Selling Out to Whole Foods?
Local businesses deserve a level playing field.
BY PAUL NICHOLSON
Whole Foods Inc., an Austin, Texas-based juggernaut, recently revealed an interest in locating in downtown Eugene. Proponents claim the project won't involve a subsidy to Whole Foods Market. However, it does involve swapping city land for land that the Shedd Institute for the Arts owns and then building a parking structure.
Whole Foods Markets is supposed to pay a fair price for the parking it uses, but if Whole Foods pulls out, the citizens may still be stuck with a parking structure we don't need. In addition, Eugene will abandon long-standing plans to use the land for other purposes and will allow a private corporate project to dictate the timing and nature of a major public capital project. Furthermore, the city is already considering using urban renewal funds, property taxes diverted from the general fund and state school taxes for street and other improvements to support the project. I call that a subsidy.
So why do somersaults to attract Whole Foods Market? Is it to help Eugene's economy? Don't believe the propaganda that Whole Foods' competitors will not be harmed. The average Whole Foods Market does more than $19 million in sales annually. Other whole food stores, bakeries, coffee shops, restaurants, and grocers face the peril of a large corporate competitor.
Unlike manufacturers, call centers, and research institutes, new retail stores don't usually create new jobs. In fact, this supermarket will probably hire one new employee for each two jobs lost. This national chain will surely buy less from local suppliers and more from their corporate brethren, threatening more local jobs.
Well then, perhaps the council and mayor are trying to "save the downtown?"
Our planners and our elected officials have been preaching the gospel of urban density for decades. But a typical Whole Foods Market is a big box store. You won't hear anything about the residential units on the top five floors, because there won't be any upper floors.
The Chamber of Commerce propaganda machine is already in high gear, and the R-G has predictably jumped on board in support. The Whole Foods Market development can be added to the long list of other ill-advised proposals R-G pundits have advocated in the past:
The Downtown Pedestrian Mall: Based on a model that had already failed in Kalamazoo, Mich., and New Bedford, Mass., it failed predictably.
The Hilton Hotel and Convention Center: Cost us a lot of money, and hasn't saved downtown.
The Downtown Athletic Club: Diverting block grant money intended for the urban poor to an exercise club for the rich has not saved downtown.
The Downtown Clearcut: Shoppers didn't like the downtown mall any better without trees than with them.
The Pankow Project: Dispatched by the voters.
The Downtown Outlet Mall: The idea was abandoned after the discovery that the developers were con artists just released from prison.
The Riverfront Urban Renewal District: After 15 years and $3 million, we still haven't seen any of the 900 new high-tech jobs promised.
The Symantec Giveaway: Symantec left for Springfield the day after its tax abatement expired.
The Downtown Six-Lane Super Highway / Coburg Road / Ferry Street Bridge Project: Fortunately defeated by the voters.
• The Downtown De-Mall: Why did we spend $50 million on the mall?
Some of these ideas might have worked if carried out as part of a comprehensive, long-term plan. But past councils and mayors have been buffaloed into one ad hoc tax-subsidized scheme after another on the false premise that any project is a good project so long as it benefits development and construction interests. Reinventing or reinterpreting city plans to accommodate every private project has made Eugene's downtown an undeniable under-performer. These schemes have cost tens of millions of tax dollars and resulted in a downtown without focus, character or charm.
By contrast, Corvallis passed up the big urban renewal projects and has generally avoided big commercial projects. Having forgone the public expense of making a complete mess of its downtown, Corvallis has been rewarded by a vibrant downtown with successful retailers and rising values.
I asked the mayor and City Council to stop diverting taxes from school children and our general fund to advance private retail projects, to desist from the ad hoc planning that has ruined our downtown, and to stop discriminating against local businesses. I urge you to add your voice to mine.
Pushing the limits of reality TV.
BY SALLY SHEKLOW
QBC Television network, executive producer's office, some parallel universe: "Good program idea, J.D., but will those heterosexuals work for reality show wages?"
"Sure, Chief. Employment discrimination's still legal."
"Good. If they wouldn't flaunt it, you know, ram their lifestyles down everyone's throats, we wouldn't have such a problem with hets. "
"People of Straightness, Boss, that's what they like to be called. They get pretty testy about it. "
"If it's such a big deal, why do they choose to be that way?"
"Scientists say it's genetic."
"Whatever. Your pitch?"
"OK. We take this group of, say, 10 straights. You know, good-looking ones that aren't too obvious. Plop them right into the middle of the normal world. Let our cameras follow them."
"Are our viewers ready for something that weird?"
"Straights have been on TV for years now. Granted, the first show with a hetero main character got canceled. You can't blame the sponsors for backing off, what with the boycott threats and all. But she primed the pump. Now most shows have at least one heterosexual — even reality TV. Viewers likes seeing straight people, Chief."
"As long as they stay in their place."
"Of course. Check it out. First episode, they'll have to come out to their families. Parents will cry, wonder where they went wrong, disinherit them, the usual drama."
"Second episode they pretend they're gay to get a job."
"That could be funny. Maybe show one hiding a picture of her opposite sex lover in her desk, talking around the water cooler pretending to have been on a date with her girlfriend?"
"That's the idea. Next they'll go to the movies. When they're standing in line with a bunch of normal couples, they'll have to act like they're just friends, be careful not to hold hands."
"I'm liking this, J.D. How about the hets' reaction when someone says, Yuck, that's so het. Everyone knows it doesn't mean anything, but the straights get all upset. I'd love that."
"Done! And we'll have an episode where they're on a plane and sit next to a normal person, you know, a real straight-hater."
"You're on a roll now, J.D. I can just see them on some long flight without giving away their, what do they call it, sexual orientation?"
"Right. We'll even follow them into church and watch them try to participate in the sacraments. Even show what happens when a straight person tries to get ordained."
"Stop, J.D. You're killin' me here. This is too good."
"Wait, Chief, there's more. Here's the big one. We'll have an opposite-sex pair that tries to get married. They want benefits and legal protection for their kids."
"Don't make me think about the gross way they procreate. Why can't they go to Nebraska? It's legal there, isn't it?"
"So far, the only place. Our hetero couples will go to some state where they're lobbying the legislature to pass equal rights.
"That'll never happen."
"Right! But they think it will, see? There's the beauty of it!"
"Oooh, J.D. You are a devil."
"Thanks, Chief. Anyway, say we've got a few of these couples who've been together a dozen years or so and really want to get married. We'll film them rallying, marching, voting, the works."
"Been there, done that. What's your angle?"
"I'm getting there. Say some ultra-liberal county commissioners decide it's their constitutional obligation to issue marriage licenses equally. Straights show up in droves and get legally married."
"It's a fascinating idea, J.D., but it'll never fly."
"Wait, wait, here's the good part. After a year? Right around their first anniversaries? We'll have all their marriages annulled! Isn't that a riot?"
"J.D. You're a genius. C'mere, give Mama some sugar."