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2012-03-24
Los Angeles, CA. Wal-Mart Thumbs Nose At Moratorium On Large Retailers

As the month of March began in Southern California, Wal-Mart came in like a lion.

The giant retailer announced plans to open a grocery store in downtown Los Angeles; one in Huntington Beach and one in Santa Margarita, both in Orange county; and one in Camarillo in Ventura County; and one in San Diego.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Wal-Mart is celebrating spring with plans for 13 of its smaller grocery stores in California, inappropriately called "Neighborhood" Markets even though they average around 40,000 s.f. in size. Wal-Mart has been proposing fewer of its huge superstores, and in urban areas focusing on stand-alone grocery stores.

Wal-Mart has indicated that it will open 133 Neighborhood Markets across the country over the next year. "Customers always appreciate having more affordable grocery options closer to where they work and live," a corporate spokesman told the L.A. Times. There are already small grocers providing that service, so the Wal-Mart stores will simply take market share away from those existing grocers.

The proposed store in Los Angeles will be located on the first floor of a senior housing complex in Chinatown. Because Wal-Mart is going into an existing space, it will avoid much of the zoning challenges the company would face if it tried to build a new facility in downtown Los Angeles.

Wal-Mart has an ugly history in the City of Angels -- with a highly publicized defeat in Inglewood eight years ago over a superstore project. When the retailer could not get what it wanted from the L.A.City Council, it took its store to the voters, trying to do an end run around environmental reviews and the normal public hearing process. But the voters defeated Wal-Mart at the ballot box, handing the corporation a very public thrashing.

A spokesman for the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) told The Times that "In Chinatown you have long-standing mom-and-pop shops that serve the ethnic community and provide some offerings that Wal-Mart will not provide. But Wal-Mart has certain advantages that their size gives them. That means they can take a loss on this site just to get their foot in the door."

Wal-Mart told the media that 13 Neighborhood Markets in California would "bring up to 1,200 jobs to the state," according to The Times. But Wal-Mart was careful not to say "new" jobs, since Wal-Mart's grocery jobs will displace existing jobs.

Roughly three weeks after Wal-Mart announced its Chinatown plans, the L.A. City Council vote unanimously (13-0) to give preliminary approval to a city ordinance that would place a moratorium on retail stores larger than 20,000 s.f. in Chinatown. But the ordinance now goes to the City's attorney for review, and then has to come back to the Council for a second vote at a later date. It may be months before the moratorium actually takes effect. That delay was all the time needed by Wal-Mart to squeeze in its project before the ordinance takes effect.

The moraotorium was clearly designed to prevent projects like the 33,000 s.f. Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market -- but the city had already given Wal-Mart the go-ahead to rennovate the Chinatown space. The day before the new ordinance passed its first vote, the city gave Wal-Mart its construction permit. Apparently the city's Building and Safety Department and its City Council don't communicate to each other.

Wal-Mart basically thumbed its nose at the moratorium. "Now that our [store] has received all necessary approvals, we look forward to serving downtown customers soon," a Wal-Mart spokesman said.

What you can do: The moratorium plan was guided by City Councilior Ed Reyes, who told the L.A. Times, "I am not anti-business. I am pro-business. But these are fundamental issues." Reyes said the new store will raise traffic issues at that location that have not been explored.

It is not clear how anti-Wal-Mart activists in Los Angeles will respond to this latest twist in their battle to keep the giant retailer out of its neighborhoods -- but perhaps Wal-Mart itself has suggested the path to pursue. "If we open a store in downtown Los Angeles and no one comes, we will have learned a really important lesson about downtown L.A. We don't think that will happen."

Los Angeles has an opportunity to teach Wal-Mart a "really important lesson." The company knew in advance that the City Council was concerned about large stores in urban areas -- but they chose instead to rush their application through to 'beat' the city to the finish line. This kind of corporate arrogance speaks volumes about what kind of a corporate citizen Wal-Mart really is. Rather than respect where the city is headed, Wal-Mart chose to cut them off at the pass.

Readers should email City Councilor Ed Reyes at: councilmember.reyes@lacity.org with the following message:

"Dear Councilmember Reyes,

Thank you for having the vision to propose a moratorium on large retail stores in Chinatown. Obviously, the City Council understood the urgency of this vote, because all 13 members voted in favor of your ordinance.

The only party not respecting that vote is Citizen Wal-Mart. A good corporate citizen would have said: 'We understand what the Council is trying to do in Chinatown, and we will adjust our plans accordingly.' But instead, Wal-Mart went to the city's Building and Safety Department to defy your vote.

I urge you, as a leading Councilmember on this issue, to encourage neighborhood groups to organize a city-wide boycott of this Wal-Mart. The corporation itself has said: 'If no one comes, we will have learned a really important lesson.' So it's time for you and your constituents to teach Wal-Mart a really important lesson in urban politics."










 
 
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