Juan Vargas’ Anti-Consumer Choice Bill Goes To Gov. Brown

Bradley J. Fikes Bradley J. Fikes 4 Comments


A bill by State Sen. Juan Vargas, D-Chula Vista, that makes it harder to open big box superstores in California is on the way today to Gov. Jerry Brown. The legislation most prominently affects Wal-Mart, which has long been opening such supercenters.

Vargas’ bill, SB 469, amends the Permit Streamlining Act to impose more restrictions on opening the superstores. The bill would require companies to file reports on how the stores would affect the local neighborhoods, including traffic and effects on small businesses.

For public consumption, Vargas claims the bill is merely intended to help communities evaluate the economic impact of the superstores. But the truth is that the bill is a Vargas payoff to unions, an important constituency for him, to thwart expansion of non-union Wal-Mart. Meanwhile, the unions have launched an unusually cynical disinformation campaign to preempt any attempt by Wal-Mart to repeal the law, if Brown signs it.

The bill replays on a statewide scale a debate that took place in the city of San Diego earlier this year. The San Diego City Council passed a similar measure, but rescinded it after Wal-Mart gathered enough signatures to force a public vote. Like the San Diego ordinance, the state bill targets proposed stores 90,000 square feet and larger that dedicate 10 percent of floor space to groceries.

But such a happy outcome is not guaranteed this time. The advertising disinformation campaign spreads phony fears that signing initiatives exposes voters to identity theft. These lies, from a front group calling itself Californians Against Identity Theft, have been condemned as deceptive by such groups as Common Cause and the San Diego-based Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. And even staunch union supporters may have a hard time keeping a straight face explaining why they’re suddenly so concerned about identity theft.

The advertising campaign originally didn’t reveal the source of its funding. However, an  investigation by the  San Diego Union-Tribune’s Watchdog group determined that the ad campaign was funded by union groups.

Will the voters fall for the union-funded disinformation campaign? Some undoubtedly will, although media coverage has exposed the campaign for what it is, for those paying attention. If the public recognizes that the union campaign is a stealth attempt to limit choice and raise food prices to preserve union grocery jobs, they’ll support an initiative to repeal the Vargas law, if Brown signs it.

Californians hard-pressed to make ends meet may not be sympathetic to what amounts to a regressive tax. And Brown himself may decide that it’s not in his or the public’s interest to be the grocery unions’ pawn.

Keep in mind that this struggle is taking place as supermarket unions in Southern California have authorized a potential strike. The Vargas anti-choice bill and the union disinformation campaign are not a coincidence.

The unions recognize that non-union grocers can undercut them on price, and Wal-Mart is the most formidable non-union competitor yet for the unionized supermarkets. And they fear that given free choice, consumers will defect to non-union alternatives instead of shopping at higher-priced unionized supermarkets, especially given their contentious labor relationships.

To put it in the starkest terms, the benefits that union workers are preparing to strike over will ultimately come from customers — in effect a stealth tax on the most essential commodities.

Since labor is not synonymous with unions, the great majority of workers who don’t belong to unions would be the losers.

BTW, non-union employees should consider that certain ardent union supporters hold them in contempt for working for non-union companies. Something to keep in mind when unions ask the non-union majority to honor their picket lines.

(And those ardent union supporters should remember that adage about catching more flies with honey than with vinegar.)

Customers, again mainly non-union, have the choice of voting with their pocketbooks by shopping at lower-priced competitors, many of which such as Trader Joe’s, are non-union. But despite its delightful produce, Trader Joe’s is not a supermarket replacement. A Wal-Mart supercenter would be.

So what to do? Block the competition under the pretext of serving the public. A more cynical formula would be hard to find. But given California’s economic distress, this may be one of those times that the cynics who underestimate the intelligence of the public have overplayed their hand. That those leading the supermarket unions have lied so shamelessly signals their desperation as well as their lack of ethics. They fear that making an honest argument based on their true motives is a sure loser. So they make stuff up to generate FUD.

The many honest union supporters should disassociate themselves from the disinformation campaign.

The good news is that the converse is also true: For those who favor freedom of choice for consumers, making an honest argument is a sure winner.


(DISCLAIMER: This is my opinion, and not necessarily that of my employer, the North County Times.)


Comments 4

  1. This Vargas law may not be bad. Quite the opposite, as I see it!

    Let’s make some lemonade out of this lemon. The state Dems have never gone up against an outfit like Walmart — an entity as well funded as their labor union cabal. Boy, are THEY in for a surprise!

    Here’s the scenario I envision if Vargas and his Dems are dumb enough to pass the ban, and Jerry signs it into law:

    Walmart cannot easily referend such a measure (not even sure one can do that with a state law), but they CAN put their own state constitutional amendment on the CA ballot to block both this law, and to block similar nonsense. It would cost less than $3 million to do so.

    It’s pretty clear to me that Walmart has decided “no mas.” They DAMN sure aren’t going to tolerate a DE FACTO statewide ban on Walmart superstores.

    I’m pretty confident such a “legalize Walmart” statewide ballot measure would pass — and by a BIG margin. My guess is by a 2-to-1 margin.

    It would be a glorious battle, with MANY positives.

    1. It would absorb tens of millions of labor unions’ campaign funds — money that otherwise would be spent on other props, or on electing labor union toadies at every level of CA government. Yet for the first time ever, the labor unions would find their campaign spending matched dollar for dollar — the “level playing field” that they like to pretend that they prefer.

    2. It would put the lie to the canard that the unions represent the thinking of most Californians. It’s a message every politician needs to receive. This could help bring down the unions — via Paycheck Protection or other props and laws.

    3. It would put the lie to the canard that most people want Walmarts banned.

    4. The tying of the Democrat Party to the anti-Walmart issue could very well result in some unseated Dem incumbents — especially on the local level where everyone will be expected to take a position. The GOP should work this angle to the max. Minorities and the lower income folks won’t take kindly to “their” Democrats trying to drive up their price of groceries and other necessities.

    5. MOST IMPORTANT, I personally would have an inexpressibly delightful time kicking those thugs’ butts around the state.

    So Juan, do your thing. Please, make my day.

  2. Juan Vargas has a long, consistent and colorful history of displaying his economic illiteracy. My experience with him dates back to the infamous Charger ticket guarantee, where as an energetic San Diego city councilman, Juan rushed out to publicize his ignorance with great fanfare (so to speak).

    To renovate Jack Murphy stadium, in 1996, Juan Vargas voted for the Charger ticket guarantee, wherein the city paid the NFL football team far more for an UNsold ticket than the team could net by selling the ticket to a fan. After costing the city over $35 million, the plan was ended — by giving the Chargers the annual right to move the team to another city without San Diego approval.

    Currently the city is facing the growing prospect that the Chargers may move to Los Angeles, where an NFL football stadium is planned. The San Diego renovated stadium is already considered outdated and unacceptable to the Chargers.

    As a San Diego city councilman, Juan Vargas voted for two retroactive city worker pension increases which has played a material part in the city’s current major pension unfunded liability. In September of 2000, three months before leaving office, Juan Vargas and the city council voted themselves an 11% pension increase — and set up an unusual feature where retired city council members could immediately start drawing a pension — theoretically even before age 30. Vargas started drawing his pension for his eight years “service” at age 35. As of October, 2010, Vargas receives a city pension of $19,132 at age 45.

  3. Chris Kehoe was there for that September 2000 vote too. Fortunately Term Limits will finally dump her off the Taxpayer Gravy train next year, after 19 years in various offices. Try getting a real job, hypocrite.

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