. And when Walmart opens, some other store will most certainly close. While I sympathize with the neighbors who want a store in the Meadows Plaza, opening it will be at the expense of others when their neighborhood store closes.

Some people are upset that I appealed Walmart's application and have forced a community discussion on this topic. Others are grateful to have the opportunity to express their views. Consider that if this wasn't appealed, Walmart would have opened in the dead of night without any notice, public comment or review by any city commission or the Council. In Pleasanton, we go to great lengths to involve the community in our decision-making process. What Walmart has done may be legal, but it's clearly un-democratic. And if I'm guilty of any crime, it's been forcing democracy on some members of our community that don't seem to want it.

Important issues were raised by the public at the May 7 meeting about campaign contributions from Walmart and the Chamber of Commerce PAC, as well as the Walmart Mexican bribery scandal. I asked for additional information on both and postponed the meeting to provide time for the answers. Unfortunately, the Council refused to respond to these requests and the public is still in the dark.

Despite the Council majority hiding behind false platitudes such as "the rule of law" and "upholding the constitution," there was a clear and legal path, confirmed by the City Attorney, to deny the application. The Council simply chose to not take it. We're witnessing Pleasanton's version of what's happening all over the country: A corporate takeover of our democracy, attacks on the middle and working classes, and a redistribution of wealth from the 99% to the 1%. With its decision on Walmart, the Pleasanton City Council has firmly aligned itself with the 1%. Remember that when they next come asking for your money and your vote.

--Matt Sullivan is a member of the Pleasanton City Council, first elected in 2004. He was a Planning Commissioner from 1998 to 2004.


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Posted by Sal
a resident of Downtown
on May 18, 2012 at 8:30 am

I respect Sullivan’s stand on this issue. It’s really telling how local conservatives and Tea Party members fight harder to get a second Walmart than they do to support our local school district. They want the low, low prices of Walmart while not sacrificing a dime on a parcel tax for our schools. I bet they used the money they saved on the parcel tax to by a new gas bbq, weed whacker, or mud flaps for their SUVs. The local conservatives new motto should be “Bentonville, Arkansas before Pleasanton”. Funny how conservatives are the first ones to buy a product made in China at Walmart. They are the first to spend money at a mediocre national restaurant chain or market based 3,000 miles away over supporting a locally owned business. They wave their American flags, but only care about the cheapest price regardless of how it hurts our community.

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Posted by A Neighbor
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on May 18, 2012 at 9:05 am

Like Sal, I respect Sullivan's position and appreciate the well-written opinion piece printed here. You have my support, Matt. Keep up the good work and continue to stand on your principles.

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Posted by Ellen
a resident of Parkside
on May 18, 2012 at 9:14 am

Mr Sullivan I respect your voice on this matter and your right to express it.
That said, I disagree, as is MY right.
There was no where near this amount of discussion and protest when Safeway opened that HUGE new store. If their business declines then they better take a look at their operating costs and massive overhead and not blame Walmart. If Gene's sales were so far down they had to sell, then maybe they should have been more competitive in their pricing.
There are still a good many people in this town that would love to share the enthusiasm about Pleasanton's economy etc, but their pocketbook dictates different!
I care about all those issues too. But I also care about the neighborhood that needs a grocery store, the elderly that live across Santa Rita from that site and the people who are not among Pleasanton's wealthy.
THAT is why I support the new Walmart Neighborhood Market

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Posted by sj
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on May 18, 2012 at 9:18 am

I respect Matt for standing up for what he believes, even though I do not agree with him on this issue. I feel the discussion is good for the community. Some people are upset for Matt using the law to have the appeals and such but that is because those people do not agree with this issue. When they agree with the issue, they support the appeal process we have.

I feel this discussion should have occurred when Safeway was trying to open a new store however. That was a new use at that location. As for the WalMart Grocery store location, that was already zoned for a grocery store. It would not be fair to the property owner to not allow a replacement grocery store in that same location. I also agree with Matt that the weekly is a mouthpiece for the chamber of commerce, which really does not support local businesses per se but rather supports the old boys network and the whole development industry.

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Posted by Anti-union
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on May 18, 2012 at 9:40 am

Actually, as I have said, I think there might be too many grocery stores at the moment. However, that was not Matt's main ongoing argument.. Of ALL stores, the vacant space in the Meadows was the most worthy of it was when fresh & easy went in right between Trader Joes & main WalMart.I don't remember ANY discussion on that. Fresh & Easy may or not survive, but that ENTIRE
center is in trouble or empty ! Now TGIF and a furniture store is leaving. I stopped in the new auto store along Santa Rita, since I go to Fitness in that half of Rosewood center. Fresh easy is struggling, I'm sure the Meadows market will do better, for many reasons.
Any new business wanting to go in TJoe center needs to be studied very, very closely because of limited and difficult parking. Truly impossible.
All I've heard of late, is WalMart destroys everything and is mean to people !!

