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Debate it now

Local editorials

Wal-Mart's coming, but that's no reason not to discuss future big boxes

It came as no surprise that Wal-Mart moved quickly to head off any attempt by the city of Medford to block a new 207,000-foot superstore. But that shouldn't mean, as some City Council members suggested, that the issue of big box stores is not worth debating.

The council met Monday in an emergency session to consider starting a process that could lead to limits on the size of retail stores, specifically a Wal-Mart store proposed for the Miles Field property in south Medford. The meeting came to an abrupt end when the council members were informed Wal-Mart had filed its application for the store earlier that morning.

Council members said that made their discussion moot, and the meeting adjourned after 15 minutes.

Whoa, Nellie. Let's not head for the barn just yet. It may indeed be too late to stop Wal-Mart, but the issue really isn't Wal-Mart, the issue is big box stores. And there are more big boxes out there, looking for homes.

So, the question becomes, should Medford be the home of numerous super stores, giant retailers that dominate their categories through the sheer volume of goods they sell?

— We learned in Tuesday's paper that Target has new stores that are about 200,000 square feet, while Lowe's, Costco and other retailers are routinely putting up buildings of 150,000 square feet or more.

Maybe the City Council will decide that's not an issue. Medford is a retail center and has a number of large box stores. Maybe the status quo will create a retail magnet that will draw more stores, more jobs and more shoppers to the area.

But there are issues, as the belated debate on Wal-Mart showed. The company has become infamous for its predatory pricing, its low wages and poor benefits. By virtue of size alone, the stores overwhelm smaller local businesses and create their own traffic problems.

Just as with an earlier effort in Central Point, any meaningful debate on those costs and benefits was derailed by the company's quick actions.

That's all the more reason that the topic should not be dropped. If the conversation occurs now, action could be taken so that the next big box proposal would not be dealt with in a panic mode.

Having that conversation does not necessarily mean restrictions would be imposed. But it would allow the community to voice its opinion and for the council to make a decision in a studied and thoughtful manner.

Logic at last

Just when we thought the Legislature would never come to its senses, it has done away with the laughable notion of penalizing Oregonians who buy fuel-saving hybrid vehicles.

Buried in the fine print of the huge transportation funding package signed by Gov. Ted Kulongoski Monday was a provision equalizing vehicle registration fees. Part of the funding for the package comes from raising passenger car license fees from &

36;15 to &

36;27 a year. At the same time, the bill lowered the license fee for hybrid vehicles from &

36;30 to &

36;27.

That's right, environmentally conscious motorists who bought a car that runs on electricity and gas or on electricity alone were paying twice what every other driver paid to license their vehicles.

The Legislature enacted that backward-thinking approach in 2001, on the grounds that drivers of hybrid vehicles use less gas and therefore contribute less in gas taxes to state coffers. Owners of hybrids have been complaining loudly ever since, and rightly so.

So, congratulations to the Legislature for doing the right thing and correcting a glaring inequity in state law.

Now, about that little matter of the budget ...