After Losing On Zoning, Walmart Astrotufs Town With Petitions

On October 3rd, Long Beach California passed an ordinance banning large-scale retail super-stores. SuperTargets and Walmarts are no longer allowed.

In mid-October, reader trai_dep received a letter. It contained a petition for the city council to reconsider and repeal the ordinance or have it be moved to a people’s vote.

A small note at the bottom said, “sponsored by Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.”

Trai_dep says Walmart has been “blizzarding the city” with these letters.

The full letter, scanned and reprinted, inside. — BEN POPKEN


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Comments

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  1. wikkit says:

    I may be playing devil’s advocate here, but I side with Wal-Mart on this one. They’re pushing their side of the story with an quasi-education campaign to force a public referendum. The flyer does list Wal-Mart as the sponsor (albeit not prominantly).

    If this were a situation in which the local people had voted to keep Wal-Mart/Target out, I’d feel differently about Wal-Mart carpet-bombing the town with flyers. My frustration with the strong-armed tactics of large companies is most of the reason that I enjoy this site. But I see this pamphlet as an articulate way for Wal-Mart to fight the city council’s decision.

  2. ohnothimagain says:

    Nice to see the local Chamber of Commerce taking an active role in this issue. Protecting their fellow merchants and businesses, encouraging growth and prosperity for the independent small business person.

  3. Brianron says:

    It isn’t “nice” to see any government decide what legal private business can or cannot open their doors in a city. Freedom and capitalism is founded on consumer choice: Whoever wants to may open their store and then the consumers vote with their pocketbooks.

    Over the past decade, many people blame Wal-Mart for destroying small businesses and communities. Actually, what is happening is that those very citizens of those communities are voting with their pocketbooks and deciding that, while the idea of small businesses is a nice Norman Rockwellian one, the bottom line is who can provide the variety of products desired at the cheapest price.

    I, for one, would be angry if I lived in Long Beach and I had to pay $10.00 at a small local hardware store for a screwdriver I could have gotten for $6.00 if Wal-Mart had been allowed to open their store.

  4. mechanismatic says:

    The consumer choice here is whether or not they decide to re-elect their city council members. They elected these people to make decisions and to enact laws. If they disapprove of this law, then they can say so in the next election.

    It’s nice to dream of a move to a truer democracy, rather than a representative democracy, and having a voting system that allows citizens to vote on everything. However, I don’t trust my fellow Americans to be competant enough to vote on everything, especially if I don’t even understand the issues and neither do the politicians (or lobbyists) who write the laws.

  5. AcilletaM says:

    It isn’t “nice” to see any government decide what legal private business can or cannot open their doors in a city.

    Municipalities do this all the time. It’s called zoning. Are you going to protest the next time a city doesn’t allow a bar, nightclub, strip club, or adult toy store to move into a residential area?

    Freedom and capitalism is founded on consumer choice: Whoever wants to may open their store and then the consumers vote with their pocketbooks.

    Bullshit. Capitalism isn’t Democracy. It isn’t even close. So by paying my electric bill and my gas bill I’m voting for them even if they are my only choice? No-b… and the Progressive movement of the early 20th century? The Hearsts, Morgans, Rockefellers, Dukes, Fricks, and Astors of the world will be happy that their tactics are truly what the people wanted. Consumer choice comes from the freedom to choose. Capitalism doesn’t care about choice.

    A multinational chain with 1000’s of stores unable to put a store where it chooses and then throws a hissy fit when it doesn’t get its way isn’t equivalent to some moral crusade against the loss of consumer choice.

  6. AcilletaM says:

    Nice. WTF happened to my sentence oh mighty Gawker server hamster?

    No-b… and the Progressive movement of the early 20th century?

    should read “No-bid contracts must mean companies like Halliburton are extra special since a vote isn’t even required. Does this mean that the American people really didn’t want Antitrust legislation and the Progressive movement of the early 20th century?”

