What is the end game with Walmart?

August 10, 2012


Assemblyman Ben Hueso has accused Mayor Jerry Sanders of a quid pro quo type arrangement with Walmart. Walmart gave two campaign contributions to Sanders’ pension ballot measure. The first contribution was timed at the beginning of Walmart’s construction application. The second coincided with the final approval of Walmart’s application. Walmart’s contribution to the pension ballot measure totalled $45,000. Assemblyman Hueso requested and the State Auditor has agreed to an investigation.

We are wondering why Hueso didn’t take these concerns to District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis. Dumanis has recently shown a ferocious appetite for these types of cases. She has rigorously pursued most of the Sweetwater Union High School board members for accepting dinners and theatre tickets, but those alleged quid pro quos were at far lesser amounts than the $45,000 Walmart spent helping the mayor.

With that point aside, we are wondering what Hueso’s end game is. Is this an attempt to delay and/or derail the Walmart store from being built in Sherman Heights? Then what?

Historically, in the low income communities of Sherman Heights, Logan Heights, and Barrio Logan have suffered from a lack of corporate development in their neighborhoods. These neighborhoods have had to do without banks, hospitals, shopping centers, or major markets in the area. Local residents have had to depend on Mom and Pop shops for groceries, check cashing, and health clinics. If you wanted to open a checking account or use an ATM you had to travel out of your community before you could find a bank. If you wanted to go grocery shopping you had to travel a ways to find a Vons or Albertsons. Corporate American stayed out of these communities.

For decades there has been a call and a need for corporate America to invest in the community and bring their jobs with them.

After 20 some years, finally, in Barrio Logan Mercado del Barrio anchored by Northgate Market will soon be open. This means jobs and competitively priced, high quality fresh foods. The space which was a blighted eyesore will soon become a hub for the community, where residents can literally walk to a fantastic shopping center.

In Sherman Heights, the Farmers’ Market which once stood as a warehouse, complete with towering silos for grains, which later became an indoor bazaar with produce stands and a meat market, has stood empty for the past few years, deteriorating.

In 2009 Walmart launched its neighborhood concept and in February 2012 announced it lease agreement at the Farmers’ Market site. They displayed their design plans back in 2009, but it wasn’t until the end of April that the community spoke out against the store. In part, residents rebelled because Walmart did not sign a community compact letter.

Some in the community have reacted to the tearing down of a corner of the building, citing historical significance and preservation. We agree that the façade of the building should be preserved, in particular the towering silos which can be seen from the freeway. But at the same time the building dates back to 1899 and requires major retrofitting to bring the building up to code, including earthquake standards.

Walmart has committed to preserving the façade of the building and we think the community should and needs to keep them to their promise, but there is more at play here than this.

At issue here is an age-old Union fight against Wamart. Because Walmart is a non-union company, Lorena Gonzalez, head of the AFL-CIO, has been leading the charge against the Walmart construction. Huseo is now fueling this fight by calling for this investigation.

While Hueso is within his rights to fight for the Union and we applaud his determination to weed out quid pro quos, we wonder if Huseso’s actions are in the best interest of the whole community.

At a time when jobs are at a premium and unemployment is highest amongst Hispanics, Hueso’s goals should be about jobs and the revitalization of neighborhoods!

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