Wal-Mart have a love/hate relationship with the ballot box. How else to explain the companies contradictory behavior in Eureka,CA vs. Yuma, AZ. In Eureka, Wal-Mart operatives are busy gathering signatures to put a rezoning question on the Eureka ballot box that Wal-Mart initiated. Yet in Yuma, AZ, Wal-Mart is busy trying to quash efforts by local citizens to do the same thing. In Yuma, a group of citizens called the Neighbors Opposed to More Abandoned Stores (NOMAS) began circulating referendum petitions immediately after the Yuma City Council to rezone land to allow Wal-Mart to expand its existing discount store on Pacific Avenue into a 230,000 s.f. supercenter. At the hearing before the Yuma Planning and Zoning Commission, Wal-Mart filled the audience with company employees. In mid-February, as opposition to the project grew, the City Council also voted to rezone the 80 acre expansion — butthis time to a couple of hundred unhappy residents. As soon as residents began circulating petitions to put the rezoning question before Yuma voters, Wal-Mart spoke out against the NOMAS effort. Wal-Mart spokesperson Cynthia Lyn said it was unfortunate that a special interest group was forcing a city election. “We hope people don’t sign the petition.” Wal-Mart had planned on beginning construction immediately — but the Yuma election will put the project on hold until the election in September. Wal-Mart even went so far as to take out a large display ad in the Yuma Daily Sun which claimed “out of town special interest groups…think they know better than you what Yuma is all about. They want to force a costly citywide vote on the issue. A vote that will delay lower prices for you.” The ad goes on to say “When you see these special interest groups collecting signatures around town, please don’t sign the petitions. Support Wal-Mart. Say ‘NO’ to Special Interest Groups.” In tiny 8 point type at the bottom of the ad, it says: “Fundinig provided by Wal-Mart.” This anti-petition effort by Wal-Mart is curious, since the company boasted to Yuma voters that Wal-Mart conducted its own petition drive in nearby Payson, AZ when it wanted to win a rezoning vote there. It is more than ironic that an Arkansas retailer seeking to rezone a piece of Yuma land for its sole use would attack a citizen group like NOMAS as an “out of town special interest group”. Last time we checked, Bentonville, AR was a little out of town from Yuma, AZ. Despite all this spending of corporate money to block the petition drive, NOMAS has apparently submitted far more signatures than the minimum required to secure a ballot vote. It appears the Wal-Mart has lost the first round in the petition drive campaign. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart paid signature gatherers are busy circulating petitions in Eureka,CA to pave the way for a Wal-Mart supercenter there.
The residents of Eureka should follow the advice of Wal-Mart: “When you see those special interest groups collecting signatures around town, please don’t sign the petitions.” To comment on Wal-Mart’s hypocritical position on “special interest” use of the referendum process, email David Glass, the CEO of Wal-Mart, at: [email protected] Ask Mr.Glass what makes his ‘special interest’ more important than the special interests of local citizens who don’t want a Wal-Mart?