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Posted by Democrat
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on May 18, 2012 at 9:57 am

Unions trying to under the guise of 'zoning' trying to prevent non-union competitors from opening businesses in Pleasanton is disgusting.

Zoning and zoning.

Manufacturing of consumer goods and textiles in the U.S. has practically disappeared, thanks to the unions. Software engineering has practically disappeared in the U.S. and that has gone overseas, because of costs. Does that mean the next time a software company that pays lower salaries wants to open up in Pleasanton, e.g. Microsoft, they'll be held up in a 1 year public review process so their business and labor practices can be compared to Oracle and Sybase? Or if a new private school wants to open up, their business and labor practices compared to the Teacher's Union will be subjected to scrutiny for a year of public meetings?

A Walmart grocery store will buy the products, like Ritz Crackers and Campbell's Soup, that they plan to stock there from the same sources as Safeway and Luckys, but their prices will be cheaper.

Why? Safeway and Luckys charge higher prices because they have handcuffed their businesses and their consumers with inflexible UNION contracts with astronomical wages and staffing requirements that have nothing to do with market supply and demand.

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Posted by Stacey
a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on May 18, 2012 at 10:25 am

Stacey is a registered user.

Consider that we got away from a system where one had to go through a subjective process with a king who monopolized access to a market in order to do business. Now replace the word "king" with "democracy". Bribery used to help a lot to get access to the king and still helps in some countries with no king but with similar subjective processes. Does a king need to follow the rule of law?

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Posted by curious
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on May 18, 2012 at 10:32 am

I respect Matt Sullivan's right to his opinion in opposition to Wal Mart. I find it curious that he wants to talk about Chamber and Wal Mart campaign contributions to the council but ignores how much money unions spent in the last local election especially on Cook-Kalio's campaign. It seems to me he's doing exactly what he's acusing the Weekly of and not talking about all the facts. Why didn't he appeal the new Safeway store--oh wait it utilizes union workers!! Don't accuse the Weekly of something if you're not willing to take into account facts on both sides!!

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Posted by Dan
a resident of Bridle Creek
on May 18, 2012 at 10:36 am

Gee Matt, THANK YOU! for "going to great lengths to involve the community" in the decision making process!

I guess you think that you're just doing us all a favor, huh Matt?

Its sounds like you have no idea who pays the bills around here.

Sarcastically yours,


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Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on May 18, 2012 at 1:20 pm

Thank you, Matt, for sticking to what you believe, which represents the feelings of many Pleasanton residents, not only the fanatic union haters.

Fortunately we have many options in town without having to resort to a Corporation with shameful business practices.

You have my vote.

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Posted by Old Time Resident
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on May 18, 2012 at 3:31 pm

I find Matt's logic hard to believe. He complains that Walmart's profits go to Arkansas. Well, Safeway has a bunch of stores in Texas. Using matt's logic, no one should go there because their profits go to California. I guess we shouldn't buy a Mercedes at the Pleasanton dealer because their profits go to Germany (gad zooks, a foreign country, even). The Fresh and Easy (another foreign owned company) opened, 99 Ranch opened, Trader Joes doubled the size of their store, where was the discussion on those stores. I don't know how Matt voted on those issues.

To say that this benefits the 1% is even stranger. One percenters (like our mayor and council members) all say they would be mortified to shop at Walmart. Its the 99%'ers (like me) that need to go there to save money. Some of the groceries I buy at Walmart are 33% cheaper than at Safeway. Certainly Safeway can't have that much more overhead.

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Posted by hoops
a resident of Mohr Park
on May 18, 2012 at 4:05 pm

Has anyone ever posted what a safeway employee earns?The problem with where this country is going is everyone wants to buy everything as cheap as possible and can care less what people earn to get their bargains.Is it wrong for a Safeway employee to make a living wage?I doubt the check out clerks and the produce guy are making 80,000 a year.What do these horrible greedy people make???They probably make just enough to not be able afford a house in Pleasanton.

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Posted by Mr. Mittens
a resident of another community
on May 18, 2012 at 4:40 pm

Stacey is right. In a free market system, people shouldn't have to gain access through a king OR through a democracy. Let the corporations decide. Like Dan says, they pay the bills around here. Let the corporations use their money to buy off politicians to write the laws. Democracy just gums things up. By the way, George W. is endorsing me....

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Posted by Mike
a resident of Highland Oaks
on May 18, 2012 at 5:02 pm


Thank you for sharing your thinking on an important issue. I am concerned, however, that your thinking represents selective enforcement.

