18,949 voters in Toledo, OH want Home Depot to face the voters in a referendum question that pits local residents against Home Depot’s deep pockets. The Westgate Neighbors (see April 18, 1998 newsflash entry) watched as the Toledo City Council voted in July to rezone three acres of land from residential to commercial to accomodate the construction of a 130,000 s.f. Home Depot. Under Toledo’s city charter, residents have 30 days to collect 12% of the voters’ signatures to challenge the rezoning vote. On August 14th, after circulating petitions for only a month, the citizens brought nearly 19,000 signatures to the City Clerk, far more than the 11,006 signatures needed. But now Home Depot gets out the hammer: in other referendum votes, such as in Yarmouth, MA and Encinitas, CA, Home Depot has spared no expense in getting votes. In Yarmouth, Home Depot was caught by state campaign finance officials who said the company had not reported over $80,000 in expenditures against a ballot measure. Home Depot paid $10,000 to the state in an out of court settlement, the largest settlement of its kind. In Toledo, Home Depot says it is already planning its campaign. As it did in Plymouth, MA, Home Depot is expected to underwrite the finances of an astro-turf group (phony grass roots) called Yes! For a Stronger Toledo. This group, which is in a position to operate as a front for Home Depot, will assuredly have plenty of funds to work with before the election is over on November 3rd. “It is still our intention to have a store there on Secor at Westgate,” admitted a Home Depot spokesman. Towns like Plymouth and North Olmsted, OH have recently rejected Home Depot, but in voter campaigns, Home Depot will conduct direct mailings to voters, hire telemarketing firms to do phoning and polling, and buy full page newspaper ads. In essence, this referendum will determine whether or not Toledo is for sale to the highest bidder.
Westgate Neighbors will need to raise a significant amount of funds to try and stay head-head-head with Home Depot. To find out how you can help, inside or outside of Ohio, contact Harry Ward at [email protected], and see the April 18 newsflash entry for further details. For more information about Home Depot tactics, see “Home Towns, Not Home Depot” elsewhere on this Sprawl-Busters web site.