LOS ANGELES — The city of Inglewood, Calif., where voters two years ago defeated a ballot initiative to permit a 60-acre Wal-Mart complex, has toughened requirements for big-box retailers.
The city council voted 4 to 0 this week to approve an ordinance requiring the stores to conduct a cost/benefit assessment that any new units would have on the working-class suburb of Los Angeles. The so-called superstore ordinance applies to all retail stores in excess of 100,000 square feet with more that 10 percent of merchandise dedicated to non-taxable goods (groceries are not taxable in California). Retailers would be required to hire a consultant to generate the report based on a list of experts preapproved by the city.
After the defeat at the polls in April 2004, Wal-Mart bought the roughly 200,000-square-foot plot of land where it had hoped to build — simultaneously saying that it has no plans for construction in Inglewood.
The referendum was a watershed for opponents of Wal-Mart, which was said to have spent more than $1 million to promote the initiative, showing that a grassroots-led movement could successfully fight the Bentonville, Ark.-based company. A coalition of unions, churches and other groups campaigned against Wal-Mart, saying a supercenter would harm local retailers and also render moot the city’s environmental and planning authority.
Since then, Wal-Mart has embarked on a vigorous campaign to counter opponents, touting its job creation, boosting health care benefits for employees and starting a program to support small businesses near its urban stores. The company, which has been rebuffed in New York and Los Angeles, is trying to open 50 stores in urban neighborhoods in the next two years.
Inglewood is the third jurisdiction in the U.S. to enact legislation of this kind. The others are Los Angeles and Alameda County in northern California.
Wal-Mart spokesman Kevin McCall said although the company has held on to the land, “the feeling is that obviously we don’t have a project in Inglewood….When you get into more urban areas like the company is focused on right now, the process is more lengthy.” However, representatives from the Coalition for a Better Inglewood and the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy said the company plans to build.
During a public hearing at Inglewood City Hall, Mayor Roosevelt F. Dorn said the ordinance was aimed at all large franchises. Dorn, who in 2004 was the only council member in favor of the retailer entering Inglewood but has since changed his position, said the ordinance “will give … the council the ability to effectively monitor every big-box store that comes into the city.”
Though Wal-Mart did not send a representative, five individuals from each side of the debate were invited to speak before the council.
Willie Agee, a retired teamster and resident of Inglewood, said he supports Wal-Mart because of the jobs it would create for young African-Americans.
Henry Willis, an attorney for LAANE, said the ordinance “would allow the people in the city of Inglewood to deal with planning issues on the basis of fact.”
Though the ordinance may end up restricting the size of a Wal-Mart store in Inglewood, it may not significantly hamper the company’s plans to open a unit there. Councilman Curran D. Price said if Wal-Mart went through the process of compiling an economic report and it was acceptable to the council, “they would be approved.”
The ordinance will receive a final procedural vote within 30 days.