I feel the principle of free enterprise demands that we allow all qualified individuals and entities the option of throwing their hats into the ring, the option to open a business. The consumer public will determine which of these succeed.


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Posted by Mr. Mittens
a resident of another community
on May 18, 2012 at 5:10 pm

... and of course, in the free enterprise system, he who has the most money/pull/influence wins the day. See Walmart decision!

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Posted by Daniel Bradford
a resident of Foothill High School
on May 18, 2012 at 5:53 pm

"Stacey" wrote: "Consider that we got away from a system where one had to go through a subjective process with a king who monopolized access to a market in order to do business. Now replace the word "king" with "democracy". Bribery used to help a lot to get access to the king and still helps in some countries with no king but with similar subjective processes. Does a king need to follow the rule of law?"

Wrong question. The real question is, how much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

And my question is just as relevant to Mr. Sullivan's well-considered opinion as yours.

If you're wondering why anyone would oppose a new Wal-Mart in their community:

Web Link

$86 MILLION a Year to California Taxpayers

In 2004, a study released the UC Berkeley Labor Center found that "reliance by Wal-Mart workers on public assistance programs in California comes at a cost to taxpayers of an estimated $86 million annually; this is comprised of $32 million in health related expenses and $54 million in other assistance."

(Source: Ken Jacobs and Arindrajit Dube, "Hidden Costs of Wal-Mart Jobs" [PDF file], UC Berkeley Labor Center, August 2, 2004.)

Wal-Mart dismisses the findings of the UC Berkeley study, "Hidden Costs of Wal-Mart Jobs," as a "union hit piece." However, text from Wal-Mart's own internal memo substantially corroborates their findings.

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Posted by Democrat
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on May 18, 2012 at 6:49 pm

The prevailing cost of food is so high in the State of CA because of the large scale unionization of grocery store workers. We, the taxpayers, end up paying the bill for the food stamps that need to be issued because food is so high priced.

How many people have to be on food stamps because food is essentially so high priced that it is unaffordable? And the public is subsidizing them because of the outrageously inflated prices of Safeway and Lucky groceries? Food prices are artificially high because of outsized labor costs, that are higher than would be if the free market would prevail.

You know it is bad when you can buy a T-shirt at Target, an item requiring much more of an intensive labor process to make, for less than you can buy a loaf of bread at Safeway.

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Posted by Arnold
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on May 18, 2012 at 7:30 pm

"Guest Opinion: With Walmart vote, City Council aligns with the '1%'"

Really, Mr. Sullivan?

I guess this is class warfare in you opinion. I read the study you provided in your earlier commentary regarding Wal-Mart. The study you used as justification for your position was based on Wal-Mart entering rural communities in the mid west with populations of ten thousand, or 20 thousand, and how that would impact small town economics. I agree with you regarding the study. But how does that even apply to this region? It doesn't. The study you sited just does NOT support your position for many reasons.

If that were the extent of your class bashing I wouldn't be posting here, but it isn't. You seem all to eager to hold a private not-for-profit country club to the same pay & benefit standards as a for profit, world class hotel chain. I appreciate your concern for the little guy but I think you've taken things too far (I don't work for Wal-Mart and I'm not a country club member).

Maybe some of the backlash the unions are experiencing is actually deserved. Maybe some of the private sector unions are experiencing intensified backlash because the public sector unions are out of control with being protected by their unions, the city staff that find it easy to raise everyone’s level of pay & benefits, and the council members/politicians that seem all to eager to approve anything and everything.

And maybe the public is just tired of politicians and union members asking for more and more taxpayer dollars to satisfy the unions and the political futures of the politicians they're in bed with.

I think you're a good guy. I just wish you would consider the other side of the argument. I do give you credit for voting to re-open the PCEA contract.

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Posted by Stacey
a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on May 18, 2012 at 7:40 pm

Stacey is a registered user.

Mr. Bradford,

I thought you don't argue with people who don't use their full names on this forum. Did you post that in the hopes that I would get something out of it because, you know, wrongly, in your mind I'm supposedly against all taxation and social services? Or are you suggesting that the $86MM is the cause of the California budget deficit? I'd love to see the follow-up study, "The Hidden Costs of Living in California."

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Posted by Steve
a resident of Parkside
on May 18, 2012 at 9:10 pm

To all you sucking up to Sullivain, especially sal, you're certainly not intelligent enough to see how more business in our community benefits all of us. Sal, can you not figure out that the additional tax revenue from this store will benefit our schools.
You won't admit that's true since you really don't care about the schools at all, you're still hacked off your union thugs lost, as is Mattie......he knows where his bread is buttered.
And the rest of the suck ups want to get in good with Mattie before he takes his class envy show on the road, trying to emulate the amateur in chief. Bravo.
By the way, you all lost...get over it and do something to help the residents of this city instead of promoting your deviciveness and class envy mantras.

