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Thursday, November 03, 2005

PENDING DOOM: The Battle Over Home Depot

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors postponed a vote on the proposed Home Depot project for the second week in a row. Supervisor Ammiano decried "backdoor lobbying" that other Supervisors are currently engaged in. Some think that a smaller Home Depot would be ok, but a bigger one won't. The size is mostly irrelevant. Home Depot is anti-competitive and will harm local hardware stores in San Francisco. It will still be the largest store in the city.

The Examiner published a pro-Home Depot editorial in this morning's paper. As I turned the page, a giant Home Depot advertisement filled up half of the next page. Clearly the Examiner is not neutral on this issue. Still, this was the first coherent defense of the Home Depot project I have read. I've addressed most of the editorial's arguments in my previous Home Depot posts, but here's a few comments for now.

Part of the editorial claims that since San Franciscans already shop at Home Depot in Colma, competition isn't harmed by the new store. This erroneously assumes that if they build a Home Depot in San Francisco, no new customers will be generated but will rather just be transferred from one store to another. This is nonsense. Some people either can't or don't want to drive to Colma. If a new store is built, some people will find that driving to Bayshore is more convienient than driving to their local store whereas driving to Colma was not.

The editorial makes the following claim: One fact seems to get lost: No one can make San Franciscans spend money at Home Depot, and if people continue to spend money at the homegrown businesses they say they want in their neighborhoods, those businesses will continue to thrive.

First, people shop at the Home Depot not because of choice but because the market dictates it. If screwdrivers are $2 at Home Depot and $3 at Local Bob's, why shop at Local Bob's? You'd be a fool to do it. Of course, what you don't realize is that Local Bob pays his worker higher wages and reinvests his profits back in the local economy. As a result, the real cost to individuals, when you factor it actual cost spent + cost to society from shopping at Home Depot vs. Local Bob's, suddenly you aren't saving any money by shopping at the Home Depot. But consumers don't understand this because they only factor in the actual cost spent, not the real costs of buying from Home Depot.

Second, local business cannot "continue to thrive" just because some portion of the community supports homegrown business. The problem is that the local guy will certainly lose not all, but a large portion of his business to people other than those who support homegrown businesses. Just because a significant portion, or even a majority, of citizens feel that homegrown businesses are better, all it takes is for a minority of people to support the Home Depot for their anti-competitive practices to obliterate small business.

The San Francisco Examiner is a right-wing rag. No one would read it if it weren't free.

I'm not optimistic about the Home Depot. It seems as though the Board of Supervisors will ultimately approve the project conditioned on a smaller size. Size doesn't matter; the mere fact that an anti-competitive big box corporation is entering San Francisco will harm our economy. Although the store must be rejected on environmental grounds, the Home Depot should not be allowed to do shady backdoor manuevers to subvert the legislative process. As is, the proposal doesn't pass the environmental muster. The Supervisors should deny the project and refuse a vote until the environmental report is begun from square one. In the interim, the supervisors need to pass an anti-big box ordinance that would forever prevent the intrusion of Walmart and Home Depot in our beautiful city.

Finally, since we're on the subject of the Home Depot, I had to mention this. A man is suing the Home Depot because he sat on a toilet seat in the restroom that was covered in glue. Employees ignored his cries for help for 15 minutes because they thought he was kidding; the man thought he was having a heart attack.

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