Wal-Mart politics irk unions
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
With Wal-Mart tiptoeing its permit through City Hall to add a second store in Salinas, angry union officials and a city councilwoman are dishing out late-in-the-game blame. The unions say Mayor Dennis Donohue and City Manager Artie Fields accelerated Wal-Mart’s plans for two supercenter-like stores behind closed doors. Councilwoman Jyl Lutes says Donohue used Measure K, the 1-cent public safety sales tax on the Nov. 3 ballot, as a “football” to resolve the divisive Wal-Mart issue. The unions were planning a press conference on the Wal-Mart issue today.
Wal-Mart quietly pulled permits on July 29 to remodel both its Westridge store and its new store at the former Home Depot site to offer groceries and a pharmacy. Since Wal-Mart isn’t expanding the building footprints, the permits can be approved over the counter, says City Attorney Vanessa Vallarta. Within the next two weeks, the permit center expects to issue Wal-Mart’s permits.
The union’s beef centers on a convoluted council motion made in June. Choosing not to battle Wal-Mart at the ballot box, the City Council voted to repeal a big box ordinance that would have restricted the amount of square footage Wal-Mart dedicated to groceries. The council, on a 4-3 vote, directed staff to negotiate with Wal-Mart about addressing traffic impacts and “look at a Conditional Use Permit for larger retail stores over 75,000 square feet.”
“We want that conditional use permit,” says Cesar Lara, executive director of the Monterey Bay Central Labor Council. “Now we heard that Wal-Mart submits their plans and the city manager and mayor are trying to fast track it for Wal-Mart to get their permits and they are not listening to the rest of the City Council.”
Tony Alexander, political director for UFCW Local 5, which represents 600 to 700 grocery workers in Salinas, says the union was expecting another public hearing about the proposed stores’ traffic and economic impacts. “We want to make sure the Wal-Mart process continues to go out in the public,” Alexander says.
But Mayor Dennis Donohue says the notion that he or City Manager Artie Fields didn’t follow council’s direction is “categorically false,” adding that there was no clear directive for a CUP.
Read more in tomorrow's Weekly.