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Posted by Petra
a resident of Hart Middle School
on May 18, 2012 at 10:25 pm

I'm so glad this was finally approved. This empty and run down store is around the corner from my house. I will take the extra traffic any day over the ugly empty building we have now. I appreciate wal-mart stepping up and being interested in a building no one else wants. Fresh and easy passed on it as did 99 Ranch and trader Joe's. Obviously whole foods took a pass too. So thank you wal-Mart for seeing value in something that everyone else is too good for. I am your neighbor and can't wait for you to open.

P.S. next time you are at the new Safeway ask the person helping where they are from. Guess what, they are not likely from Pleasanton so they aren't even serving our community with people from it. No thanks!

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Posted by Mr. Mittens
a resident of another community
on May 18, 2012 at 10:44 pm

I don't remember what I said above, but I certainly stand behind it.

As for Arnold and Steve, I'm very pleased as punch that Pleasantville has such outstanding intellects.

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Posted by xyz
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on May 18, 2012 at 11:16 pm

"Steve" said "Sal, can you not figure out that the additional tax revenue from this store will benefit our schools."


Throwing more money at them won't fix our broken schools or make them start educating Pleasanton's children. It will just mean more money for over-paid union teachers. More money for schools is not the answer! Study after study shows that throwing more money at schools does not improve education.

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Posted by Fact Checker
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on May 19, 2012 at 9:11 am

The city council does not get to make up the law after the fact. For months something could have been proposed to place proposed grocery stores as conditional uses especially after the second Safeway went in. Sullivan waited until AFTER the zoning administrator approved the Walmart and THEN made a big stink. Where was he last spring???? This looks more like "I want the attention". He knew the other council members would follow the law. It was a free NO as is most of his votes. This is not courageous.

He wants to hold people accountable. He got his answer about where all the other council members received support at the public meeting at the Firehouse. HE WAS THE ONLY ONE WHO DID NOT TELL THE PUBLIC WHERE HE WAS RECEIVING HIS SUPPORT!

Oh and @curious. . .All three of the candidates running in the last election, (Hosterman, Cook-kalio, and Thorne) received endorsements and financial support from the Chamber of Commerce and Unions. Look it up! What are you going to do with that?

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Posted by Janice
a resident of Birdland
on May 19, 2012 at 1:12 pm

In answer to one's comments about Safeway employees wages -- the newer ones, can't really afford to live in Pleasanton. They're hired for 16-24 hours/week which equates to @$160/week after mandatory taxes and then take out $10/week for mandatory union dues. Same for Raleys, Lucky -- same union. The old days are gone. Unions still make huge campaign contributions, underfund their pension plans, and continue to negotiate poorer conditions for newer employees. Can you believe that holiday pay is not customary 1-1/2 times regular pay, but only $1.00/hr more. McDonald's pays better!
The next time you're in a grocery store, be a little kinder to the rank and file employees -- Most of them work 2-3 jobs just to be able to afford rent. $80,000/year is just plain incorrect -- unless you get into management.

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Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on May 21, 2012 at 1:30 pm

Done deal folks. Now you can enjoy your Walmart.

As for me, I still will have other choices I prefer to go to.
Thaks, but no thanks, Walmart.

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Posted by pamela
a resident of Ironwood
on May 30, 2012 at 8:04 am

Mr. Sullivan needs to follow the law and act within the purview of a City Councilmember. If he doesnt care about the zoning laws he is required to comply with, just like everyone else, after being on the council for years, then he is not a principled person. He is arrogant. BTW, its obvious Mr. Sullivan doesnt do the shopping in his household. If he did, he'd know that Gene's has been sadly going downhill for years because they failed to keep up with competition. And what a hypocrite. He touts walkable mixed use housing/office/commercial development, but he doesnt think we citizens should have too many grocery stores within close proximity to our neighborhoods. If fact, I understand he works in San Francisco and rarely spends time in Pleasanton amongst us peasants other than showing up for the bully pulpit

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Posted by Mr. Mittens
a resident of another community
on May 30, 2012 at 9:19 am

Mr. Sullivan, I ask you. What in the heck is wrong with a corporate takeover of American democracy? Don't we all desire to be part of the 1%? I think perhaps you have your priortities backwards. Give taxpayer money to the richest 1% in this great country, and by the end of my second term unemployment will be down from 8 to 6%. Isn't corporate takeover of democracy a small price to pay for such a feat?