WatchSonoma Watch

Rohnert Park City Council OKs Wal-Mart expansion



Wal-Mart on Thursday won over a majority of the Rohnert Park City Council, which opened the door to Sonoma County’s first Supercenter by allowing the company to add a 32,000-square-foot grocery to its existing Redwood Drive store.

The overflow room was packed forcing Rohnert Park City Hall to set up an outside listening area during a Rohnert Park council meeting on the projected Wal-Mart expansion on Thursday, July 29, 2010. (Crista Jeremiason/PD)

The council’s action overturned — and sharply rebuked —an April vote by the city’s Planning Comission, which had unanimously rejected the application by Wal-Mart, the world’s biggest retailer.

“The Planning Commission didn’t do their job and shame on them,” Councilman Joe Callinan said near the end of a special meeting that drew hundreds of people to City Hall.

The commission had worried about the impact on other Rohnert Park groceries and it said the expansion would be inconsistent with a section of the city’s general plan that calls for encouraging supermarkets to be “close to where people live.”

Leading up to and during Thursday’s meeting opponents said one store in particular, Pacific Market, on Golf Course Drive, would suffer. The market — one of a three-store Sonoma County grocery chain — is at risk of failing as a result of the Wal-Mart expansion, according to the environmental impact report prepared for the project.

Many speakers on Thursday cited that finding and said that if the market goes under, surrounding businesses could too, contributing to an urban decay that the city’s general plan is intended to guard against.

“If this happens, Pacific Market will surely close, and it will be like a deck of cards with one after another beginning to close,” said Steven King, who said he lives near the Mountain Shadows Shopping Center where the market is located.

“It’s going to change the nature of the north part of Rohnert Park, and we don’t want it,” said Nancy Atwell, a Rohnert Park resident who said she lives near the market.

But on a 4-1 vote, with Councilman Jake Mackenzie opposed, the council ruled that the impacts of the project were outweighed by the benefits it would bring to the community.

“Competition is good in a good economy and a bad economy,” said Vice-Mayor Gina Belforte, “and I do believe this will drive economic development.”

Coouncilwoman Amie Breeze said Pacific Market and Wal-Mart are “both local” because they each employ local residents and contribute sales tax revenues to the city.

But, she said, “We are not here tonight to choose between Pacific Market and Wal-Mart.

“We need to uphold the law, we need to apply the law, and we need to allow this project to move forward. I believe that not to do so would be un-American,” she said.

The vote gave Wal-Mart supporters a victory that they said was the only fair outcome of a battle that they had framed largely in terms of competition and choice.

“I think it’s fantastic, now we really and truly have a choice.” said Caroline Andrieux of Santa Rosa.

Wal-Mart attorneys on Thursday argued that the Planning Commission had erred legally.

“The law does not require you to be consistent with every aspect of the general plan, it requires you to be in harmony with the general plan,” said Miriam Montesinos, a San Francisco attorney representing the Bentonville, Ark.-based company.

“If you interpret those policies the way they are asking you to, basically you would have a mandatory prohibition on new development in Rohnert Park,” she said.

Montesinos spoke near the start of a 5-½ hour debate that was framed, often passionately, in several ways:

As a battle to endorse the principles of free market competition and consumer choice;

As a referendum on the council’s support of lower income residents;

As a fight in support of an economy built more around local businesses than giant corporations;

As a choice between developing businesses and housing along a planned SMART line alongside Highway 101 or contributing to increased traffic and greenhouse gases by forcing people to drive farther to meet their shopping needs.

“I believe as Americans we need to extend to Wal-Mart the privilege of expanding as they want to do,” said Bunny Kimball of Rohnert Park.

“The decision you’re making tonight is really a very major policy decision, and it’s speaking of where your loyalty lies,” said Jan Ogren, a Rohnert Park resident who said she wants to know that the city supports local businesses before moving hers there from Santa Rosa.

Thomas Thunderhorse, a Rohnert Park resident who described himself as a low-income senior, said the council’s decision would have political consequences.

“If this council votes for the expansion of Wal-Mart, it will show those people in need that you care for them,” he said. “If you vote against it, you will be remembered by them.”

Dennis Rosatti, executive director of Sonoma County Conservation Action, one of a loose coalition of groups opposing the project, said the expansion would hurt efforts to develop small businesses, affordable housing and bicycle and foot traffic along Highway 101 on the planned SMART route.

“The more you expand that site (Wal-Mart’s Redwood Drive location) the less likely it will become that we can transform that site in the long haul,” he said.

