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City Paper recap of last night’s Walmart meeting

Image Credit: Lydia DePillis

Last night I attended the first two hours of the community meeting at St. Aloysius Church regarding the proposed Walmart at 1st & H Streets NW. My guess is that the attendance exceeded a hundred. As I noticed a few members of the professional media in attendance including so I elected not to take notes to write a full report of my own.  This morning Lydia DePillis of the Washington City Paper is the first out the gate with a comprehensive recap entitled “How Walmart Won Ward 6.” Elahe Izadi of TBDNeighborhoods followed a little later in the morning with “Walmart’s Ward 6 plans: The best we’re going to get?” Check them out.

I’ll just add a little color commentary. Over a dozen people in attendance asking the same questions about Community Benefits Agreements despite Councilmember Brown saying currently the project is “by right” and not seeking any public assistance or zoning variances so the District has no opportunity for leverage. Walmart was not in attendance but the developer (The Bennett Group) was and their spokesperson was a former Washington Redskins great named Brig Owens.


You come to expect some irrational comments at a forum like this. However the low point of the evening for me was a member of our ANC6C PZ&E committee yelling at the Brig Owens about his Virginia residency status. He repetitively barked in a hostile tone “You don’t live here” and “Why don’t you move to DC?” There are alot of different legitimate stances on the Walmart project, but what’s the purpose of expecting everyone connected to it to live inside the District. A tad disappointing to see a member of a committee that evaluates ANC 6C Zoning projects be so caught up in xenophobia rather than the merits of the project or the credentials of the developer.

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Comments

  1. 1

    VAH says

    I think Walmart coming to this location is a great opportunity for the city and the community. As a mt. vernon triangle resident I think this will only add to the value and benefit of living in MVT.

  2. 2

    Jose Carioca says

    I live a few blocks north of the proposed Walmart and go by the site almost every day. I think it’s terrific that this development is coming into the neighborhood. I suppose the people who oppose this would prefer to preserve the site in perpetuity as a crappy GPO parking lot. What alternatives are the opponents offering? More bullet-proofed liquor stores and fried food takeout joints? Give me a break.

  3. 3

    Reece says

    I was at the meeting last night and understood why people were so upset. We’re currently a nation in crisis, so pinned down by our economic problems that we’ve resorted to cutting off our own toes to save our feet. It feels desperate out here and it felt desperate in that room last night. Many of the folks who spoke were tired and frustrated with the lack of opportunity that exists in the District and it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that Walmart would show up to “save the day” and build something new.

    But Walmart will not help you, folks.

    You should know that the building will be in excess of 80000 square feet. To fill that space with the stock and equipment necessary to make it function as a megastore, you’ll need to transport many tons of materials. The roads that access these locations are already massively overloaded in terms of wear as well as size WITHOUT the megastore. What will your traffic patterns look like? How much will it cost to repair the roads?

    You should know that the 300 jobs that they say will come shall arrive at the expense of 600-700 jobs that already exist. Walmart’s entrance into an area is consistently accompanied by the closing of businesses that cannot compete with the low prices that Walmart delivers. As a result, the tax base of areas with Walmarts in them consistently decline at a horrifying rate. Let’s also not forget that even if you do manage to get a job there, you won’t be able to afford the benefits plan they offer because they will pay you much much less than what it costs to live in the area. How will you live?

    Think about these things, as well the many other issues, before you so blindly accept this in frustration and desperation.

  4. 4

    Concerned says

    Where I grew up the non-manager jobs at grocery stores were staffed heavily by part time high school kids, community college students and able bodied seniors. The baggers in many cases were mentally challenged people. Other stores in town like the Blockbuster Video or the fast food chains were also staffed by employs on the young or old ends of the spectrum. To me for completely unskilled labor that is the appropriate staffing. Either people using these unskilled jobs as a stepping stone into the working world or those winding down into semi-retirement. In high school in the 1990s I worked 30 hours a week at my local grocery store for $4.40/hr.

    After college, when I arrived in the DC area I found that both in the suburbs and in the district itself these class of jobs are almost always staffed by able bodied adults. It is also my impression that many of these adults even have the impression that these jobs are a career. An end state if you will. Not something they are doing temporarily to pay the bills while attending community or vocational college. So rather than attempting to work their way up the food chain they blame the corporations and politicians for the fact unskilled labor doesn’t pay enough. In fact they may even believe a cashier job should be enough money to raise children on.

    Do we just have a glut of unskilled adults? Are we so liberal we’d rather coddle these unskilled adults than and let them play the victim cards than hold them up to expectations? If I couldn’t find a job in the DC metro area I’d increase my skillset or move somewhere else.