  7. Brianron says:

    Acilleta,

    First, you failed to read what I wrote, and then you actually supported my argument.

    Yes, cities have the right to zone, that’s why I wrote “legal public business.” My point is when cities discriminate against a large company BECAUSE it is a large company, this is wrong.

    And then you actually supported my argument with your statement,

    “Consumer choice comes from the freedom to choose.”

    Exactly! Let the consumers have the choice of whether they want to pay higher prices to support smaller, local businesses or want to pay lower prices to support huge corporations. You, Mechanismatic, and Long Beach may not like it, but consumers all over the U.S. have chosen for lower prices, which is why Wal-Mart is so successful.

    I have no allegiance to Wal-Mart or large box businesses. With restaurants, I avoid Bennigan’s, TGI Fridays, etc. like the plague in favor of local restaurants. But the issue is consumer choice, not government imposing its will (or what the elected officials believe will get them elected).

    Contrary to Mechanismatic’s belief that he, but not the general public, is smart enough to see the “Truth,” I believe that the general populace is smart enough to make its own decisions and does not need government to play parent and decide what is best.

  8. Brianron says:

    Allow me to add one more thing, AcilletaM.

    Since when does it constitute a “hissy fit” when someone tries to get a referendum on the ballot? Wal-Mart is following the law and availing itself of its legal rights. Is that wrong because it happens to be a “multinational chain with 1000s of stores?”

    Let’s assume the tables were turned and Long Beach allowed Wal-Mart in. If some small businesses then sent out flyers and tried to get a referendum on the ballot, would you still call that a “hissy fit” by these small businesses, or would you laud their efforts to battle the “multinational chain with 1000s of stores?”

  9. AcilletaM says:

    I read what you wrote.

    My point is this. Wal-Mart’s practices eliminate the freedom to choose thus limiting consumer choice.

    Long Beach already has two Wal-Marts. The ordinance even exempted Sam’s Club. Wal-Mart is also able to open a store with the sole purpose of being a grocery store. This is about them not being able to build a new supercenter while in the process probably abandoning one of those existing stores (which is a well documented business practice of theirs).

  10. Brianron:

    This isn’t a matter of the government telling you where you can and can not shop– this is a matter of the city council doing exactly what it thinks is right to protect the community. Often this is more than just protecting small businesses, but also taking a number of other issues into consideration:

    * Traffic control
    * Construction and development efforts
    * Effect on the aesthetic quality of the surrounding area

    Wal-Mart is perfectly within their legal rights to try and start an astroturf campaign, but one has to think that the City Council is taking more under their decision than whether or not Wal-Mart is putting small businesses out to dry.

    That being said, there is something we seem to have overlooked! There already is a regular wal-mart pretty much right on Long Beach’s Main St. If anyone is curious what a picture looks like just scroll down a ways on this page. The city council didn’t seem to have any issues with this wal-mart being built (note how different it looks)– their big issue is against the Supercenters which they obviously didn’t feel is appropriate.

  11. mechanismatic says:

    Brianron,

    Who’s not reading what someone else wrote now? I specifically said I don’t trust my fellow Americans because I myself don’t even understand everything little thing about the issues. It’s not that average Joe Citizen is an idiot (although many are). The referendums and bills that come up for a vote whether in the public domain or in a legislative house are too complicated for well-educated people to understand, much less hoi polloi. And most people don’t have time to read through all the material that’s already out there about the votes, much less how much more would be produced if we were a true democracy where the citizens voted on everything.

    That’s why we have elected officials to do this stuff for us. I’m not saying it’s great. Politicians are greedy, corrupt, and/or stupid, but you work with what you’ve got.

  12. Trai_Dep says:

    Our elected representatives – “politicians” if you will – choose when we are ticketed, fined, tasered, beaten, shot, arrested or incarcerated. “They” decide where I can park, what kind of vehicle I can drive and the kinds of activities I can do in public. And BOY do they put a damper on my self-medication regime (bast*rds!).

    There’s a term for this: representative democracy.

