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Tuesday, 7 November 2006

LA voters send Wal-Mart packing

Wal-Mart wanted 40 new megastores across California Voters in the Los Angeles suburb of Inglewood have delivered a decisive snub to supermarket giant Wal-Mart. By a two-to-one majority, they vetoed a proposal to build a 60-acre megastore, the size of 17 football fields. Wal-Mart won the right to a public vote after Inglewood authorities denied it permission to build. "This was a major victory," said state assemblyman Jerome Horton, who together with officials, religious leaders and unions has bitterly opposed Wal-Mart. 'A no-brainer' This is not the first time that Wal-Mart has turned to a ballot on its "big-box" stores,which require exceptional planning permission in most areas. But Inglewood was to spearhead a wave of 40 proposed Supercenter stores across California. This was a much bigger issue than just jobs. Jerome Horton The plan was supported by Inglewood's mayor, Roosevelt Dorn. Mr. Dorn argued that the Supercenter would create 1,000 new jobs in the low-income suburb, as well as adding up to 5m to his administration's annual tax revenues. "We're talking about a new police station, a new community and cultural centre...upgrades for every park and recreation area in Inglewood," Mr. Dorn said before the vote. "As far as I'm concerned, it's a no-brainer." Wal-Mart launched an aggressive campaign in favour of its proposal, including broadcast advertising, flyers and telephone marketing. City within a city. Mr. Dorn was the only local official on Wal-Mart's side, however. Part of the opposition to the plan stemmed from the threat to smaller retailers; unions, meanwhile, were concerned that Wal-Mart would drive down wages and discourage organized labour. But most opponents were swayed by the draconian terms of the proposed development, which would effectively have exempted Wal-Mart from all local planning, zoning and environmental regulations. In effect, they argued, the retail complex would become an autonomous city-within-a-city. "This would have set a national precedent and developers all over the nation were watching to see whether or not a developer could exempt themselves from complying with local laws, " Mr. Horton argued. "This was a much bigger issue than just jobs." On the defensive. The vote is the biggest defeat so far for Wal-Mart's Californian campaign. Last year, voters in Oakland turned down a proposed Supercenter. But since then, it has scored victories in Contra Costa and Calexico, where voters have overturned restrictions on planning. Since the Inglewood proposal contained such liberal terms for the retailer, it was seen as the most important case so far. Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, is not currently popular in California. Its relatively low wages and employee benefits have forced local retailers to follow suit, something which sparked a bitter strike by Californian supermarket workers earlier this year.

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