Jim Houle to Ukiah City Council: Why Costco?

Redwood Valley
Member of the County Council of the Green Party

To the Editor:
The following was presented to the City Council of Ukiah on January 19th:

You, the City Council of Ukiah, are scheduled today (Jan. 19th) to approve, in secret session, an Exclusive Negotiating Agreement with Costco. Most of your fellow citizens are at a loss to understand why you would sell 15 acres of land bought with Redevelopment Funds to a retail emporium when it is well established that our real need is affordable housing, not more stores. We hold you answerable to us for your actions and ask for your response to the following questions:

Why is it OK in your view to place a Big Box Retail Outlet in Ukiah after we the voters resoundingly defeated such a Big Box Complex at the Masonite site (1 mile north of town) by a 62% to 32% vote just 3 months ago? Did you somehow fail to hear the voice of the people?

How can you accept the loss of local jobs and the demise of local business that will inevitably result if Costco moves in? How can you explain this to those local merchants who are the likely victims: food stores, clothing stores, opticians, hearing aid suppliers, tire shops, druggists, florists, and book stores? We do not suffer from a shortage of local stores meeting these local needs and returning far more to the community than out-of-state monsters like Costco and Wal-Mart. We can see from the experience of other small towns that when the local market fails to meet their profit forecasts, the Big Boxers nail shut the doors and quickly get out of town. We will regret our gullibility and like a jilted bride sadly survey the abandoned stores along State Street and School Street that the once-welcomed groom has left as his only legacy.

You chose to invest $2.74 million to buy this 18 acre parcel of land suitable only for retail enterprises with our redevelopment funds when our most obvious real need was affordable housing? If Costco does buy 15 acres of this parcel, what will you do with this money? We have hundreds of low income working families now living in very small converted motel rooms south of downtown and in dilapidated shacks and old mobile homes in South Ukiah and Calpella. We happily exploit these workers in our vineyards and business enterprises. May we have your commitment that the proceeds from this sale will be invested in the construction of affordable housing, not in another unneeded retail complex? How can we trust your word? Will you now respond to the community’s real human needs rather than to the selfish complaints of our higher income citizens for a little more convenience in shopping?


These economic times suggest that our community will absolutely regret this decision: starving already stretched-too-thin local small businesses, big-box consumption of our sensitive, dwindling natural resources, and further corporatization of our small rural land-base.

After my presentation on Jan. 19th, Councilman Phil Baldwin “explained” that many citizens who voted against the Masonite Development actually did not oppose Big Box stores but merely wanted them placed on land already zoned for Big Boxers at the Airport Shopping Center (aka Redwood Park). (Imagine 62% of the voters as amateur city planners). Mari Rodin had previously explained to others that the “Big Box stuff is the way things are now”. We can learn from these reactions that the climate at City Hall favors the proposed 2nd story expansion of Walmart and the continued ‘clear cutting’ of downtown business while the council members throw out a sop about their being adamantly opposed to out-of-town coffee houses. Big deal indeed. I am sure that they would oppose out-of-state boot-blacks and Chinese made helium balloons as well. In the secret negotiations with CostCo now beginning, we can look for the City to waive a least a portion of the tax revenues for years to come as an incentive to CostCo. We of course will not be allowed to sit in while the deals are made and while $375,000 (15%) are paid out in real estate commissions.

From David Orr in Derrick Jensen’s book Listening To The Land:
“One of the underlying conditions of a truly successful community is that it cannot prosper at the expense of other communities.”

Jennifer – I’m not sure if you are thinking that Santa Rosa benefits at our expense (cost of gasoline to drive to their Costco etc) or that our bringing Costco here benefits at Santa Rosa’s expense. Be clear please.
I need to correct my comment above, after speaking at length with Sang Sangiacomo from City Hall yesterday. He assures me that the Exclusive Negotiating Agreement rules out any economic incentive being paid to CostCo such as rebates on sales taxes for future years or specific road improvements etc. This seems terribly nice of CostCo but I have to take his word since I was not there, Charlie, when they negotiated this lovely little cadeau (giftee in French). Stay tuned as they negotiate further in secret.

Jim – Neither of your guesses about what the quote means to me are accurate. I am deeply saddened with the prospects of a Costco here in Ukiah. We as a community will not benefit with a Costco among us as I believe that Santa Rosa does not benefit. I suppose the quote makes me think about the origin of the Costco product line. What communities have produced these products? How far have they traveled? Have they been compensated properly? If a Ukiah Costco was wildly successful, it would be because of the products of a distant community (mostly). And I deeply feel that our longevity and success and as a community will certainly be limited by the number of Big Box Marts (Costco, Walmart, Home Depot, etc.) that we allow in. I believe in local and Costco most certainly is not local!

