Who says that the retail giant from Bentonville has thick skin? Wal-Mart has filed a lawsuit against the city of San Marcos, California, challenging the validity of a citizen effort to overturn the city’s approval of the discount store by a referendum vote. Named as defendents in the case are the city, the City Clerk Susie Vasquez, two citizens (Lori Drake and Randy Walton) who signed the referendum effort, the city Registrar of Voters Sally McPherson, and Brookfield Homes, the developer of the housing project where the store would be built. The suit was filed October 20th. in San Diego Superior Court. Wal-Mart alleges that the referendum petitions circulated by signature gatherers did not contain all the required information they should have, and that many of those collecting signatures were not registered San Marcos voters. Wal-Mart also charges that approval of the store by the City Council when it was sitting as the city’s Redevelopment Agency Board was an administrative action, and not subject to a referendum. Lori Drake told the San Marcos Union Tribune: “I was served at 7:45 p.m. Monday at my home in front of my two young children, and I was very upset. It sickens me to see something like this. I’m a citizen who is trying to serve my neighborhood. This is total harassment”. Randy Walton added: “I think it shows, in my mind, that Wal-Mart is desperate. They know they can’t win on substance, which is that the people don’t want this store, so they decided to attack the process. A Wal-Mart spokesman says the referendum petitions should have included language explaining the General Plan amendment that allowed the store to be approved, or the conditions of approval that the council used, such as tax revenue the city would receive from the store. Ironically, the city council gave the plan a green light in August on a 3-2. One of the councilors who voted for Wal-Mart has since hinted that he might reconsider his support. Wal-Mart, who has hired signatures gatherers for some of its own ballot adventures, says that some of those who collected the signatures were residents of Carlsbad, or were hired by the United Food and Commercial Workers union. The union reportedly paid $30,000 to a company that collected signatures for the referendum. A Wal-Mart spokesman told the newspaper: “it is just a small vocal minority of residents who have been hijacked by organized labor, who is opposed to this store.” Residents note that the 4,700 residents of San Marcos who signed the petitions are a lot of people to be hijacked. “Wal-Mart is trying to thwart the will of the people,” Randy Walton (no relation to Sam Walton) said. In its defense, the city says it was guided by a 1999 U.S. Supreme Court decision that a person does not have to be a registered voter, much less be required to live in the specific jurisdiction, to collect signatures for a referendum or an initiative. Residents need roughly 2,400 signatures to get their measure on the ballot.
For earlier stories on San Marcos, search this Newsflash page by the city’s name. For examples of other ballot questions involving Wal-Mart or other big box retailers, search by “ballot” or “vote”.