On September 11, 2001, we told you about the story of Wal-Mart’s efforts to bust into Reedley, California, and the arrogance of company’s statement that ‘we usually prevail.’ According to The Fresno Bee, on October 30th, the Reedley City Council ducked the issues by voting 3-0 to sponsor a ballot referendum in March that will allow voters to decide whether than want a Wal-Mart on the banks of the Kings River. Before passing the issue off to voters, the Council tried to pass a motion to approve the first step of the project, but Council Member Marge Gobby cast a dissenting vote, calling the Manning Avenue gateway to town the wrong spot for such development. After the 4 1/2-hour meeting, Wal-Mart officials said they will have to consider whether to pursue a ballot measure.The 68-acre package cannot go forward without a shift in the city’s current planning vision. According to the Bee, more than 175 people attended the council meeting, which was preceded by lobbying on both sides that included leaflets and a door-to-door campaign. Wal-Mart claims it will generate roughly $200,000 in sales tax — but local officials have not calculated the offsetting revenues that will be lost as other local stores close their operations. Wal-Mart opponents argued against the location and also complained that the superstore would create serious traffic problems, damage Reedley’s small-town image and bleed away business from local merchants — particularly those downtown. The Wal-Mart would start off at 103,000-square-feet, but could expand to 187,000 square feet. Three of the five City Council members — LeRoy Swiney, Charles Taguchi and Mayor Joe Rhodes — declared conflicts of interest because of land owned near the site. Because the council needed three members to constitute a quorum and three affirmative votes to change the city’s land-use vision and zoning for the project area, city had to use a little-used “rule of necessity,” forcing one conflicted member to vote so that the city could rule on the project. Council Member Taguchi was chosen in a random drawing and took part in Tuesday’s meeting along with Ray Soleno and Gobby. Citizens for the Preservation of Reedley (CPR) celebrated the vote as a victory (but only temporary) against sprawl. But now that the issue is on the ballot, local residents are bracing for the lavish expenditures Wal-Mart will make to alter the community’s vision of itself.
Unfortunately, local officials probably have a notion that putting the Wal-Mart issue on the ballot means that the door is open for Wal-Mart to spend its way into town. Ballot questions give Wal-Mart a distinct financial advantage, because they can, and do, spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on PR firms, direct mail, polling, telemarketing, and media ads to convince voters that Wal-Mart is the next best thing to sliced downtown.CPR worries that Wal-Mart will literally try to buy its way into the community. These battles have been won by citizen groups, but not because of money. The best thing for CPR to do is explain early to residents of Reedley that Wal-Mart has its own brand of corporate democracy: elections are won and lost with money, and in the case of Wal-Mart, there is no such thing as Clean Elections. Usually almost every penny that goes into the pro Wal-Mart campaign is wired up from Bentonville, Arkansas. For contact persons at CPR, contact [email protected]