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A community scourge or consumer boon?

  • Friends Andie McHatton, left and Judi Lutsky of Rohnert Park, happen to meet up at Pacific Market in Rohnert Park, Friday July 23, 2010 as they shop for groceries. Wal-Mart still wants to put in a superstore, which according to some, could hurt local businesses such as Pacific Market. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2010

A battle between Wal-Mart and its critics is set to resume Thursday in front of the Rohnert Park City Council.

The world's biggest retailer wants to add a 32,000-square-foot grocery to its Rohnert Park store — creating a Supercenter — and is appealing the city Planning Commission's April denial of its application.

Councilmembers have scheduled a special meeting for 6 p.m. Thursday to hear the appeal, a measure of how much interest the issue has generated.

"We are expecting a big crowd, I expect we'll be there for hours," said Councilman Joe Callinan.

The issue has coalesced along lines set down in other Sonoma County confrontations over big-box stores ranging from Lowe's in Santa Rosa to Lucky Supermarkets in Cotati.

Opponents — including county supervisors Mike Kerns and Shirlee Zane, whose districts include Rohnert Park — argue that giant corporations like Wal-Mart fray community identities, depress wages and hurt local economies by swamping smaller employers that may offer better pay and benefits.

Supporters maintain that commercial competition, as the guiding principle of the U.S. economy, creates more and better choices and lower prices for consumers.

It's a conflict often defined by how tough it is to resolve.

Laura Martinez felt it, standing outside the Safeway store on Commerce Boulevard.

It would be unfair, said Martinez, 50, to prohibit Wal-Mart's expansion, "but I worry about stores like this, where my husband works, and about Raley's, where my son works."

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