Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Props to Blacksburg

As much as it pains my Wahoo heart to say good things about anything involving Hokieland, I have to give the Blacksburg Town Council some props. Last week the Virginia Supreme Court upheld the town's right to keep out big box retailers. A few years ago, Blacksburg entered into an agreement with Fairmont Properties to build a shopping center--the development has been built and is profitable, and everyone was thrilled. But then Fairmont wanted to build a big box store that pretty much everyone seems to believe would have been a Wal-Mart Supercenter. Blacksburg nixed it on a zoning ordinance, Fairmont sued, a lower court sided with Fairmont, and Blacksburg appealed to the Virginia Supremes. Blacksburg's victory last week is the biggest one in the anti-supercenter movement that I'm aware of, though I wouldn't be surprised to see this case or one like it end up in the U.S. Supreme Court.

If you're unclear why I'm so staunchly opposed to Wal-Mart, a simple experiment is in order: go to your nearest Wal-Mart Supercenter and try to find five products that were made in the United States. My guess is that you'll be looking for quite a while. Wal-Mart is nothing more than a conduit for Chinese goods that could have been made by Americans. On top of that, Wal-Mart is one of the leading causes of the bland, forceful homogenization of small-town America--when Wal-Mart shows up pushing "low prices" (read: it's cheaper because we're complicit in child labor and look the other way at abhorrent working conditions), it crushes local entrepreneurs and obliterates the historic downtown areas that give our towns character and personality. Instead, you get large strips of land eaten up by chain stores and pretty soon every place in America looks like every other place in America.

As an aside, I think this is an important case study in why we should never, under any circumstances, elect the judicial branch. Virginia is one of the only states that still does not elect judges by popular vote, and it's a practice we should absolutely continue. Once they pass the initial hurdle of appointment and confirmation, Supreme Court justices and judges in general are uniquely insulated from the political process. They don't--and they shouldn't--have to worry about how popular their decisions will be or how they will pay for their next campaign, but only whether their decisions will be the right ones. It would be interesting to see how this issue would have played out if it had been left up to legislators who do have to stay popular and pay for their campaign--I don't need to remind anyone of how often we hear of elected officials who cast votes that conveniently pay off for their financiers.

Way to be, Blacksburg--let's hope this sets a precedent for other towns to stand up for themselves.

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