- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 6, 2004

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Wal-Mart wants to offer its bargains in Inglewood, Calif, but some residents aren’t buying the pitch.

Voters in this working-class city were deciding yesterday whether to allow the nation’s largest company to move ahead with a shopping development despite foes who say it will skirt zoning, traffic and environmental reviews.

Wal-Mart has argued in Inglewood and elsewhere that its stores create jobs and that residents should be able to decide for themselves whether they want the stores in their community.

Last year the Inglewood City Council blocked the proposed shopping center that would include a traditional Wal-Mart as well as other stores. That prompted Wal-Mart to collect more than 10,000 signatures to force yesterday’s ballot initiative.

Religious leaders and community activists, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, rallied Monday to urge voters in the city of 117,000 to defeat the ballot measure.

The initiative’s opponents say it would give Wal-Mart the right to build without having to go through the usual array of public zoning, traffic and environmental hearings or reviews.

“You don’t get to get around all of the environmental impacts accepted in this country,” Rep. Maxine Waters, California Democrat, said Monday. “You don’t get to bypass the city and their building and safety and their planning departments. What they have done is they have gone over the top.”

Wal-Mart has faced strident opposition from unions, resident groups and some municipalities that say the company’s gargantuan shopping centers hurt independent businesses, drive out higher-paying blue-collar jobs and worsen traffic congestion.

Wal-Mart has spent more than $1 million in its Inglewood campaign, according to campaign finance records, while opponents have spent a fraction of that amount.

Objections to the Bentonville, Ark.-based Walt-Mart Stores Inc. have surfaced across the country, including in Chicago, where the City Council recently stalled a measure to approve the first Wal-Mart inside Chicago’s city limits because of concerns about the company’s labor practices.

Wal-Mart officials defend the number and quality of jobs its stores create.

“They are nonunion jobs, but they are not low-paying jobs,” company spokesman Bob McAdam said. “Wal-Mart pays competitive wages with other retailers and we offer health benefits to every employee.”

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