It looks like citizen Wal-Mart is going to put itself on the ballot again — this time in Contra Costa, California. The world’s biggest retailer is using its corporate resources to try to overturn what the citizens in Contra Costa County have enacted into law. Wal-Mart wants to repeal a county ordinance that bars supercenters from operating a full-line grocery store in unincorporated portions of Contra Costa County. According to the Contra Costa Times, Wal-Mart intends to spend at least $100,000 of its money to win the referendum — but if other votes are a guide, the company will spend closer to a quarter of a million to win. It’s called corporate democracy, and its often goes to the party with the deepest pockets. But it’s not about the bottom line for Wal-Mart, it’s about something loftier. “It’s a matter of principle,” a Wal-Mart PR person told the paper. “These types of ordinances are anti-competitive and anti-consumer and we will fight them tooth and nail.” But the Wal-Mart petition drive is being opposed by the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, who say no retailer needs a store the size of 15 football fields. The County adopted the new ordinance on June 3rd. The new requirement has two major limiting factors: it only applies to stores larger than 90,000 s.f., and only in portions of the county that are unincorporated. Under the code, no more than 5% of the store’s floor space can be used for the sale of nontaxable items — most notably, groceries. The ordinance is similar to ones passed in several other California communities (search by Martinez) and to state legislation passed by the California State Assembly — but vetoed by Governor Gray Davis. Wal-Mart says the ordinance interferes with the free market — whatever that is. Wal-Mart now has until July 3rd. to gather 26,487 signatures, so the company usually hires professional firms to gather names. In this case, Wal-Mart hired National Petition Management, based in Sacramento, to gather names for hire. This will be followed by other consultants to mount a campaign, complete with telemarketing, direct mail, media ads, and big spending. If the question gets on the ballot, the vote would likely occur in March, 2004. The County could decide to withdraw the ordinance, but the sentiment on the County board suggests that they’d rather fight than ditch. “I think we’ll fight them very vigorously,” said Councilor Mark DeSaulnier. “I think when people in Contra Costa hear the whole story, they won’t be terribly sympathetic.” Community groups who back the ordinance are setting up their own information tables next to the Wal-Mart professional gatherers table. “They’ve got these paid signature-gatherers from out of town.,” said one anti-Wal-Mart activist.”They’re basically carpetbaggers.” Wal-Mart boasts that in Clark County, Nevada, the county commissioners repealed a similar ordinance when Wal-Mart put the issue on a referendum ballot. A Wal-Mart spokesperson told the Contra Costs Times: “We would never enter into this unless we believed there was a real opportunity for us to be successful on the ballot.” That’s what they said in Eureka and Martinez, California, and they lost both ballot questions there.
For more information about these kind of ballot initiatives, search this database by “referendums” or “ballot”. For more information about the California law vetoed by the Governor, search by “Grey Davis.”