Many in the audience had joined previous efforts to defeat proposed big box stores, and they had prevailed twice last year, derailing bids by Wal-Mart and Lowe’s to open stores in Santa Rosa.

But on Thursday, they were were turned back by a council majority that said Wal-Mart was entitled to expand.

“We are dealing with the law — what do we have the legal right to do — and this is consistent with the general plan,” said Mayor Pam Stafford. “They have the right to do this.”

Disappointed Wal-Mart foes said that the council had bowed to big business interests and could pay a political price.
“It was a political decision not a legal decision,” said Ben Boyce, a Sonoma labor activist who consulted with Pacific Market in its campaign against the Wal-Mart expansion.

“The only remedy is to get new political actors in place,” he said.

The expanded store is targeted to open in 2012. As proposed, it will be 167,000 square-feet in size and open 24 hours a day. Most of the addition would be groceries, but more general merchandise will also be sold, the company’s proposal said.

You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or jeremy.hay@pressdemocrat.com.

33 Responses to “Rohnert Park City Council OKs Wal-Mart expansion”

  1. Michael says:

    @Quinton it’s hard to take anything you say seriously when you claim that Clinton signed the Glass-Steagall Act. LOL. Clinton wasn’t even alive in 1933.

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  2. quinton says:

    Graeme Wellington says:…Yet, the worst-case fears never actually happen.
    Well sir, that is simply not the case.
    Clear-cutting Redwoods and permitting
    a Texas investor buy Pacific Lumber Co.
    pretty much decimated Scotia…
    Ronald Reagan economics set the stage for the economic situation we are now in, and Bill Clinton’s signing Glass-Stegal gave the banks and investment companies the ability to run rough shod over millions of American investor’s retirements.
    Our myopic dependence on fossil fuel has our planet in great peril…
    Our ambivalence about cheap labor has created the immigration problem that we have.
    Our refusal to address our nation’s addiction to various substances is wrecking havoc on this country, Mexico, and Central and South America.
    Walmart as an organization has wrecked havoc in many small towns and cities that made tremendous tax and planning accommodations costing millions of dollars only to have them pull out at the last minute…They are ruthless, efficient, and mendacious. Sonoma County can well do without catering to them any more….

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  3. John Galt says:

    It occurred to me I have left the topic at hand with my last post…
    While I agree with Ms. Boaz we need oil delivered in an environmentally safe manner, we also need the approved grocery expansion delivered in an equally safe manner.
    Capitalism and profits have paid for every single environmental advance we have made across the globe. Those who oppose the WalMart grocery expansion then also stand in opposition of the financial foundation of our ability to continue to make environmental advances.
    Let’s use the power and might of consumerism and enforcement of the laws we have to achieve our goals instead of destroying what we have worked so hard to build as a nation.

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  4. John Galt says:

    I agree with Cynthia Boaz, we DO need another oil rig in the gulf.
    An oil rig that is actually regulated, not an oil rig that is unsupervised because our government employees got paid to look the other way when rules were broken by corporate campaign donors.
    Now we have dead oil rig employees, broken families, and an entire gulf coast economy under great stress, ruining American lives.
    Throw in environmental destruction at a level never seen in our time and we have the makings for indictments and convictions of responsible parties that is a direct line to the White House.
    Ms. Boaz, we need our government to enforce the laws that are on the books, and until we convert to renewable energy as a nation we need oil.

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  5. Chuck says:

    I just want to thank the anti walmart crowd for telling me where I should shop and what I should eat. I don’t know what I would do if I had to think for myself. I guess all the money I don’t have from the job I don’t have should be spent on overpriced items at Pacific Market or other local stores. This decision should be left to the residents of RP, not people from Windsor, Healdsburg, and even Hidden Valley, are you kidding me. The majority of my neighbors in RP want the Super Walmart. Its not like they are building the first Walmart in RP, it has been here for about 20 years, all they want to do is sell groceries. Maybe this isn’t the land of the free but the land of we know whats best for you.

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  6. Cynthia Boaz says:

    This is shameful. Wal Mart is the worst of the worst.

    We need another Wal Mart in Sonoma County like we need another oil rig in the Gulf.

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  7. RP Council Watcher says:

    “Elections have consequences:
    Bad Decisions=Electoral Defeat”

    One potential silver lining to the Rohnert Park city council’s shameful and misguided decision on the Wal-Mart Supercenter. The special interest crony placeholders on the council have now stepped forward so that we now know who should no longer serve on the council.