  5. 5

    Jose Carioca says

    Oh, come on Reece. Do you seriously contend that the tax base around 800 New Jersey Avenue could decline any further than it already has? Where are the 600-800 jobs that will “disappear” in that area? Supervising the GPO parking lots? There’s almost no retail at all in that area, and what little there is will continue to be sustained by the GPO and other workers in the neighborhood. And by the way, what retailers in the area are currently paying entry-level employees “what it costs to live in the area”? The answer to that is zero. Does that mean that we keep the site a parking lot for eternity? Finally, parking and traffic issues only arise in areas where people actually want to work and live, so I guess if you want to avoid those problems keep the area the wasteland that it is currently.

  6. 6

    Reece says

    “Do we just have a glut of unskilled adults? Are we so liberal we’d rather coddle these unskilled adults than and let them play the victim cards than hold them up to expectations? If I couldn’t find a job in the DC metro area I’d increase my skillset or move somewhere else.”

    These questions, while certainly relevant, look dark without the light of reality and mathematics.

    First of all, many of those kids that you saw are probably right back in those same low-wage jobs. You probably don’t recognize them, but they have returned to those jobs because we’ve decided as a nation that producing manufactured goods or educated adults doesn’t matter as much as financial products. They don’t have better jobs (that they are usually very qualified for) because they don’t have any other place to go. It would shock you to know, I’m sure, that many employers don’t take qualified adults of a certain age for positions that pay more because they don’t want to pay the health costs or pay them what they are worth because they are educated enough to warrant a higher salary.

    Second, your experience was from almost twenty years ago. To live on 8 dollars an hour in a city with DC’s income level is extremely difficult at best and at worst, you are desperate. If you want to make the argument, make it with current data.

    Lastly, your comment about unskilled labor is a bit like saying that with a fridge full of beer you couldn’t possibly be dehydrated. While the work these “able-bodied” adults currently do is unskilled, it isn’t that they aren’t skilled in things that we need. We have chosen as a society that they are unimportant to the fabric of our cities and counties because we can get cheap crap from other countries. To add insult to economic injury, we then replace that junk year after year and complain about its quality when that person that we so carelessly refer to as “unskilled” is actually able to probably make the things that we complain about, with SKILL and QUALITY. We, again WE, have made the choice to replace the good clean water with Milwaukee’s Best. It is OUR FAULT that we are left with a dry mouth and a sour taste.

  7. 7

    Reece says

    @ Jose:

    “Do you seriously contend that the tax base around 800 New Jersey Avenue could decline any further than it already has?”

    Yes, I do. Use your imagination (or Google.) There’s plenty of examples of cities and towns across the country that can show you what a demolished tax base looks like when the “love” is spread around.

    “Where are the 600-800 jobs that will “disappear” in that area? Supervising the GPO parking lots?”

    Statistically it has been shown that box stores of a certain size have an almost two-to-one job loss to job gained ratio. You are almost guaranteed to lose jobs up and down every main thoroughfare you can think of in the locations where the WalMarts will be simply because there is nothing legal or illegal that they WON’T do to remain a powerhouse in their area, at least when they are interested in maintaining their business. If they lose interest or see it as a losing proposition (meaning, the profit gets too low) they will leave you will a gigantic useless building that no one can buy and a very large, insolvent financial situation.

    If you read the other articles posted, you’ll see that Walmart didn’t take any public money. Why? Because when you take that money you have to play by the rules of the place you’re entering. What makes you think that they will somehow turn over a new leaf and treat the District of Columbia different from any other place in the US? Why would they observe even the clearest of regulations that impede their ability to maximize profit if paying the fine or settling costs less than observing it?

    “And by the way, what retailers in the area are currently paying entry-level employees “what it costs to live in the area”?”

    I don’t know and I’m pretty sure you don’t either. But this doesn’t make what I’m saying any less relevant. In fact, its hurting your own case.

    “Does that mean that we keep the site a parking lot for eternity?”

    Walmart could be a great tenant if they were willing to treat the people that they hire and serve with respect. They have said publicly and privately that they have no intention of doing so. So, until they agree to be good stewards of the land they shouldn’t have the privilege of using it. This also isn’t all or nothing since there are plenty of uses that won’t drain the taxpayers of resources or economic opportunities. But we have to be bold people to actually try a solution that doesn’t involve selling ourselves out to people who don’t care.

  8. 8

    Kyle says

    Rural America is nothing like the big city. Walmart’s impact on rural areas has little in common with our situation. DC has big boxes like Home Depot, Target, Best Buy, Bed Bath and Beyond and small businesses have not folded in droves. In fact in the case of Hardware Stores Frager’s and the Ace Hardware stores owned by Gina Schaefer have expanded since Home Depot arrived. The truth of the matter is D.C. simply has far too little retail given the purchasing power in the city.