About the Colony

Wal-Mart’s ballot-box tactics are shameful

While local forces grapple with the possibility of a 123,000-square-foot Walmart in Atascadero, I was upset to read that the Arkansas-based retailer wants to use the ballot box to muscle its way into communities.

California Watch reported that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is using California’s local-initiative process to threaten cities by forcing them to either accept the retailer’s proposals without changes or call a local special election to put its plans before voters, which can be costly.

As if the giant retailer were not already controversial enough no matter where it tries to build a new store, this measure makes the company a major bully when it comes to locating itself in communities that may not want the big-box store.

I’ve argued from the beginning that I thought a Walmart would not be good for Atascadero. I opined that such a store was just too big for the community, it was being inserted into a residential neighborhood, and it would put smaller, local stores already struggling to stay alive out of business while sucking the life out of a downtown that this city is struggling so hard to establish with all its improvements and incentives.

But I also urged the City Council to move ahead with the environmental review process. Nothing can be decided by the City Council until the environmental impact report is completed and all the impacts of the commercial center are known.

According to the news report I read, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has hired people to gather signatures for its ballot measures in a number of communities. The measures seek approval of new stores or repeal of local restrictions against big-box stores.

You may find the issue on the clipboard of those people who gather in front of local markets to collect signatures for any number of petitions that find their way to the ballot. Be aware that those folks gathering signatures are being paid to get your name on the petition.

If a new Walmart wins approval by this council for that property at the corner of El Camino Real and Del Rio Road, I can live with that. I can avoid shopping there.

But I expect the retailer to adhere to the rules already in place in cities throughout this state, including my hometown, which has ordinances in place to deal with those giant big-box stores. I don’t want any big-box store coming to my town and using a club to have its way here.

The retailer must play by the rules that exist in the local community and not try to strong-arm its acceptance here or anywhere else.

I have no doubt the retail giant would get the necessary signatures it needs if this happens in Atascadero, as it promises that the presence of the new store will mean jobs, low-cost groceries and drugs, and tax revenues for the cash-strapped cities. Millions of dollars could be spent by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to see that it passes.

That is a shame.

Lon Allan has lived in Atascadero for nearly four decades. He can be reached at 466-8529 or leallan@tcsn.net.