    Stafford, Belforte,Callinan, and Breeze decided to kick out the last vestige of sound land-use planning by clasping to the chest of Rohnert Park the poisonous snake of a predatory WalMart SuperCenter. This will not be forgotten.

    Props to Jake McKenzie for standing up for principle. Keep this in mind: there are two open seats on the council in November. This is your chance to repudiate the duplicitous Pam Stafford and the malevolent Amie Breeze.

    Donate money, walk precincts, make phone calls for worthy opponents to these special interest tools. You’ll have to wait a couple of years to remove the rest of these corporate functionaries, Callinan and Belforte. It’s not too early to get to work on that project.

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  8. Michael says:

    I fully encourage anyone who opposes Wal-Mart’s practices not to shop there.

    The ADC crowd keeps trying to draw the analogy between the kind of lobbying Wal-Mart does and the kind they do, but there is a HUGE difference: Wal-Mart is offering a choice, while ADC is trying to limit consumer choice.

    For so called “democrats”, they have such little faith in populism, I’m actually surprised. But it goes to prove the old adage “Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself.”

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  9. PJB says:

    It’s doubtful Oliver’s will lose much business, if any at all over this expansion. Oliver’s carries plenty of specialty items that Wal-Mart doesn’t. Oliver’s is more focused on quality where Wal-Mart is all about quantity. What many of you have forgotten, or don’t even know, is the history of Wal-Mart. Sam Walton started as the ‘little guy’ giving the people what they wanted. Low prices. He grew and lived the American dream, just like plenty of other business owners who started small and grew. You also have the option of not shopping there.

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  10. Jim Stewart says:

    Many are overlooking a simple fact. Walmart is here and all the small businesses did not go away. An expansion won’t make a huge difference, it just diversify the choices people have as to where they buy certain products. Nothing wrong with diversity, right?

    As for people not liking what Rohnert Park may become or lose in it’s image, wake up!! Rohnert is already the Los Angeles of Sonoma County. If no one has noticed, there is a 6 lane freeway being constructed through the middle of the jewel. The largest casino North of the Golden Gate is in the works and you have the largest, 16 screen, theatre in the region. You make Southern California look pale in comparison… At least the LA basin doesn’t pretend it is a small town still. It is growing way past the fast food, plastic, commercial big box hub. If something is turned down in Santa Rosa, go to Rohnert Park, they’ll build anything. Wake up.

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  11. bats555 says:

    Review this video and find out why so many people despise this corporate retail vampire:

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  12. Lyn says:

    Anyone think the Cotati Oliver’s will lose much business when Wal-Mart starts selling groceries? Most of the groceries in our house come from a SR Oliver’s. Yep, its prices are high, but the produce and meats are high quality and it’s convenient.

    The point is that plenty of businesses successfully compete with Wal-Mart when they offer value. Those that offer high prices without the justifying high quality will lose business, as they should.

    And just as Japanese automobile competition forced–ever so slowly– Detroit automakers to improve the reliability of their cars, competition from Wal-Mart will force the the same from inefficient competitors, or they will close. And that’s the way it is and will continue to be, unless we want to go back to some form of feudalism.

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  13. Grey Whitmore says:

    Sorry folks.

    Wal-Mart has somehow convinced you that saving money is the only thing that matters!

    The other side of this are big banks selling you down the river.

    Do you all not know how this works? Your cooperating with companies and polices that ARE NOT IN YOUR BEST INTEREST. And sorry, in my book that makes you stupid.

    That t-shirt that you buy at Wal-Mart might be cheaper BUT it is not made as well, the person selling it to you probably does not have health insurance but uses an emergency room, and Wal-Mart is laughing all the way to the bank and your making junk that goes into landfill.

    And yes, I have no tolerance. None for people who want the cheapest thing no matter the cost. This explains, big houses with bad mortgages, cheap gas and oil spills, etc. etc.


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  14. Hilary says:

    When a market is flooded with cheap goods, those goods are bought up first. It’s called “dumping,” it’s what Wal-Mart does and it’s bad for an economy, local or otherwise. Our entire country has been flooded with cheap foreign products, and if you’ve read the news lately, imports are surging. Americans aren’t going out of their way to “choose” to buy domestically made goods. They buy the cheapest products available. This is the same problem Haiti faces with its rice. The US dumps rice on their market and despite the benefits of buying Haitian-produced rice, Haitians buy the US rice because it’s cheaper. If you want to maintain a certain standard of living, you have to protect your local producers (aka local workers, YOU and ME) from cheap competitors. Take a look around. How’s that racey-to-the-bottom thingy workin’ out for ya?

