Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Sunday, December 2, 2012

La Locura De Walmart

To Describe The Madness 
It came to a head last night: the boredom: the frustration. It was four days since I escaped the madhouse. I had finally fully recovered from headache and echoes, of the copious amounts of caffeine that that sleepless night had caused me to drink.

I knew I had to write on what I saw, but how. How to relate to my audience the insanity of it all, the complete absurdity? One of my comforts through it was that I was able to read Bonfire of the Vanities, but this occasion does not call for the style of Wolfe. No! He is too subtle in his disgust, anger, befuddlement, and eventual acceptance of it all. No! Now it is time to transform myself into that other madman of the Stone who so often was stoned. This shall be one of the few moments where I think to truly relate the experiences of the last few weeks in the menagerie of madness I must go gonzo.

In this one instance, it is difficult if not impossible to put into context the hadron collider that is Southfield, Michigan, without being subjective. Without saying flat out that sometimes this town is fucking nuts!

The Ringing Voices
For nearly a year I had been hearing whispers that Wal-Mart was coming to town, but like most changes in the wind I ignored them to go about the business of my day. I have always and probably will always live my life a week at a time. Why shouldn't a 25-year-old, 24 when this whole mess started, have the liberty of being shortsighted?

Eventually those whispers became a ringing shouting in my ear. "Miles," they said, "get your ass on it. This has all the likelihood of being a second Golden Corral"

To understand this circus you must understand that carnival.

Burned to a Husk

Nearly a year ago I attempted to cover that fiasco with a cool detachment. While I thought much of the opposition to that was nuts there was never a one I didn't like. I thought I owed it to them and the job.

But after nearly two years listening to the city leaders I now have an awareness of our crucible, but I'll get to that later.

Larry Weiland. The man seemed pleasant enough, a bit like your fun uncle. He had the job of convincing the Southfield City Council and the Planning Commission to allow the company he represented to take what at the time was a burned down building and rebuild it into a restaurant.

It seemed simple enough no one was using the building, which stood as a testament to the decaying state of the city. Southfield, once designed as an office community was and still is in the middle of the post '08 real-estate slump, with an office vacancy rate above 20% in 2011.

The residents hated the idea of building it, mostly for the same reasons they object to building a Walmart now. Before I get to those allow me to take a moment to explain that while I am mostly speaking on the Golden Corral at the same time Lawrence Technological University, a local University wanted permission to build a new dormitory and there was just as much if not more resistance to it. The only reason why I'm not going into detail on that is because eventually the university obtained permission to build, but Golden Corral didn't.

They broke Weiland. After 5 or 6 meetings and what must have been at least tens of thousands of dollars, he and his company ended up with a goose egg. It was so bad that both his architect lawyer and the Mayor spoke saying that decision might give the city a reputation for being difficult to conduct business in. As I watched the fun uncle become less and less fun I realized, I had never thought of Southfield as being a rough town. I thought the worst that could happen to a man was bullet to the heart, or maybe a skull stomping. I was wrong.

It probably didn't help that it was nearly a just over a month out from a very contentious city council election.

The Devil Came In a Suit

Okay first off when I say the devil I mean the whole damn mess. I was lured into a false sense of security by the first few meetings  but now it's clear to me this thing is going to be wild. While it was clear that a lot of folks didn't want the Walmart, the meetings were relatively tame and well balanced. Nobody seemed to loathe the idea. Oppose it? Sure.  Fair criticism of a large and important project. But the rhetoric never seemed like a cobra's poison, or maybe it did. Like a spider or snake bite I didn't notice it until it was far too late.

The Hidden Gangrene

The big problem with the city is it isn't what it was suppose to be, and because of that nobody is happy with what it is. I said it earlier but I'll say it again. The city was designed as a office community. People would come to work here from Detroit and outlying suburbs and then go home. That's not the case, anymore. Due to a lauded public safety and public education reputation in the '80's and '90s a lot of people, including my folks moved to the city, creating a population boom that hit its zenith around 2000.

Due to the fact that nobody was expected to actually live here the roads were designed as mini-highways for travel in and out of the city, making it difficult to get from place to place in the city and nightmare for pedestrians. Because these mini-highways are used as mini-highways traffic is god awful, and there isn't really a whole lot anyone can do about it. It is what it is and we all just have to live with it.

View Larger Map

Because yes the traffic is a safety hazard for those living here it is one of the biggest issues in these types of fights. But I also keep getting the feeling that the traffic is also being used as a smokescreen for those who just plain don't like these types of developments.

Also because this city was designed as a place to be commuted to and from there is a shortage of retail and other services, which can make living here a bit inconvenient. I mentioned before in "I really want a downtown"

 The Hidden Cancer

Again I must return to the real-estate slump. Because of the declining property values, the basis for how much tax is paid and relatively high office vacancy rate the city has less money to operate. The public library is on reduced hours and last year to keep from layoffs the city asked for a millage. While there has been a fairly spectacular monetary juggling act, it's clear that if the city doesn't increase its funds eventually there may be some spectacular cuts, hell there already have been.

Furthermore, the city needs to update and repair various aspects of its infrastructure but has very limited financial wiggle room to do so, major improvements that in the long run could save money and improve safety get punted, especially in the area of roads.

This is important because the Walmart development could bring in $100,000 a year in taxes to the city not counting the tax it would pay to other entities like schools and the state.

Chasing Eden

A lot of the individuals who came to Southfield during that boom I mentioned earlier, came in retreat of Detroit. And to a faction of them this Walmart represents everything they hated about it. Increased traffic, big box stores, low paying wages, destruction of nature, light pollution, noise pollution. They hate developments like these. How do I know? Because a lot of the same people who are opposing the Walmart are the same ones who opposed the Golden Corral. Don't get me wrong though. The two sites are not all that far apart, but still the same arguments are being made. Heck these same arguments are part of the reason why I don't get sidewalks.

Even those who are not necessarily opposed to retail development in the city in general hate the idea of the Walmart being "there," close to where they live.

Chasing Heaven

Then there is the religious factor, those who are infuriated that in order to build the new Walmart the church that currently resides there is going to have to be demolished. In particular there was one pastor who attempted to purchase the land for his parishioners who brought the whoop and holler at the November 28, public hearing.

Здравствуйте! and 112 Dead Comrades

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, a lot happened involving Wal-mart. For starters there was a horrendous fire in a garment factory that Wal-mart has a connection to. I'm still fuzzy on what exactly that connection entails, but it's there. I think the factory was owned by a Wal-mart supplier.

Also there was a labor strike on Black Friday. These things coincided to make nearly every pro-labor person in town outraged. One woman was yelling at the commission after the November 28, meeting that they had bangladeshi blood on their hands after they approved the recommendation to city council for the Walmart to be built.

The union may be weaker the further north you go but down here it seems pretty damn strong.

Investment in Infrastructure

One of the things that makes the Walmart really tempting is that how much they are saying they will invest in the traffic infrastructure around the area, helping to improve traffic signals. While no one is saying that the investment would solve all of the area's traffic problems it would at least mitigate some of the traffic harm the Walmart might cause and it's something the government probably couldn't do on its own for a long while.

It's going to get nuttier
The thing folks is that it took a six hour meeting just to get the planning commission to vote on a recommendation to the City Council. What the hell is going to happen when we're actually talking about the enchilada?

Correction: An earlier version of this post mistakenly stated that the November 28, 2012 planning hearing took place on November 29, and also erroneously implied that improvements at the intersection in question would be the responsibility of the Road Commission for Oakland County.

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