Menifee, CA. Wal-Mart Spends More Than $260,000 for June 7th Vote
Citizen Wal-Mart has dug deep into its pocket to buy its way into the city of Menifee, California. The giant corporation already has 9 stores within 25 miles of Menifee, including a superstore just 10 miles away in Hemet. There are also Wal-Mart discount stores just 10 miles away in Murrieta, Lake Elsinore and Perris, California. But Wal-Mart has written a 67 page zoning change that it wants voters to approve, and is spending like a drunken retailer to win the June 7th vote.
Rather than wait for the city council to vote on the project, Wal-Mart withdraw its plans and instead submitted them as a ballot initiative. "This is the most expedient process for us to get a new store built," a Wal-Mart PR manager said.
According to the Press Enterprise newspaper, Wal-Mart created a "citizen's" group called Menifee Consumers for Choice -- a common name for astro-roots groups created by Wal-Mart. The company has also been sending full color mailers to Menifee voters, and spending money on legal consultants to write their zoning language -- almost as long as a short novel. The special election is like Wal-Mart running for office, after having paid to put its project on the ballot. Under state law, zoning measures cannot be voted in for one specific company, so Measure C on the ballot will rezone the land for many commercial uses, including unlimited scale retail stores.
Last October, the Menifee Planning Commission approved Wal-Mart's application for a 205,000 s.f. superstore, but the case was appealed to the Menifee city council. Perhaps sensing that the city council vote might not go in its favor, Wal-Mart came up with a plan to short-circuit the process.
Bypassing a city council vote, Wal-Mart hired a signature gathering firm for $58,000, and filed enough resident names to put the rezoning Wal-Mart wants before the voters of Menifee in a special election. The company paid for 8,100 signatures to be gathered, or about $7 per voter.
This is the third time in recent months that Wal-Mart has pressured cities in California by threatening a special election. In Milpitas and Kerman, California, Wal-Mart has used this same tactic, knowing that special elections in California are expensive, and cash-strapped cities are reluctant to spend large sums of tax dollars to hold a special election.
In Milpitas, the cost of a special election for Wal-Mart was estimated at $436,000. The city of Milpitas couldn't afford such an election, so they caved-in to Wal-Mart's pressure and approved the project. Wal-Mart was clearly hoping the elected officials in Menifee would do the same thing.
In Menifee, the voters now have to cough up $113,000 to pay for Wal-Mart's election. One city councilor asked Wal-Mart to pay for the cost of the special election, since the election was something the corporation had initiated on its own. "That is not something we will cover," a Wal-Mart spokesman responded.
Wal-Mart's strategy was clearly to make the city council approve their rezoning without having to go through the major expense of a special election. During a hearing last February, Wal-Mart's senior senior manager of public affairs told the city council members they could skip the cost of a special election. "A 30-day study or an election are simply an unnecessary cost to the city of Menifee and further delays completion of the project. We urge you to adopt the initiative tonight and bring the benefits of Wal-Mart to your city."
The following month, the city council voted 3-2 to take the matter to a special election. Some city councilors were not convinced that this project would really result in 300 'new' jobs as Wal-Mart had boasted.
But what one councilor called "the elephant in the room" is the giant traffic problems that come with this site. Riverside County has been planning to expand a bridge to 11 lanes over Interstate 215, which is near Wal-Mart's land. Menifee Mayor Wallace Edgerton was quoted by the Press Enterprise as asserting that if the Wal-Mart project opens before the freeway bridge is expanded, a "traffic nightmare" could result.
Because California law allows voters to mail their ballots in, the county Registrar of Voters told the Press Enterprise that 6,314, or 43% of the mail-in votes have already been cast. In some elections, the mail-in voters have a big impact on the final outcome, and often votes have been cast before all the facts about a ballot question have been brought to light. A high mail-in turnout would likely benefit Wal-Mart, since the retailer has been sending mailings targeted to those voters.
What you can do: So Wal-Mart is trying to write its own zoning code, and buy its way into Menifee. Since voters tend to vote to benefit their own interests, and not for the 'larger good' of the community, it can be expected that the reasons why some people vote for Wal-Mart will be very self-centered.
One example was quoted by The Californian newspaper last February. The newspaper quoted one shopper from Menifee as giving her rationale for supporting Wal-Mart. "My reason is a little more personal," said the shopper. "I can't buy a goldfish for my kid at Target, so I'd like to see a Wal-Mart in this town."
Readers are urged to email Menifee Mayor Wallace Edgerton at: firstname.lastname@example.org with the following message:
"Dear Mayor Edgerton,
Your city already has easy access to the 9 Wal-Mart stores that exist within 25 miles of Menifee, including the superstore in Hemet. To the woman who complained your Target did not sell goldfish -- maybe you should talk to Target's manager about ordering some goldfish instead of watching voters waste 50 acres for another big box store.
It's hard to believe that Wal-Mart refused to pay for this special election, since they put it on the ballot, and they are the primary beneficiary of the rezoning change.
Your city is not going to see 300 'new' jobs -- you will lose at least that many grocery jobs elsewhere in the community.
The traffic jams are predictable, and Wal-Mart is also not going to 'cover' further roadwork needed to accommodate this huge store once it is open. As Mayor, you need to be very visible and vocal on this project -- because if Wal-Mart is allowed to write it's own ticket into town -- Menifee will no longer have any zoning, because every developer will just go right to the voters."