California Voters Reject Wal-Mart Expansion Plans

April 9, 2004 - 12:38

Wal-Mart spent more than $1 million to persuade voters in Inglewood, Calif., to approve a ballot initiative to build a supercenter that would cover the size of 17 football fields. On Tuesday, April 6, 2004, voters rejected ballot 0-4A, the initiative to exempt the company from certain zoning restrictions, environmental reviews, traffic studies or public hearings.

According to cnn.com, Wal-Mart argued that its stores create jobs, and residents should be able to decide for themselves if they want the stores in their community. Los Angles City Councilman Eric Garcetti said, "We’ve seen the record of the supercenters throughout this country in shutting down main streets…and in replacing good-paying jobs with poverty-level jobs that take billions out of the local economy."

Opponents say that the supercenters amount to low-wage, low-benefit job mills that replace better-paying jobs and drive independent retailers out of business. They also argue that the stores bring unneeded traffic, light and noise into a residential area. According to the L.A. Times, Inglewood mayor Roosevelt F. Dorn, who said that the Wal-Mart development would create 2,000 construction jobs and more than 1,000 permanent jobs for residents, was the only Inglewood elected official who endorsed Measure 0-4A.

Also according to the L.A. Times, , Garcetti and Los Angles City Councilmen Ed Reyes introduced a motion last year that would prohibit the existence of stores with more than 100,000 sq.ft. that devote more than 10 percent of their inventory to nontaxable food and drugs in areas of the city specified as economic-assistance zones, which cover 60 percent of the city. A supercenter can run 200,000 sq.ft.

Wal-Mart decided to appeal to voters directly after the city council denied a proposed shopping center last year. According to The Motley Fool’s personal finance and investing Web site, the Wal-Mart then wrote a 71-page referendum that would authorize the construction to proceed without public hearings and without traffic or environmental reviews. Any changes to the project would require a separate election and a two-thirds vote by residents.

Despite collecting more than 10,000 signatures to force the vote in the working-class community, residents rejected the initiative by a 3-2 margin, with 7,049 cast against and only 4,575 in favor, according to the Tri-Valley Herald. With all 29 precincts and absentee ballots, the measure was opposed 60 percent to 40 percent. The company said, "We are disappointed that a small group of Inglewood leaders together with representatives of outside special interests were able to convince a majority of Inglewood voters that they don’t deserve the job opportunities and shopping choices that other in the LA area enjoy."

This was at least the second time a majority of voters blocked the company’s efforts in California. According to the Washington Post, last month, residents in San Marcos, a suburb just outside San Diego, forced a referendum on a city council decision to approve a new store and ultimately overturned it.

Objections to Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. have surfaced elsewhere in the country, including Chicago, where the city council stalled a measure to approve the first Wal-Mart inside city limits because of concerns about the company’s labor practices and pay scales. Inglewood assemblyman Jerome Horton said, "Beyond the question of do you like Wal-Mart or not, the real issue is, is it appropriate for them to bully their way into the city and not comply with local laws…state environmental laws…and public input into the process."

However, Wal-Mart has been able to make some headway in California. According to the Washington Post, Wal-Mart was able to organize a referendum in Calexico and Contra Costa on ordinances passed to block its expansion, and it succeeded in turning the vote in its favor. The company opened up its first supercenter in La Quinta last month. "The effort to stop them cold has not been successful," said Madeline Janis-Aparicio, executive director of the Los Angeles Alliance for the New Economy. "The effort to hold them accountable is gathering steam. They’re in California, but they’re not in firmly with both feet."

Wal-Mart told the Tri-Valley Heraldthat the outcome of the Inglewood vote would not affect its strategy to open 40 of its hybrid grocery stores and supercenters in California over the next 4-6 years. "We’ve got a lot of things going on in the state. Inglewood was not our only interest," said Bob McAdam, the company’s vice president of corporate affairs. "That program continues moving forward…I don’t see this deterring us from reaching our goal."

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