In the old days, Wal-Mart could breeze into a community, talk up the local folks, blow a zoning change by the City Council, and be putting up steel within two or three months time. Those days are gone. Citizen opposition all across the country is ruining that once-smooth trajectory from proposal to big box store. In Mesa, Arizona, local residents defeated a Wal-Mart more than a year and a half ago (see newsflash index). In November of 1998, Wal-Mart asked town officials for an “indefinite continuance” to build a store at Lindsay and McKellips road. At the time, the Mountain View Neighborhood Alliance celebrated a victory, but said: “They (Wal-Mart) will probably sit and wait to see if we will weaken, but we won’t. We’ll only gather strength.” At the time, Wal-Mart released one of their self-financed “surveys” of 350 voters, showing that 68% of the voters near the store site would shop at a Wal-Mart “from time to time.” Well, Wal-Mart did come back, and in February they convinced the Mesa City Council to rezone land at the corner of McKellips and Greenfield roads. But the residents responded again. They have gathered 4,691 signatures to place the rezoning vote on the ballot. This means that Wal-Mart will have to cool its heels in Mesa for at least four more months, because local officials told the Arizona Republic newspaper that the soonest a vote could be held would be in September, longer if a special election is not held. This means the Wal-Mart’s mania for Mesa will drag on more than two years before being resolved. The only comment from Wal-Mart’s developer about the signatures — which were nearly double the amount required, was that “based on the polling we’ve done, it wasn’t easy for them to gather those signatures…The information we have shows overwhelming support”. Right, that’s why nearly 4,700 Mesa residents want to challenge the rezoning at the ballot box. Is there any other store in America that rates that kind of negative numbers?
Dear Senator McCain: During the primaries, you spoke passionately about the need for campaign finance reform. Look to your own state. In Mesa, AZ, Wal-Mart will soon be gearing up to spend its corporate money to try and silence the voice of local residents who happen to share no fondness for supercenters. Senator, did you know that Wal-Mart just spent as much as $800,000 in two Calfornia towns to influence the outcome of a public vote? How much do you think they will spend in Mesa? $300,000? $400,000? Does this strike you as a democratic process? Should corporations be allowed to spend an unlimited amount of money to steer the vote their way? Do you think our Founding Fathers ever could have conceived that private corporations, which are chartered by the state, would use their money to overpower the efforts of Arizona residents trying to protect the value of their property, and the quality of life of their community? Senator, take a trip to Mesa. See first hand the workings of democracy — corporate style. The only consolation is that Wal-Mart will have to wait at least four more months to enjoy the “overwhelming support” that money can buy. Wal-Mart has probably spent more than any other corporation in America on polling firms, political consultants, and telemarketing firms than any other retailer in America. So much for “overwhelming support”.