Debra J. Saunders

  Still, Hercules residents should ask themselves if it is worth the money it will take to fight this case. The legal bills could be huge. As Connor noted, "Wal-Mart is entitled to just compensation for their property," and if the chain doesn't think the city is offering enough, it is "entitled constitutionally" to seek a jury trial for more money.

  Should taxpayers foot the bill for a fantasy? Many residents in the East Bay conclave long to be too tony for Wal-Mart. Hello. The site of the battle is near I-80 and surrounded by an industrial park. The only nearby homes -- separated from the lot by a creek -- are new and quaint, if crowded, with porches in front, garages in back and small parks in lieu of yards. Planners envision an old-fashioned village with small shops by the bay.

 But a city can't just pass a law and turn itself -- with homes there selling at a median price of $475,000, according to the Economic Development Alliance for Business -- into Sausalito.

  "Hercules is a high-income enclave in a larger lower-income trade area that is currently underserved by retail activity," says an economic review of Wal-Mart's proposal that was written for the city and plays to the pretensions. The report shows that other Wal-Marts in the East Bay attracted fast-food restaurants, in one case a check-cashing outlet and in another a "a low-end coffee shop." Oooh. Not Starbucks.

  But if the area is as high-end as planners say, Wal-Mart should attract better companion outlets.

  Vocal Wal-Mart foes believe they have a right to decide who sets up shop in their town, and the right to keep out shops that might attract lower-income shoppers. This is just class warfare. While Wal-Mart haters are free to not shop at Wal-Mart, they want to wield the club of government so that others don't shop at Wal-Mart.

  Bert Gall of the Institute of Justice, which opposes using eminent domain for private development, warned, "If something like this can happen to Wal-Mart, it really can happen to anyone." And, "It just illustrates that what the Supreme Court unleashed in Kelo was the ability of government to play favorites."

 Hercules could end up with no retailer interested in the site. "The market already demonstrated that there wasn't much interest in what the city had in its general plan there," said Benjamin Powell of the Independent Institute. If Wal-Mart wants in, and Retailers for the Rich aren't banging down the door, that should tell Hercules residents something.


Debra J. Saunders


 
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