Mendo Island Journal — Timely. Useful. Sometimes Cranky.

Letter to the Editor: Think you’re getting a mall?

In Vote No on Measure A on September 28, 2009 at 10:32 pm


From HAL VOEGE
Redwood Valley

Think again!

And while you are thinking, ask yourself these questions:

Does an international corporate giant, based in Ohio, really have Mendocino County’s best interests at heart?

By now, most of us know about the financial difficulties of the nation’s largest mall builder, DDR – the large, short-term loans coming due, the big dip in their stock ratings, and the Federal bailout that kept them from bankruptcy. They need money now. But money to build malls is declining. As Paul Maidman noted in Forbes 9/24/09, “There are already too many stores and malls, and consumers don’t have the wherewithal to shop in the ones we do have. Around a third of every new square foot of retail space is vacant in the wake of a wave of retail bankruptcies and store shuttering.” Why would they take on more debt to build the pretty pictures they presented to us?

Doesn’t Measure A say they will create a mall?

Absolutely not! All Measure A says is that it is ‘designed’ to build a mall, not that they will do it. DDR is not constrained to do anything. It does force a change in the zoning of Masonite to commercial whether they do anything or not, and relieves DDR of any oversight by the people of Mendocino County or the State. They don’t have to build a mall, don’t have to make the property multiuse, and don’t have to do anything environmentally responsible. The pretty picture they paint about solar power, green buildings, and bio-swales is all window dressing.

What is their “best case” option?

When DDR started this process, the housing bubble was in full swing and developers wanted to build 800-1200 new houses in this area. Those days are long gone. The land developers bought on Lovers Lane is now for sale and DDR can only hope to get out of here without losing lots of money. If they can get Measure A passed by the voters, the Masonite property immediately becomes more valuable (commercial is valued higher than industrial). If they can find a buyer for that ‘valuable’ property, it will repay them for tearing down the buildings and give them immediate cash. The bad news for us is that, if Measure A passes, the safeguards that usually come along with CEQA compliance will not exist and the buyer, whoever they may be, will be as free to do whatever they want as DDR would be.

What is really in Measure A?

Measure A is almost two pages long and filled with vague promises and legal jargon. But that isn’t the worst part. It mentions Exhibits A&B which are, in fact, the specific plan that overrides the County General Plan. Exhibits A&B are 324 pages long! How many people will read all that? Could they be trying to slip something past us? The devil’s in the details. That’s where you find that Measure A allows DDR to do pretty much what it likes with the site and says local government and the people of this County have nothing to say about it, avoids California Environmental Quality Act review, and inserts itself into the County General Plan like a computer virus.

If they do build a mall, will retailers come?

DDR has no firm commitments from any retailer. The two anchor stores they propose are Target and Best Buy. Walmart is currently aiming to undermine both of these brands and is building larger stores and remodeling older ones to do just that. Their Ukiah store is being remodeled. There is already plenty of retail space in Ukiah for big box retailers who want to come here. I do know why Trader Joe’s won’t be coming. They have been very clear – they are not coming because the market is too small. How many other retail giants will feel the same way, especially in the current economy? But, a few big stores don’t make a mall. Where will the smaller retailers, the shops that make up the bulk of a mall, come from? Most small retailers are in a world of hurt and can’t afford DDRs fixed rent plus a percent of the retailer’s profits (money that ‘leaks’ to Ohio).

Won’t they upgrade the area around Masonite?

Unless we do exactly what they tell us to do – like 5 traffic lights on North State Street, they won’t have to pay a penny. Otherwise, the fine print says that any infrastructure improvements are the County’s responsibility (that’s us tax payers). We will also have to foot the bill for police and fire protection, and the health care of low wage employees that can’t afford medical insurance.

So, what are our other alternatives?

Industry provides good paying jobs. Just look at the business park north of Masonite, on Kunzler Ranch Road. It is full of local businesses that provide jobs and contribute to the local economy. We need our County government to get busy learning from other communities around the country that replaced large plants that moved away with a variety of vibrant local businesses. It can be done. The Internet is full of examples of communities that lost a large employer and developed local industries that use local resources, generate jobs, increase property values, and benefit the local economy. We have resources and resourceful people. What we need are the community pressure and the political will to make it happen instead of defaulting to DDR.

Vote NO on Measure A!
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