Letter To The Editor: DDR’s Claims Are Leaky


From SCOTT CRATTY
Ukiah

If you plan to vote in favor of Measure A I hope that you will not do so because you believe DDR’s economic claims or its propaganda about how Measure A will help the local economy.  DDR’s economic “facts” are half-truths at best, when they are not simply misleading.

From the start DDR has repeatedly asserted that its new mall would save “$169 million dollars in retail sales …currently ‘leaking’ from Mendocino County”.  Not even the (DDR funded) Applied Development Economics study they rely on for so many claims supports that assertion.

For example, $35 million of the $169 million figure (about 21%) is for automotive sales.  As DDR is not proposing to build car lots on the old Masonite site, its proposal cannot possibly stop that “leakage.”  Another $58.5 million (nearly 35%) of the total is in the categories of grocery and convenience stores … again, not what DDR claims it will be building.  $41 million of the $169 million figure is “General Merchandise Group” leakage, but DDR ignores the next column in its study that shows a $34 million surplus of spending here in the same category.  By subtotaling plusses or minuses carefully, one can create impressive, but meaningless, totals.

If column space was unlimited, I’d pull apart other DDR claims.  As it is not, I suggest you do so for yourself before believing them.  If someone plays so loosely with basic “facts,” how reliable are their other claims likely to be?

At root, DDR seems to be claiming that we will collectively keep more of our money local if we let mega-developer DDR build a giant mall where we used to have industry because lots of us will shop there.  How money flows is not so simple, as DDR well knows.  These days where you spend a dollar tells you little about whose pocket it will land in.

It is a given that many people travel to Santa Rosa to shop at CostCo and other large stores (a concern that would be solved if CostCo chose to build on an existing commercial plot in the Ukiah area).  DDR’s giant mall would indeed capture much of that money.

However, a great many people also decide that it is not worth traveling so far and instead shop locally.  If DDR’s new mall is built many shoppers who currently support locally-owner business would instead go a box store chain.  To support retail development of the scale DDR is planning, it is surely counting on capturing lots of what is now local business, not just leakage.

DDR’s figures make no effort to estimate the dollars that will be lost to the local economy because shoppers switch from a locally-owned, family business and start sending their dollars to a corporate chain’s distant officers and shareholders.   For DDR, losses to our existing local economy are a plus. Every dollar they pull out of our local economy adds to DDR’s bottom line.  DDR does not live here.

DDR asserts that its mall would “create more than 700 new jobs.”  This is only true if “new” means “different” not “additional.”  I do not doubt that stores in the new mall could employ 700 people.  But, DDR makes no effort to deduct the existing local jobs that would be lost, many of which are store manager or store owner positions.

Big box stores tend to displace more jobs than they create.  It just makes sense.  Big boxes are all about selling more for less, that includes employing fewer people and paying them less per dollar of sales than their competitors.

Likewise, DDR suggests that its development would create business for local contractors.  However, what DDR is proposing is more akin to clear-cutting our local commercial construction business.  Their proposal would build more new commercial space than the projected demand in this area for the next 20 years.  Once their new space is complete their huge available footage that will depress the local construction business and commercial real estate prices for many, many years to come.

Giant shopping centers have never been a solution to any community’s real economic problems.  If shopping malls made for a strong economy California would be recession-proof.

Back when DDR first rolled into town I asked Mr. Adams for examples of any town plausibly comparable to Ukiah that benefited from the addition of a DDR development.  After a diligent hunt, he was unable to provide one example.

So, lets all drop the puffy claims about what happens if you build lots of big retail.  What Measure A will do for sure is allow a concentrated, huge retail development into the Ukiah Valley.  That will make Ukiah more like the myriad towns to our South.  We will be less rural with less open space, opportunity for self-determination, community and stars in the sky at night, but more traffic, noise, crime and convenient shopping.
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