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  15. Hilary says:

    A despicable display of corporate lackyism! Still spewing the neo-liberal propaganda that has brought America’s middle class to its knees. Shame shame on this treasonous city council.

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  16. Michael says:

    I think Grey telling the public that they are stupid is very insightful. (Actually, he said “your” stupid…of course he meant you’re; normally I let that kind of stuff slide, but when you call me stupid, you’re kind of asking for it.) Anyway, I digress, the reason that the “Greys” of the world are so afraid of individual choice is because they think the rest of us are stupid.

    Firms are profit maximizers (including Pacific Market) and consumers are utility maximizers. Personally, I think anyone who actually finds more utility in voluntarily paying more for a commodity is pretty stupid. Please tell me you’re not that Stupid Grey.

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  17. Rock says:

    So, Pacific Market shoppers will leave and now shop at Wal Mart. Pretty weak and desperate argument. Like saying a Macys shopper will change to buying clothes at Wal Mart also(if there was a Macys here). If you are going to fight it, fight it right. There are already cheaper grocery stores in town.

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  18. Lyn says:

    Why is it the subject of Wal-Mart brings out the worst in people? Calling others “stupid” for not agreeing with them is hardly the best way to convince anyone of anything. Likely, just the opposite.

    Far more important than Wal-Mart is the growing intolerance of people. If you don’t like Wal-Mart, don’t shop there.

    Any free society depends on the public’s tolerance of a wide range of behavior. If shopping at Wal-Mart is beyond that range, then we are quickly becoming an intolerant country.

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  19. bats555 says:

    Thanks Grey! Appreciate it, but I do admit as Wal-Mart being a corporate mega retailer. Who’s bottom line objective is the almighty dollar. See’s their customer’s who purchase their goods are the ones who are paying for their employee’s medical benefits as a major SWEET deal.
    People wake up, read it for yourself.


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  20. Grey Whitmore says:

    Am stund that the folling information posted by bats555 gets the thumbs down!

    Walmart’s entry into a metropolitan area eliminates similar jobs that pay about 18% more than Walmart and decreases the average earnings of general merchandising workers by 0.5 to 0.8%, according to a 2005 study.

    A 2007 study found that the opening of a single Walmart store lowers average retail wages in a county.

    Public assistance used by Walmart associates cost California about $86 million a year, according to a 2004 study.

    A 2007 study found that Walmart store openings reduce retail employment in a county by 2.7 percent, meaning that every Walmart worker hired at a new store effectively replaces 1.4 retail jobs.

    Are you people voting thumbs down on this information really that STUPID? And yes, the word was STUPID. Because you are voting against your own best interest. Study after study has shown that TAX PAYERS support the lower prices at Wal-Mart. THAT IS YOU !!! Your not getting something for free here, your just paying for it a different way.


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  21. bats555 says:

    Some interesting facts about Wal-Mart: * Walmart’s entry into a metropolitan area eliminates similar jobs that pay about 18% more than Walmart and decreases the average earnings of general merchandising workers by 0.5 to 0.8%, according to a 2005 study.
    * A 2007 study found that the opening of a single Walmart store lowers average retail wages in a county
    * Public assistance used by Walmart associates cost California about $86 million a year, according to a 2004 study.
    * A 2007 study found that Walmart store openings reduce retail employment in a county by 2.7 percent, meaning that every Walmart worker hired at a new store effectively replaces 1.4 retail jobs.

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  22. @John: Walmart has never (or maybe a small exception out there) qualified as smart growth. I am not a no-growther. Rather, I would support a diversified business strategy that limits the amount of square footage a business can occupy, leaving a more versatile product for the reoccupation should the big box business go dim.

    I personally do not beleive that the “economy” is being helped by allowing large out of town/state businesses operate their low wage, low road products that are manufactured in foreign (aka- non-American) lands to be sold to the lowest bidder. What about the local suppliers? What about the environmental impacts of such a large auto-dependent business that has no commitment or social investment into our community? This is the essence of my “death star” comparison.

    I maintain my position that this “superstore” is a tragedy for, at a minimum, the image of Sonoma County. As I said on KRCB radio on Thursday in an interview with Bruce Robinson, if Walmart came back with a smaller project; pedestrian, cycling and mass transit ammenities; perhaps a series of smaller stores easily filled if they ever leave; a higher standard of environmental design; and a commitment to their workers for card check neutrality and good wages/benefits; then I’d be ready to consider them as a good community serving business. Bottom line- that’s not the way this company operates, folks.

