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Tonight, Wal-Mart officials will begin a gauntlet of Planning
Commission and City Council meetings, seeking approval of the
discount retailing giant’s plans to build a Wal-Mart Supercenter in
the Pacheco Pass Center.
Tonight, Wal-Mart officials will begin a gauntlet of Planning Commission and City Council meetings, seeking approval of the discount retailing giant’s plans to build a Wal-Mart Supercenter in the Pacheco Pass Center.

We encourage Planning Commissioners and City Council members to ask every tough question this project raises – and there are plenty. Our officials are charged with protecting the quality of life in Gilroy, and in order to evaluate the impact a Wal-Mart Supercenter will have on our community, questions raised regarding the controversial retailer should be addressed.

Despite the tight economic times, the question of allowing a Wal-Mart Supercenter in Gilroy is not just a dollars-and-cents issue. It’s a decision that could impact Gilroy for decades, and it is incumbent upon city leaders to take a long-term perspective as they evaluate this project.

Wal-Mart critics point to the company’s controversial employment practices – they allege low wages, mistreatment of women, poor benefits and active discouragement of organized labor – as deplorable. The company has been accused of providing jobs with such low pay and such poor benefits that its workers frequently qualify for medical benefits from Medicare and MediCal – meaning taxpayers are covering those workers’ health benefits, not Wal-Mart.

The Planning Commission and City Council needs to ask sharp questions and demand specific answers about the kind of jobs a Super Wal-Mart will bring, and evaluate the kinds of jobs its presence might eliminate.

Wal-Mart critics say the company has a history of closing stores without finding new tenants, leaving communities with gaping retail holes in their landscapes. We’d hate to see Gilroy suffer the same fate, especially given the current store’s prominent location next the outlets and facing U.S. 101.

Thus, the deal to sell the current store property should be made public and clear. What exactly is going into the Wal-Mart location? From the first, we’ve said the city should not approve a Super Wal-Mart until a long-term tenant is secured for its current building.

The Planning Commission and City Council must demand answers about what will fill the company’s present building before any decision is made about the company’s plans for a new facility.

Wal-Mart has so far found it difficult to gain approval in any northern California community for its Supercenters, which feature a full grocery store along with a traditional Wal-Mart.

Concerns about predatory pricing allegations, about the impact the store will have on existing small grocers, about allegations of merchandise made in overseas sweatshops are not irrelevant.

Wal-Mart representatives will tout the company’s sales tax contributions to city coffers, the jobs it brings to town, the donations it makes to local non-profit groups. Clearly, those contributions should count in the company’s favor.

After the difficult, sometimes uncomfortable, frequently controversial issues are discussed, only then will our appointed and elected officials be able to answer the most pertinent question for our city: Will a Super Wal-Mart be good for Gilroy?

If it the answer is yes, and the project meets Gilroy’s zoning and land-use requirements, then approve the project. If the answer is no, then deny it.

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