Tuesday, July 31, 2012

More on gay rights and land use: Will Chick-fil-A follow Target's about-face?

I've enjoyed Matt and Ken's posts on public officials in Boston and Chicago making statements that Chick-fil-A restaurants would not be welcome in their jurisdictions because of the anti-gay-marriage opinions expressed by the company's CEO. 

I thought that there were several factual, land-use related considerations worth noting, especially in light of Ken's argument.  First, Chick-fil-A is a largely suburban business.  Even though it is a company with $4.1 billion in annual sales, Chick-fil-A's restaurant locator shows no stores in Boston, one store in Chicago, one store in San Francisco, one store in New York City, and a similar choice to focus on suburban locations nationwide.  As such, big city mayors have little to fear by challenging Chick-fil-A:  the business brings in insignificant tax revenue for big cities, and Chick-fil-A appears to have no great interest in entering such locations.  This makes me second Ken's notion that this is largely about politics and "scoring one for the team" of gay rights.  This is largely an invented issue because it is not like Chick-fil-A is seeking to pepper these cities with their stores.

By comparison, consider the reparations Target has paid to gay communities in major markets in recompense for its $150,000 donation in 2010 to Minnesota Forward, an independent expenditure committee at the time backing an anti-gay candidate for governor in Minnesota.  Target, which does have an interest in entering big city markets, has done all but fall on its sword in an effort to support gay-friendly causes, and win necessary land use permits. The new Target store opening in San Francisco is a perfect example.  The news of Target's anti-gay support in Minnesota came just as the company was filing for land use permits to open two stores in San Francisco.   Get a sense of the tone Target was facing on those permits here.  Since then, Target has openly courted San Francisco's LGBT community. The San Francisco's Bay Area Reporter, the city's LGBT newspaper, listed out Target's donations to the community in a March article:

As Target prepares to open its first stores in San Francisco, the national retailer is increasing its giving to local LGBT organizations.

The company upped its donations to the LGBT Community Center, which is marking its 10th year and has launched a $1 million fundraising drive. Target donated $50,000 toward the anniversary campaign and is sponsoring the center's annual Soiree gala later this month at the $15,000 level.

Target first gave toward the event in 2011, and also donated $20,000 toward the center's education initiative last year with the San Francisco Unified School District.

Center Executive Director Rebecca Rolfe told the Bay Area Reporter the organization is "very pleased" to have Target as a major donor this year.

. . .

"At Target, we're proud of our long history of supporting the LGBT community through giving, volunteerism and event partnership and participation. Target was one of the San Francisco LGBT Center's first corporate sponsors," wrote Snyder.

The company has also been a major corporate sponsor for Out and Equal Workplace Advocates. Since 2010 Target has been a presenting sponsor for the San Francisco-based LGBT group's Workplace Summits.

What a difference a couple years make!  Like Ken noted, the reality is that many discretionary land use permitting disputes are resolved through informal means, especially when there is tension between national chain stores and local communities.  But query:  why did big city politicians not send letters to Target after its support of anti-gay rights causes saying they would never permit a Target in their communities?  Why the difference in treatment with Chick-fil-A?  I have at least one idea:  because big cities want Target stores for the tax revenue!  The small matter of the tax dollars may be enough to explain why big city politicians will negotiate with a potential big-revenue producer like Target on a culture wars slip-up (provided the store makes amends), and excoriate a negligible source of tax revenue to those same cities, such as Chick-fil-A.  Could such differential treatment, even in the culture wars, ultimately be all about the money?

Stephen R. Miller


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