Over the Hill

Wal-Mart sure can stir up the pot

What do Wal-Mart Inc., global warming and gay marriage have in common? They’re all controversial topics especially when Wal-Mart wants to build a store in your town.

I thought of that Wednesday while reading a Viewpoint in The Tribune’s opinion section. It was written by Wal-Mart’s senior public affairs manager for Central California. She said misconceptions and false statements have been leveled against Wal-Mart’s new store project in Atascadero.

I’m not surprised that some Atascaderans reject a new big-box store, especially a Walmart store. Some people see it as crass, pushy, exploitive and low class. I guess that makes me low class. I live within walking distance of the Paso Robles Walmart and shop there frequently.

Some people fear a Walmart would out-compete their favorite mom-and-pop stores and force them to close. Other people fear the increased traffic attracted by the stores “better retail” mousetrap. The Wal-Mart public affairs manager said the company would pay its “fair” share of the street improvement costs.

She also said the store would employ about 300 people and would increase the city’s sales and property taxes.

This reminds me of Paso Robles in 1991 when Wal-Mart announced plans to build a store at Niblick and South River roads. Opponents mobilized to prevent it. And they had weapons the Atascadero opponents don’t have — American Indian relics. The proposed Paso Robles shopping center had apparently been an Indian campground. And when archeologists also found buried Indian bones, the game went into overtime.

There was a large knoll or mound near the center of the property. The shopping center developer planned to bulldoze it so people on Niblick Road could see the store better. Local Indians objected. National Indian organizations got involved. A nationwide Indian boycott of Wal-Mart was mentioned. That got Wal-Mart’s attention.

The developer said he would spend $1 million to redesign the center. That’s why there’s a large expanse of raised, undeveloped ground along the main entrance driveway leading to the store. It’s held in place by a low, tasteful retaining block wall.

I walked up on that knoll Wednesday. I saw 11⁄2 acres of recently mowed grass, with large dead or dying patches and some bare animals’ holes.

Up the street from the auto-parts store, I found a plaque on the retaining wall. It says the knoll is the site of a Native American village that is believed to have been occupied for more than 100 generations or 3,000 years.And now there’s a Wal-Mart. Will anything be here after the next 3,000 years?