Without public hearings or adequate notice about Wal-Mart’s controversial plans to open a grocery store early next year at the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Figueroa Drive in Altadena, the company has added fuel to a growing fire by negotiating a second location for another store on an empty lot at Lake Avenue and Calaveras Street.
A spokesperson with the company told the Pasadena Weekly on Friday there were no current plans to open a second store in Altadena, but a representative of Supervisor Mike Antonovich confirmed in two separate phone calls that Wal-Mart was looking at a second site as well.
The impending arrival of Wal-Mart has divided the community, with many claiming the store will mean the end for a number of independently owned businesses.
Supporters say the store will bring jobs and money to the bedroom community.
“Nothing’s been signed yet, but they are very, very interested in ruining our community,” said former Altadena Town Council member Steve Lamb. “All the stuff that Wal-Mart’s using to sell people on why it’s a good idea to have them in town — those things aren’t true. You end up with a net loss in jobs, a net loss in sales tax.”
The Town Council, which has no decision-making power and acts mostly as an advisory board to Antonovich, has not yet met publicly regarding the issue. However, a number of the council’s 16 members, including Brent Musson and Tecumseh Shackelford, have said as individuals that they support the opening of a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market in West Altadena.
A flyer was delivered to several homes in the area last weekend listing the “Altadena Town Council, Tecumseh Shackelford and Brent Musson” inviting the community to an informational meeting, though Town Council chair Sandra Thomas said she had not been informed about the meeting and that the council has not yet taken a position.
“We hope that any future tenant would reach out to the community and express their desire to work within the context of being a good neighbor, and to elicit support for any potential developments in Altadena,” said Antonovich spokesman Tony Bell. “It’s the community’s needs that come first. Any potential tenant needs to engage the community so they can meet their needs.”
Arman Gabay, the Beverly Hills-based developer who owns both properties, could not be reached for comment on this story.
The Altadena Chamber of Commerce has met with Wal-Mart representatives but has taken a neutral position on the company’s plans, according to Lori Webster, owner of Webster’s Fine Stationers and a member of the chamber’s board of directors.
As a small business owner, Webster is part of an opposition group called Save Altadena, comprised of residents, former Town Council members, local business owners and other community leaders, which has begun planning opposition to both stores.
“Having two Wal-Marts in Altadena is definitely going to put a hurt on the small businesses in town,” said Webster. “It’s basically going to be a vice. Since they’re bypassing all county review, how is the community supposed to react to it? What can we do about it if we don’t want it? That’s why Save Altadena is trying to educate people about Wal-Mart and the negative effects it has on small businesses.”
Save Altadena members are not the only ones who oppose Wal-Mart opening stores in their town. According to a City News Service report, the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) and the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 770 announced last week that they jointly filed a lawsuit against the LA City Department of Building and Safety for failing to inform the public of its decision to allow a Wal-Mart store in Chinatown to proceed without environmental review. The lawsuit also seeks to stop construction at the store.
Wal-Mart has announced plans to open new grocery stores in Los Angeles and Ventura counties in commercial zones that don’t require a conditional use permit as long as the store does not sell alcohol. Once the stores open and become established, however, they could then easily apply for a liquor license.
One of the tools Save Altadena is utilizing is peer-reviewed studies conducted by institutions such as Cal Berkeley’s Labor Center. The documentary “Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices” will be screened July 21 at Coffee Gallery Backstage in Altadena. Visit nowalmartaltadena.com for more information.
“There is nothing like the facts to stir up a discussion and make people think twice about supporting Wal-Mart in any way,” Jeanette Lamb, Steve’s wife, wrote in an email.
While Arkansas-based Wal-Mart is celebrating its 50th anniversary July 2, citations for sobering statistics used in that documentary assert that Wal-Mart currently faces lawsuits in 31 states, including several in California, for such issues as wage and hour abuses potentially involving hundreds of thousands of workers.
Supporters of Wal-Mart stores planned for Altadena maintain that they will provide jobs in the economically depressed areas of West Altadena and North Lake Avenue (Wal-Mart representatives have promised 64 new jobs at the Lincoln and Figueroa store alone), reduce crime in the area and attract more businesses to Altadena.
However, according to several peer-reviewed studies, these arguments don’t hold up. Wal-Mart has been shown to cause a loss of 1.4 jobs to the community for every job available at Wal-Mart, meaning the first store will cost the community 89.5 jobs. Among other negative effects, these academic studies have shown that local area retail store sales and overall sales tax revenue are reduced and crime increases when a Wal-Mart moves into town.
“Unless we address the drug and gang problems, no retail store in the world is going to solve the crime problem,” said Webster. “That’s up to the community and the Sheriff’s Department. There are no Wal-Marts close by, so it will attract people from outside Altadena, but does that mean they’re going to patronize other businesses in Altadena? Not likely.”