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  23. Me says:

    Residents, job seekers, and customers: 0
    Tyranny: 1

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  24. Me says:

    There will be no increase in tax revenue, because food is not taxable, and what little taxable items there are included in WM’s grocery section will just be items that some other RP store will not be selling. If, as proponents of WM claim, WM is cheaper, then tax revenue will DECREASE.

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  25. Me says:

    Sad. Today, I am ashamed to be a Rohnert Park resident.
    I will remember these City Council members in November.
    This will lead to more unemployment and more traffic, and nothing good will come of it.
    We didn’t need another grocery store.
    We have more than enough already.
    Why did RP ever allow Walmart to build here in the first place?

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  26. Jesse says:


    It appears you care more about business owners and their employees, than the average consumer, who does not shop at Pacific Market. Special interest groups have done enough damage to our economy. Finally a win for the consumer.

    That fact of the matter is, everyone in Sonoma County will benefit from the expansion via the downward pressure on prices it will exert on the local economy; you don’t even have to shop there. The less you pay for groceries, the more discretionary income you have to spend elsewhere…which is exactly what our economy needs – more consumption – to pull us out from the recession.

    At the core, people like Dennis abhor individual choice. They are uncomfortable with liberty, that individuals find value in different goods and services than him. In his world, “elected officials” would dictate where we could and couldn’t shop.


    Spot on.

    Individual Choice 1, Special Interests/ tyranny 0

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  27. Graeme Wellington says:

    Jake Mackenzie is grandstanding plain and simple. He knew the motion had passed already so he could then “stand on principle” in voting no. A weightless gesture that only establishes his willingness to appear to “stand up for the people.” Well it was the people who passed the laws Jake is supposed to uphold. His vote to disobey the law is a pure political move. It proves he’s disingenuous and will say or do whatever is expedient — to him.

    Vote him out at the next election. Vote them all out. You can’t possibly re-elect people who screwed up the city by failing to make the hard decisions they were elected to make.

    Just like the casino. Jake brought it up as an idea, then voted against it “on principle.” Jake is motivated by a wrong desire to appear principled, rather than a dedication to be principled. It’s clear proof of his lack of principles!

    Why not pass an ordinance that no business in Rohnert Park can sell items made by slave labor in China? Wouldn’t that put some limits on Wal-Mart and everyone else?

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  28. akr says:

    I would have voted with Jake on this one, but not with as much conviction. He’s always someone to listen to, though. I’ve expressed my indecision here but overall come out on the side of we’d probably be better off without it.

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  29. John Galt says:

    Mr. Rosatti claims that the presence of WalMart is a “tragedy”.
    A tragedy?
    I think a real tragedy is the fact that Mr. Rosatti and his pals have done their very best to make sure that there are no jobs in Sonoma County.
    No growth has never been smart growth.
    I look forward to shopping at the local ‘deathstar’.

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  30. I can’t beleive the death star of local business (Walmart Supercenter) is going to be allowed into Sonoma County. What a tragedy for the local environment, and local economy.

    The Bully from Bentonville has won this battle, but not the war. So many comments last night were so right on- Scot Stegman, Rue Furch, Marcus Bennedetti (Clover-Stornetta), Mark Wolfe (land use attorney), Marty Bennett, David Petriz, Ben Boyce, Robert Eyler- it’s difficult to comprehend how the Council went the way it did. Good for Jake Mackenzie for sticking up for what’s right for Sonoma County as the lone vote against.

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  31. Lyn says:

    The council did what the planning commission should have done, follow the law.

    Pro- or anti-Wal-Mart, it shouldn’t matter. Land use planning isn’t supposed to be a popularity contest. Meet the zoning requirements and one’s project gets approved. No more good ol’ boys with friends in city hall getting their way. No more under-the-table payoffs.

    That was the theory at least. The reality is we’re slipping backyards. For those who don’t like out of area companies coming in to compete with local businesses, please read the 14th Amendment, and rethink what the concept of equal treatment under the law means.

    Before land use planning, it was common to protect locals from “outsiders.” Today, sometimes, I wonder am I living in California or . . . . . Alabama.

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  32. sam zuech says:

    The council did the right thing. This means more people will find employment, we will see the price of organic produce decline and the city will receive an increase in much needed tax receipts.
    The big unions in Santa Rosa should stay in SR, just another example of unions being on the wrong side of an issue.

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  33. Graeme Wellington says:

    Everytime some issue like this comes up, there are always those people who say this or that terrible thing will happen if we do whatever. Yet, the worst-case fears never actually happen.

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