Mr. Smiley is scowling this morning, as the company mascot for Wal-Mart was brutally stepped on last night by more than 60% of the voters in the suburban L.A. community of Inglewood, California. This represents the second time in a month that voters in California have shut the lid on a Wal-Mart store. On March 2, voters in San Marcos, California easily defeated Wal-Mart at the ballot box. The Associated Press reported a clearly bitter Wal-Mart spokesperson as saying of the Inglewood vote, “We are disappointed that a small group of Inglewood leaders together with representatives of outside special interests were able to convince a majority of Inglewood voters that they don’t deserve the job opportunities and shopping choices that others in the LA area enjoy.” A reported 11,649 voters on Tuesday rejected the idea of allowing a large retail corporation to write its own zonng code and circuit-break all local control over their development. This story goes back to 2002 when the Inglewood City Council voted to adopt an ordinance restricting the amount of square footage of non-taxable items a big box store could carry. Wal-Mart pressured the city to rescind the ordinance — which they did — but then went further. The Bentonville, Arkansas corporate giant then backed the city into a corner by hiring signature gatherers to put a 71-page zoning measure before the voters. To cement the deal, Wal-Mart stores proceeded to lavish more than $1 million on voters to coax out a positive vote. Unofficial Inglewood numbers showed 7,049 (60.6%) voted NO on the rezoning, and 4,575 (39.4%)voted YES. Some absentee ballots had not been counted as of this report. Wal-Mart spent roughly $219 per vote in their losing effort — an expensive investment for the losing company, especially the cost of their carefully manicured public image of a community-friendly corporation. Voters roundly rejected the idea that a large corporation should be exempted from local zoning and environmental rules. Four out of five Inglewood City Councilors opposed measure 04-A, and they brought in anti-Wal-Mart luminaries Jesse Jackson and U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters to buttress the stop-Wal-Mart vote in this predominately black and hispanic working class community. Even though Wal-Mart alleged their store would bring in 1,200 “new” jobs and $5 million in “new” sales tax revenue, local residents argued that Wal-Mart’s economic impact would bring more harm than good. Opponents had vowed they would challenge Wal-Mart’s end-run around the City Council and Inglewood rules if Measure 04-A had passed.
Members of the media have been asking me for several weeks how bad the “precedent” would be if Wal-Mart won in Inglewood, and was able to “write its own ticket” in that city. With the results now in, and Wal-Mart defeated, there is only the precedent of another voter rejection of heavy-handed corporate arrogance. San Marcos, Inglewood, and four years before that, in Eureka, California — Wal-Mart was rejected, not by a “special interest”, but by the voters of these communities. Every time Wal-Mart loses, they blame a small group or “special interest” forces in turning them away. That’s because Wal-Mart’s view of the electorate is that they are just a mass of “customers” yearning for their “right” to shop for cheap underwear. Because this company knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing, they have the distorted view that everything you see is for sale, including elections. But more and more communities are not for sale. They are more concerned with quality of life and real growth, than with Wal-Mart’s siren song of ‘everyday low prices.’ Even in Contra Costa, where Wal-Mart spent another $1 million to squeak out a narrow victory last March 2nd, 46% of the voters were against them coming into town. What other retailer in America could draw 46% to 60% of the voters against them? The great myth that Wal-Mart tries to hide behind is that only ‘special interests’ are against them. But as Inglewood demonstrates, that special interest has grown dramatically since I first beat Wal-Mart in my hometown of Greenfield, Massachusetts back in 1993. For more background on Inglewood, search the Newsflash page by the name of the city.