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Kirk Effinger: Land of the free…upon approval

The Vista Planning Commission’s quandary over what to do about the supposed proliferation of “dollar” stores in that city raises some interesting philosophical questions as pertains to how much government is too much? 

It’s all the more interesting because often these philosophical juxtapositions are being dealt with by members of a political wing most often described as the “free enterprise” and “keep government out of our business” crowd.

The proposed store is filling a need. Like it or not, there are people of limited means who live in Vista and throughout North County. You might be surprised to know who some of those people are — college graduates, students, and many others who have been impacted by this still-lousy economy.

The stereotype some have of immigrant families trooping through these stores belies the reality that people of every stripe, age and ethnicity are patronizing them out of economic necessity and an unfortunate acceptance of a new economic reality.

My wife and I recently attended a gathering of 20 and 30-something friends of my daughter and her husband in celebration of the upcoming birth of her friend’s new baby. Nearly every gift that was given — with no shame attached — came from discount merchandisers. The people in attendance were nurses, a school principal, accomplished college-educated business owners and a scientist.

What I find ironic is Vista’s willingness to make tax revenue compromises to attract retailers deemed by the city to be desirable and appropriate but unwillingness to allow a tax paying one to locate there.

I remember several years ago a controversy in a certain beach community — whose initials are Solana Beach — when residents there got wind of a proposal for a new store going into the Lomas Santa Fe shopping center.

A handful of the citizenry were outraged to discover a Ross Dress for Less was proposed for their tiny community. The horror!

An abortive campaign was initiated to stop the store from locating in the center. Despite the outcry, sanity prevailed and the store was allowed to open.

I get it. No one wants their neighborhood to turn into an unattractive, poorly-maintained eyesore. That said I have some heartburn with government deciding what business is the right kind of business for a community. If a business’s market research shows they can do well in a certain location, why, in a free-market economy, would you not let it try and either succeed or fail on its own?

Community design standards are a different thing altogether. While what is attractive to some is highly subjective and tastes certainly change over time, it’s reasonable to expect builders and developers to adhere to some basic rules about the look and feel of what they construct. After all, whatever they build will be potentially on view to the entire community.

Vista’s pick-and-choose policies toward business may make sense for votes, but I question the philosophical inconsistencies of its “pro-business” city leadership. Let the market decide.

Kirk W. Effinger was born in San Diego and raised in Southern California. He and his family have been residents of San Marcos for the past 30 years. His opinion columns have appeared regularly in the North County Times and, later, the San Diego Union-Tribune since 1995. He can be reached at ki[email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @kirkeffinger

1 comment

Brian E August 28, 2013 at 5:30 pm

I trust I will not hereafter hear any disparaging comments about the elitism of Progressive liberals living in Vista from those conservatives living in Vista who object to a business as ignoble and déclassé as a (*gasp!*) dollar store being located there.

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