By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A Target Corp. official was wrong last week when he told the Santa Rosa Planning Commission that 60 percent of the workforce at the future Coddingtown store would be full-time workers, a company spokeswoman said this week.
It’s more likely that at least 60 percent will be part-timers.
The acknowledgment of the misinformation has emboldened critics of the big-box retailer’s employment practices and caused one commissioner to say she might have voted differently if accurate information had been presented.
“I really don’t like the fact that I was given misinformation,” Commissioner Caroline Banuelos said. “It definitely gives me pause about whether I would have voted for it.”
The commission voted 4-0 (three members were absent) last Thursday to grant Coddingtown a use permit for construction of a 143,000-square-foot Target on the site of the former Gottschalks building, vacant since 2009.
Marty Bennett, co-chairman of the Living Wage Coalition of Sonoma County, urged the commission to require a community impact report for the project, which he said was the only way to gain an accurate picture of, among other things, the project’s impact on local retailers, its ratio of full-time to part-time workers, the pay workers receive and how many actually get benefits.
The Target project has been hailed as a potential boon to the aging Coddingtown mall, which struggles with low traffic but which in recent years has added new tenants such as Whole Foods and BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse. Santa Rosa doesn’t require community impact reports on big projects, but some cities, including Petaluma and San Rafael, do.
Bennett told the commission that Target would create 200 “low-wage jobs” and that “most will be part time,” and that a report on Target estimated only 37 percent of workers receive benefits. He blamed large retailers such as Target and Wal-Mart for the increasing number of workers without health care, which he said shifts costs to the public sector.
John Dewes, regional development manager of real estate for the Minneapolis, Minn.-based retailer, sought to rebut such claims. Dewes, in what he said was an effort to clarify the issue, told the commission he was “very familiar” with the study that Bennett cited and said it “doesn’t actually match with the reality.”
Of the 200 to 250 employees expected to be employed at the store, Dewes said, 60 percent would be full time, with the remainder split evenly among part-timers working 20 to 32 hours per week, who get some benefits, and those who work less, who receive none.
He denied the implication that Target hires a high number of part-time workers to avoid paying medical and other benefits. He said the company would prefer if more part-timers worked enough to qualify for benefits, but said many are students who prefer fewer hours for scheduling reasons.
“There is no concerted effort to try to keep people at a certain level by any means,” Dewes said.
A Target spokeswoman said employees who work 2½ days a week are eligible for health care coverage after six months.
During Dewes’ remarks to the commission, Bennett audibly scoffed. After the meeting, he said Dewes’ statements were false and contradicted by other Target sources. He cited a report entitled Conditions for Workers at Target: Estimates for a Proposed California Supercenter, by Jeannette Wicks-Lim, assistant research professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
The report states that in 2010 in San Rafael, Target human resources manager Jamie Tajii told the City Council that, “on average, 35 percent of team members (Target employees) were full time.” San Rafael commissioned a community impact report for the proposed SuperTarget and the project eventually was approved. Construction is to begin soon.
The report also cites Target’s “developer’s guide,” which notes that “approximately 20 percent-25 percent of employees per store of all store types are employed full time.”
Asked Friday to reconcile the contradiction between Dewes’ statement and the developer’s guide, Mya Walters, a senior communications manager for Target, said the full-time versus part-time ratio Dewes provided to the commission was “not atypical of the representation of a Bay Area store.”
Asked about the contradiction with Tajii’s statement, Walters said Tajii’s figure was “an average that most accurately represented the district’s mix at the time.”
Pressed further to clarify, Walters said the company had “re-evaluated” its data and that Dewes’ “unintentionally inverted” the full-time and part-time figures” and was “in the process of reaching out to the Planning Commission to clarify.”
By Thursday evening, Walters had not responded to several follow-up questions, including what the actual ratio is.
Commissioners had differing reactions to Target’s acknowledgment. Peter Stanley, who works at a development consulting firm, said he was disappointed to hear the data was inaccurate.
“I don’t like getting bad information,” Stanley said.
Stanley said the community’s affordability and livability are “very critical” issues, however he views his role on the commission from a land-use perspective. Santa Rosa doesn’t require community impact reports, and Stanley said he doesn’t know of anything in the zoning code or city general plan that calls for commissioners to consider the economic impacts of a project.
“It wouldn’t have changed my decision,” Stanley said.
Banuelos said she is very concerned about the issue of underemployment because she knows many people who’ve lost good paying jobs and been forced to take lower paying, part-time jobs with few if any benefits.
She was concerned about the information Bennett cited at the meeting, but said she was reassured when Dewes cited the 60 percent figure, which she said sounded better than she expected.
“I thought, well I guess I don’t have a whole lot to complain about here,” Banuelos said.
Banuelos said she may reconsider her vote on the project, a rarely used parliamentary procedure that would have to occur at the next commission meeting on Thursday. She would need a second vote to support that effort.
Assistant City Attorney Molly Dillon said the project still would have passed on a 3-1 vote.
Commissioner Vicki Duggan said the error itself, if limited to reversing the ratio, probably wouldn’t be significant enough to change how she voted, which she said was based on many factors, including the revitalization of the mall.
But if the revised figures differ significantly from other published data, Duggan said she would be “very concerned about that.”
“I would probably start with asking for additional information,” she said.
Bennett said he is considering an appeal of the project to the City Council. He said the episode is not confined to Santa Rosa, but rather is part of a “pattern of misleading information and responses” as the company attempts to expand rapidly in the state while evading efforts to pin it down on employment details.
“Target in both San Rafael and Petaluma and now Santa Rosa has not given consistent and accurate information about their full-time and part-time ratios,” or other employment data, Bennett said.
Coddingtown development manager Kirstie Moore said the mall would urge Target to be open about such issues.
“As far as Coddingtown is concerned, we want full transparency,” Moore said. “We’ve got nothing to hide.”
You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or firstname.lastname@example.org.