Its slogan seems benign, even uplifting: Save Money, Live Better.
But not everyone welcomes Walmart with open arms. One grass roots organization known as the Redlands Good Neighbor Coalition (www.redlandsgnc.org) says plans to open up a more than 215,000-square-foot supercenter in Redlands will make the retail giant’s presence an unwelcome—and unneeded—neighbor.
For one, there’s already a Walmart store on Redlands Boulevard.
“There are lots of reasons why people don’t want the Walmart supercenter in our city,” coalition organizer and spokesman Keith Osajima says. “People living near the proposed site are worried about an increase in traffic congestion, an increase in air, light and noise pollution, crime and the potential drop in the value of their homes.”
The site of the proposed Walmart lies at the southeast corner of San Bernardino Avenue and Tennessee Street. Osajima and his group are canny enough to know that they aren’t the first to take on the world’s biggest public corporation. But sometimes the little guy does win—or at least scores a small victory.
Walmart’s recent attempts to open store sites in the IE have met with backlash from residents and activists concerned about the potential impacts the retail sites will have on the environment or the communities’ quality of life. In one case, a San Bernardino Superior Court judge struck down Rialto’s approval of a Walmart (see the Weekly’s Vol. 4, Issue 21’s “Seeing Red—Not Green” news feature) after he determined the project’s potential environmental impacts on certain local plant and animal species weren’t adequately measured.
Another judge similarly rebuffed a Walmart planned for Yucca Valley while another judge also questioned another store proposed for Ontario, also on environmental grounds.
Hasn’t Sam Walton been doing his “green” homework?
Adding to such concerns, Osajima says Walmart’s labor-unfriendly reputation adds further fuel to the fire.
“They are a company known to pay low wages,” Osajima says. “Also, it is said they don’t provide good benefits to their employees and are currently facing the largest class-action suit for gender discrimination [Dukes vs. Walmart Stores, Inc.].”
As other IE cities have stopped Walmart (at least temporarily), Osajima is hopeful his 40-member coalition will achieve the same result.
And they’re willing to take their cause to the ballot box.
The coalition gathered signatures in an effort to put the matter directly into voters’ hands. The proposed Initiative For Responsible Retail in Redlands would limit certain types of “big box” retail development in the city.
The group gathered an estimated 7,000 signatures and submitted them last week to the Redlands City Clerk’s office.
“The good thing about this is that they were collected all from volunteers,” Osajima says. “We need 5,800 verified signatures, or 15 percent of the total number of registered voters in our city. “But we want to be sure to gather 40 percent more than that, because some of them might not be valid for different reasons.”
The city has 30 days from Oct. 15 to verify the signatures. If there are enough valid, verified signatures, the City Council will have the option of either adopting the initiative (highly unlikely) or holding a special election in 2010.
“So we’ll have to just wait and see what happens,” Osajima says.
Meanwhile, the coalition continues its crusade.
“Walmart is viciously and venomously opposed to unions,” member Phill Courtney says. “People died for the right to have unions in this country and if they came back to see the present-day United States and learned that this appalling anti-union store was the biggest employer in the country, I’m sure they’d be profoundly sad and even sickened.”
But the group recognizes its battling the “King of Retail.”
“This really is kind of a David and Goliath story,” Osajima says. “In the end however, we just hope that the citizens will be given a fair chance to have a say about the future of their city and stand up against this supercenter.”