Valley Lumber going out of business now. Another victim of big boxes.
But Costco, now there is a store. A store where no one knows anything about the merchandise and you have to buy big lots (bad business practice to tie up capital), then you are privileged to stand in long lines to check out, after that you are treated like a thief as they check your basket. You even get to pay for this treatment.
And the profits leave town, unlike a real local store.

Yeh Michael, but the imported Cambozola cheese is only $9.79 a pound versus $15.95 at the Coop. And we only pay an annual membership fee of $100 for this incredible privilege.

You want to put Costco in the same category as the monster Wal-Mart?? Give me a break. Costco would bring in jobs-LIVING WAGE jobs with much better pay and benefits than Wal-Mart, and far better prices 9 times out of 10 to boot. and this is before you add in the coupons you get in the mail….not to mention higher quality merchandise overall. Local businesses are good to support, but back when I lived in Ukiah, they were so overpriced I couldn’t afford it most of the time. And I’m speaking as a low-income person who watches sales, gas, and clips coupons. If you want to see real change, get ahold of wakeupwalmart, get some picket signs, and advocate for those workers to get a union so they can have a living wage. Wal-Mart is the store you should be attacking.

Also, Ukiah DOES need affordable housing-I always did wonder why Habitat for Humanity hardly did anything in Ukiah..it certainly is the type of town that needs it.

Dear Robin: What you call a LIVING WAGE at CostCo amounts to $11.63 per hour for entry level jobs and a whopping $15.36 per hour when you have ascended all the way up the ladder to Cashier which equals $30,800 year. This is 73% of the median income in Mendocino County. Try living on that with a wife and children! Don’t get pregnant!

Jim, I survived on $15,000 a year. I did that as a single mom with 2 children. I clipped coupons, bought groceries on sale didn’t use more electricity than I had to, and only drove the car when it was necessary, and had minimal luxuries. If I made $30,000 a year I might have actually had enough money to put aside towards OWNING my own house…the median income might be ideal, but you can survive on $30,000 just fine. It sure beats the HELL out of Wal-mart. A lot of people would be HAPPY to make $15.36 an hour, including me. Now call wakeupwalmart, get some picket signs, and get that evil store shut down, don’t attack stores that us poor people need, so you can see real change. Kay?

Here’s the numbers broken down for you…put your thinking cap on!!
~$1500 for housing
~$60 PG&E (open windows at night in summer, use sunlight instead of bulbs, and Slankets {snuggies are crap} in summer
~300 for car payment/insurance
~300 for groceries (I spend less than that buying HEALTHY foods-coupons and sales are amazing)
~$200 for miscellaneous expenses
=$2360 total.

If you happen to make the entry-level wage of $11.63/hr, find a less expensive house or save up for a car. It’s great when you can make MORE than $30,000 a year but honestly, people can survive just fine on what I listed. The rest is EXTRA. It’s not going to kill people to learn this thing called frugality…and America wonders why the rest of the world considers us greedy.

Robin, perhaps you could ditch the car and invest in bicycles instead. You’d save a lot and you can’t trade anything for how great you feel when you show up at your destination invigorated and enthused about your day, knowing that you’ve done your part to help the environment, and appreciating the money you saved because you didn’t have to go to the gym to get exercise, make car payments or support the fossil fuel industry. Keep up the frugality!

If the places I frequented were close enough for me to use a bicycle on a daily basis, I would…I love to bike!! And thanks, btw!

Big box stores perpetuate a wage-slave mentality. Local businesses, on the other hand are flexible and sensitive to the needs of the local community. This creates resiliency, stability and sustainability in our fragile community. When Costco has extracted as much as it can from our unique community, it will move on, leaving in its wake, the wreck and ruin it created (not to mention a stupid concrete monolith of tilt-up panels.) How about a real, live, old fashion boycott, with signs and horns and everything, beginning at the the proposed site, even before they begin to the scrape the earth. Just a thought. Could be fun!

Should’ve thought of your boycott idea when Wal-mart moved to town. Hell, you could still picket them now or just fight for a union to come in…if wallyworld realizes that the workers aren’t going to take their sh*# anymore, they’ll be likely to close down. Local businesses have wonderful attributes, but they don’t offer some of the variety or pricing that shoppers on a budget (like myself) need. Were you aware that the CEO of Costco takes a lower salary in order to pay his workers a better wage? Costco paying a LOT higher than Walmart should speak volumes, because they don’t have the same level of profit. So, John, like I told Jim, if you want to see REAL change, work on getting awareness about Walmart and get that store shutdown. Or is there only outcry about ‘evil Costco?’

If you watch the walmart movie “The High Cost of low price” you’ll see that Walmart’s response to workers demanding union representation is oftentimes, if not most, to shut down. The fact that they’re attempting to add on to the store is a perfect opportunity to raise hell. You’d be fools to pass it up. Jim is pointing his finger and throwing a tantrum over the WRONG thing.