Kaua‘i’s poorest will suffer most from big box ban

Sadly, Kauai’s Mayor Bryan Baptiste and our current Kaua‘i County Council are mulling a ban on further big box stores. A ban on big box stores on Kaua‘i would only hurt the average to low income citizen while serving to protect Kaua‘i’s “old boy” retailing companies.

Four years ago Gov. Linda Lingle stated that the only realistic answer to high gas prices on Kaua‘i was competition. Low and behold the same week that Costco opens, Kaua‘i’s drivers are treated to a 30 cent decline on retail gas prices. This price reduction has benefited all of Kaua‘i’s working families, allowing them a break from the high prices that drive many of them to work two or three jobs just to make ends meet. Additionally, those who can afford a Costco membership are being treated to far lower prices on many goods and services. However, Costco is not a panacea for all. Many low income families cannot afford the membership fees that Costco charges.

Also, Costco’s large-sized packaging may not be realistic for single or even two-person households. Most importantly, Costco does not accept EBT food stamps. A significant segment of Kaua‘i’s population relies on food stamps each month. They are the lowest economic segment of Kaua‘i and are de facto denied the opportunity to save money, stretch their food budgets or purchase cheaper, high quality groceries at Costco.

Our county leaders should seriously reconsider the effects of a proposed big box ban on our most economically vulnerable citizens. Wal-Mart should be allowed to expand. Wal-Mart does accept food stamps. Their business model will allow the least well off amongst us to benefit from lower food prices.

Obviously, a proliferation of big box retailers here on Kaua‘i will have negative impacts on existing businesses. Perhaps a more fair approach would be to allow existing Kaua‘i retailers to expand, such as Wal-Mart, who is already here and is a good Kaua‘i corporate neighbor, while instituting a five or 10-year moratorium on any new big box entrants. This would allow our existing retailers the time they need to adjust their operations while continuing to look after the best interests of Kaua‘i’s economically disadvantaged.

It is significant that the council members pushing this are from the far left of their party. JoAnn Yukimura, Mel Rapozo and Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho claim to represent the little guy. This ban is nothing but a thinly veiled attack on Wal-Mart, a national whipping boy of the far left. Councilmembers Yukimura, Rapozo and Iseri-Carvalho will be quite willing to let Kaua‘i’s most economically vulnerable citizens fall further behind just to push a liberal agenda. As for Republican Mayor Baptiste advancing this; I wish he would exhibit more fair-minded leadership than this type of measure presupposes. The policies of our Kaua‘i government must recognize not only the negative impacts on our corporate neighbors, (and campaign contributors), but balance those legitimate interests with the effects on the least well-off segments of our community that would benefit most from the proposed Wal-Mart super center.

Republican Mayor Baptiste and the far left council members try to portray a big box ban as defending Kaua‘i’s rural lifestyle. This is a specious argument. Wal-Mart and other large retailers are clustered in and around Lihue, right where they should be, in the political and geographic center of our island. No one is suggesting allowing big box retailers be constructed elsewhere on Kaua‘i, where traces of our true rural atmosphere still exist.

An outright ban would only underscore the hypocrisy of Kaua‘i’s elected officials claiming they are for the little guy at election time and then doing the exact opposite by siding with entrenched “old boy” retailing companies when the election is over.

• Alfred Sarmento is a Republican political activist from Kaua‘i’s Westside. He can be contacted via e-mail at alfred_sarmento@hotmail.com

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