Out of Control Policy Blog

The Wal-Mart Vote

After the Inglewood City Council banned Wal-Mart last year, the retail giant pushed for a ballot initiative to overturn the decision. Tomorrow voters will decide if Wal-Mart comes to Inglewood.

Opponents say that if measure 4A passes, Wal-Mart will use the victory as a blueprint for future conquest.

A few things to keep in mind:

1. Wal-Mart would be built in an area that is currently nothing but slabs of concrete.
2. Wal-Mart is but one business that would set up shop on the 60 acres in question.
3. Contrary to what articles like this report, if voters give it the thumbs up, Wal-Mart will erect a regular Wal-Mart store, not one of the gigantic megastores that so many fear. The twist is that Wal-Mart wants to maintain the option of expanding from regular to mega.

Another interesting wrinkle is the role of planners. In Inglewood, Wal-Mart foes are bent out of shape because they say the development would sidestep the usual gauntlet:

While Wal-Mart has turned to the ballot in a number of cities and towns to win the right to build its giant emporiums, the Inglewood initiative is significantly different. The proposal would essentially exempt Wal-Mart from all of Inglewood's planning, zoning and environmental regulations, creating a city-within-a-city subject only to its own rules. Wal-Mart has hired an advertising and public relations firm to market the initiative and is spending more than $1 million to support the measure ...

Meanwhile, in Alameda County the Board of Supervisors has just voted to reverse a big-box ban it passed in January. Why? Because it sidestepped planners:

In January, Wal-Mart filed a lawsuit against the ordinance in Alameda County Superior Court. The giant retailer claimed the county did not go through the proper channels to enact such an ordinance, mainly because it was not first heard by the planning commission.

So which is it? Does Wal-Mart like planners or not? What about Wal-Mart foes? Seems that both sides like one thing most of all–winning.

And it's likely that voters, planners or consumers won't have the final say. That'll be left to the courts.

In Alameda:

The board vote left uncertain the fate of the Wal-Mart lawsuit. Currently, the matter is scheduled for a July 1 hearing in Alameda County Superior Court in Hayward.

And in Inglewood:

The groups opposed to the Inglewood development have already gone to state court to try to block the project, but a judge ruled that any legal challenge would have to await the outcome of the April 6 vote. Ms. Janis-Aparicio said that if the measure is approved, the coalition will return to court immediately.
A December opinion from the state attorney general indicates that the opponents may be on solid ground.

The attorney general's letter to the Inglewood City Council states that while the initiative process may be used to adopt land-use and planning measures, the ballot cannot be used to usurp powers granted to elected bodies, like issuing building permits. The attorney general also said the initiative might be in conflict with state laws governing subdivisions and the environment.

Ted Balaker is Producer


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