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1999-08-24
Eureka, CA. Wal-Mart Loses Air from Balloon

The voters of Eureka, CA last night took all the air out of Wal-Mart's balloon. By a 22% point margin, Eureka residents rejected Wal-Mart's proposal to build a superstore on industrial waterfront property known as the "balloon tract" because of its shape. Wal-Mart, by its own hand, placed Measure J on the Eureka ballot, drafting a long, complicated zoning question that asked voters to rezone the industrial tract for commercial use. Such use of the property has already been rejected by the California Coastal Commission, but Wal-Mart kept on pushing, organizing a "citizen's" group to promote its store. But at the end of the day, after the votes were tallied, Wal-Mart only managed to gather 2,605 voters willing to support their cause. Unfortunately for Wal-Mart, 61% of the voters, of 4,015 people, rejected Measure J. Final results were not in, as 400 absentee ballots remained to be counted. The voter turnout was 50% -- a level higher than some presidential campaigns. Wal-Mart's declared expenditures thus far came to over $235,000 to garner a mere 2,605 votes. The Think Twice Committee, which spearheaded the NO on Measure J vote, spent $41,572. Final expenditure reports are not filed until after the election, so Wal-Mart's total expenses may very well be significantly higher. "They asked for Eureka to determine their future and we did," said Humboldt County Supervisor Bonnie Neely, who opposed Measure J. "For a special election, this is precedent-setting". Think Twice campaign coordinator Patty Berg told the Times-Standard newspaper that the election showed Eureka's waterfront isn't for sale to large retailers, noting the need for better-paying manufacturing jobs. "In the end," Berg told the paper, "people thought twice." Wal-Mart was roundly criticized during the campaign for its lavish spending, including thousands of dollars on a telemarketing firm that called area residents repeatedly, until the firm was discharged. Wal-Mart conducted an intrusive "credibility" poll in which the company asked voters to rank the credibility of local officials, the area's newspaper, and Sprawl-Buster Al Norman. Last month, Wal-Mart prepared mailers with absentee ballots inside, using the County Election's office as the return address. The county told Wal-Mart to change the return address to avoid the appearance of county endorsement of Measure J. At the campaign neared its end, a total of at least 16 groups and government entities went on record against Measure J. The Eureka City Council broke with Eureka's Mayor, and voted 3-1 last wek against the zoning change. The city also received a draft economic impact report which showed that 80% of Wal-Mart's sales would come from existing businesses. "We're obviously disappointed," Wal-Mart's public relations department said. "We still believe this is a great place for a Wal-Mart store." Last night, Wal-Mart was a great place for the anti-sprawl movement.

What you can do: The Think Twice campaign in Eureka was outspent by more than 8 to 1, yet convinced 6 out of 10 voters to reject Wal-Mart's arguments. One can only hope that this stunning defeat of Wal-Mart will cause stockholders to "think twice" about the management decision to put Measure J on the ballot. This was a gamble by Wal-Mart management that ended up wasting signficant corporate time and money -- more than a quarter of a million dollars. Even in the midst of their defeat, Wal-Mart's spokesperson doesn't seem to appreciate what this vote meant. Eureka is not a "great place" for a store, and only a minority of voters were willing to back Wal-Mart's plan. Even if Measure J had passed, the California Coastal Commission was under no restraints to approve a commercial use of waterfront land. The Eureka vote is a dramatic victory of people over money, of grassroots organizing over corporate greed. After more than a year of organizing, Eureka residents can now turn to redrafting their zoning ordinance to make sure the Wal-Mart experience never happens again.










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

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