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2005-07-03
Sandy, UT. State’s Supreme Court Gives Voters Right to Referendum on Wal-Mart.

The Utah Supreme Court unanimously ruled on July 1st that residents who fought a Wal-Mart supercenter in their community of Sandy, Utah, have the right to hold a voter referendum on the matter. The Court affirmed that the citizen's group, Save Our Communities, had gathered sufficient signatures to challenge the city's rezoning of the so-called 'gravel pit' property. The court's 5-0 vote may make it easier for other community groups in Utah to get on the ballot to challenge city council votes. "You can fight city hall," Cynthia Long from Save Our Communities told the Deseret News. "If you believe in something, you should speak up and try to make a difference in something that truly matters to you." The court's decision has clarified that zoning changes are not considered land use laws, and citizens need to collect signatures that number only 10% of the voters who turned out in the last gubernatorial election -- not 20%. "All acts taken by a city council in a city organized pursuant to the council-mayor form of government are necessarily legislative and subject to referenda," the Justices wrote. The ruling ends a battle that started last December when Save Our Communities began a petition drive to stop a Wal-Mart supercenter and a Lowe's. The city told residents they needed to gather signatures equal to 20% of the voters in the last governor's race. Save Our Communities had to go to court to save their right to a referendum -- and they won. The developer of the land, the Boyer Company, argued that it had a vested right to proceed with project because the city approved the zoning change. But the court disagreed, and wrote, "We conclude that the exercise of the people's referendum right is of such importance that it properly overrides 'individual economic interests. The referendum right, so fundamental to our conception of government, should not and cannot be so easily thwarted." The Sandy referendum battle turned out differently than one in Riverton, Utah, where citizens gathered signatures against a rezoning for a Wal-Mart. The Riverton City Council then withdrew its initial zoning change, and came up with several smaller zoning changes, making the citizen's signature gathering moot. The citizen's then sued their city, but the Utah Supreme Court ruled that the city acted in good faith when changing the zoning ordinances the second time. The Sandy referendum means that Wal-Mart will have to chill out for another three months, waiting for the November 8th. Referendum. Wal-Mart's only comment on the Supreme Court ruling was, "We'll continue to look for opportunities to serve our customers and bring the positive benefits of jobs and sales tax revenue of our stores to communities in Utah." Wal-Mart brings neither jobs nor revenue to Utah, and if Sandy residents realize that, they will vote down the rezoning. Final irony: Sandy already has a Wal-Mart, which is likely to close if the supercenter ever opens.


What you can do: Save Our Communities now faces the largest challenge of their short history. The Boyer Company and Wal-Mart may spend as much as $250,000 or more, if past is prologue, to win November's referendum. They will do their spending through a citizen's front group, but Sandy voters will be inundated with mailings, phone calls, surveys, newspaper, radio and TV ads from the developer and Wal-Mart. Even with extraordinary spending, Wal-Mart has lost many of these voter referendums. But they know that their only chance to win is to bury the opposition under a pile of dollars. There is no campaign finance limits on ballot questions. It's called corporate democracy, and the theory is: the one who spends the most money wins. Save Our Community, which sponsored a visit from Sprawl-Busters last year, would do well to warn local residents to fasten their seatbelts, because while they won the right to a referendum, Wal-Mart won the right to spend to the hilt to "buy" their way into Sandy.










 
 
"Norman has become the guru of the anti-Wal-Mart movement" ~ 60 Minutes

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