    And yes, they have a prominent role in deciding what shape and form commercial establishments have in my community. Wal-Mart thinks their immune to the same laws that apply to hundreds of local businesses.

    Wal-Mart’s mailer paints reasonable zoning as some authortarian over-reach, ignoring that this is *precisely* what we elect our representatives to do.

    Wal-Mart had many opportunities to involve itself while the Big Box initiative was being discussed. Believe me, there were loooong public hearing over this. Proponents on both sides were well-represented (guess which side was better funded). Council elections were decided based on where candidates stood on the issue. When the smoke finally cleared, Wal-Mart lost.

    Now they’re trying to manufacture a “consumer-led” do-over. It’s not right. It’s legal, but it smells. Particularly the astro-turf elements of the campaign.

    Finally, if you read the petition, you’ll note that the petition pushes for a fiscal gun to our local government’s head. Roll over for us or we’ll force you to enact a special election. These are REALLY expensive for local governments and divert funds from needed local programs. If they were simply civic-minded, local people voicing their views, they wouldn’t have included language for a special election. Instead they resort to blackmail.

  13. AcilletaM says:

    If small business owners tried to get a referendum, would their motivation be a lot different than Wal-Mart’s (sole livelyhood vs opening store #4706 in the exact location they want)?

    That’s how I judge, by their motivation.

  14. mechanismatic says:

    Considering how much money Walmart costs the communities that they infest, I think the city council members did vote with the citizenry’s wallets in mind. Who wants the vaunted ideal of consumer choice and saving 50 cents on toilet paper when your community has to subsidize the richest people in the world and thus cut funding to things that need it?

  15. Sheik says:

    Leave it to Wal-mart to skew the story in their favor. There are already at least 10 Wal-Marts in or near Long Beach. Not letting Wal-mart build any more stores is different than not letting them build any.

  16. adamondi says:

    Wow. So much anti-Wal-Mart sentiment. I am not a huge fan of the company, but I do not categorize it as an “infestation” or so many of the other derogatory terms being thrown around. I wonder how much of this vitriol is aimed at this particular issue with Long Beach, CA, and how much is just general Wal-Mart hating.

    City councils go toe to toe with businesses all the time over various zoning issues all across this country. When a city council makes a zoning decision, citizens and businesses have every right to appeal the decision through whatever legal means they have.

    Since Wal-Mart is not breaking the law with this petition campaign, I am totally on Wal-Mart’s side. I would only have a problem with it if they did not disclose their sponsorship of the group sending out these letters or if they were engaging in something straight up illegal.

  17. robbie says:

    Citizens vote with their pocketbooks, but they also vote with their feet. Is your community voting (directly or indirectly) to keep out supercenters, bars, and/or certain types of retailers (porn)? You can always move. Or visit one of those places at a city nearby.

    Consumer choice is not absolute. I see this as a form of regulation like anything else.

  18. Trai_Dep says:

    Robbie -

    Some say that Wal-mart, by using unfair advantages (see walmartwatch.com or walmartmovie.com to argue this point there rather than here – let’s not clutter up Consumerist), moves into town and crushes local stores.

    For most busy people, “voting with their feet” isn’t a viable alternative if it’s too far.

    Oh, then Wal-Mart closes shop once the tax abatements they extort from localities expire, leaving commercial ghost towns. Can’t “vote with your pocketbook” either.

    Consumer choice only works if there’s real, informed choice.

  19. johnnyfish says:

    I live in Long Beach and haven’t seen a mailer, but I may have tossed it along with all the campaign rhetoric that’s been choking our mailbox. What I have seen every time I walk out of a large chain retailer is people with a folding card table, a crudely lettered sign on astro bright poster board, and a petition on a clipboard. What I don’t know is if these people are civilians who want the cheapest possible price on their box wine or people on the Wal-Mart or Edelman payroll. I suspect a mix of both, but I’d be surprised if this was a legitimate grass roots movement to get this on a ballot.