skip to main content









Donation Heart Ribbon

Don’t Mess With Walmart

A look at the past week

— The world’s largest retailer showed San Diego yesterday why it’s the world’s largest retailer. Walmart used a downtown press conference to offer us a carrot: Building 12 new stores in San Diego. Walmart presented the carrot after beating the San Diego City Council with a stick, in the form of a ballot initiative to repeal a big-box ordinance that strictly regulates Walmart Supercenters. Walmart has collected enough signatures to force a special election.

Their new stores, Walmart told us, would provide 1,100 new retailing jobs and 300 construction jobs. We were also told the stores would bring high-quality groceries to low-income food deserts that have been ignored by the major grocery chains.

As for the ballot measure… Why bother with an expensive election when City Council members could simply do the decent thing and repeal the ordinance themselves, allowing Walmart’s charitable plan move ahead?

“This plan is part of our plan to do right by our customers. So Walmart is ready to move forward. The question remains: Is the City Council ready too?” said Maggie Sans, a stocky Walmart spokeswoman with a voice as sharp as an axe blade.

Next week the City Council will consider a repeal of the Supercenter ordinance. Council President Tony Young supports the repeal, even though he voted for the ordinance last year, and he expects the rest of the council to follow suit.

Don’t mess with Walmart.

There are two things Walmart has in bulk and they are customers and controversy. Walmart haters see a corporation that takes no prisoners, brooks no labor conflict and sells as cheap as possible no matter who they have screw to do it. The victims in this scenario are poorly paid employees and small main-street businesses that are driven out of business.

Walmart Supercenters are especially controversial because they're so big (more than 100,000 square feet) and they sell groceries, putting them in competition with unionized grocery stores like Vons and Ralphs.

But the other side of the debate says Walmart is a champion of the working man because they sell him things he couldn’t otherwise afford. One Walmart supporter who stood at Maggie’s side at that press conference was San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders. He thinks restricting Walmart locations in San Diego limits consumer choice and that’s un-American.

“I don’t want anyone telling me I can only shop at Vons or I can only shop at Albertsons. If I want to shop at Walmart or anywhere else I should have that opportunity,” said Sanders.

He was referring to the infamous ordinance Walmart wants to kill. Passed by the council last year, it requires Walmart to conduct an economic impact and traffic study before it can locate a Supercenter in San Diego. Sanders and other Walmart boosters say the ordinance is a connivance of politically connected “labor bosses” (Councilman Carl DeMaio actually used the expression) and it is, in effect, a ban on Supercenters.

The most interesting character in yesterday’s drama was Tony Young. Young is the President of the City Council and the only African American on the council. His district is poor and poorly served by grocery stores. I spoke with him in city hall just before the Walmart press conference. He told me District 4 has no Vons grocery stores and the only Ralphs grocery they have is on the border of another council district.

Young is a Democrat and he supported the Supercenter ordinance, which was upheld despite a Sanders veto. But Young said he’ll vote to repeal the measure because a special election would cost $3 million dollars a cash-strapped city can’t afford. He hears Walmart talk about bringing groceries to under-served neighborhoods but he’ll believe it when he sees it. For all the happy corporate PR we heard yesterday, Walmart has promised San Diego nothing. Still, Young says he’ll give them a chance to make their deeds match their words.

“The fact is, the consumers are getting the short end of the stick in my district,” said Young. “So if you’ve got somebody who’s going to come and provide these products for us to buy so we don’t have to drive 10 miles to buy anything, then I’m supportive of it.”

Young said he’ll invite Walmart to put their plan before the council for conceptual approval if they want to show San Diego they’re serious. And Walmart? They’re making a concerted effort to move further into big-city markets. They’re doing it in San Diego. They’re doing it in Chicago, New York and San Francisco.

For more than a dozen years, I’ve walked to Vons to my shopping. I do it now even though the nearest store is a mile away. I like walking. I like cities. I like neighborhood food stores and I shudder to think of Walmart Supercenters resting their huge footprints in San Diego.

Walmart has developed a new store type called the Neighborhood Market. It’s a food store about the size of Trader Joe’s. Will Walmart’s “12 new stores” in San Diego be Supercenters or Neighborhood Markets? The company won’t say.

Walmart has made a gospel of discount retailing. They don’t sell you style. They don’t win you over with their good citizenship or their corporate culture. They just sell cheaper than anyone else. Maybe you don’t like that, but banning Walmart is a losing battle.

So let’s just make them follow the rules. Don’t let them force people to work overtime without pay. If they practice gender discrimination, sue them. If they dump toxic waste out the back door, as they have done in San Diego, prosecute them.

Yes you CAN mess with Walmart. You just can’t live in a world where they don’t exist.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.


Avatar for user 'hboooo'

hboooo | January 28, 2011 at 2:17 p.m. ― 6 years, 1 month ago

Everybody knows walmart is just a front for CHINESE GOODS that were made by underpaid, overworked, mistreated people. Continually buying these products will only insure that jobs continue to leave our country and Chinas power will increase. Therefor we will continue to slide into economic oblivion and CHINA will be able to continue its crimes against humanity unchecked.

“So if you’ve got somebody who’s going to come and provide these products for us to buy so we don’t have to drive 10 miles to buy anything, then I’m supportive of it.”

If people are really that mad about DRIVING 10 miles then they have already become mindless, stomachs propelled by ignorance. If the anger cause by you having to drive 10 miles to help your country maintain a pulse then you SIR are just about beyond HELP. Your children are going to end up working in some sweat shop for food and housing. They will have no culture and will not know how to build, grow or maintain a moral life.

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'louwas'

louwas | January 28, 2011 at 2:22 p.m. ― 6 years, 1 month ago

The last I knew this was a free country. I can shop or not shop at Walmart. I can work or not work at Walmart.

As far as an economic and "traffic impact study" being mandated to Walmart, that is ridiculous. Did Target have to do one to add grocery stores to their stores?

The traffic impact that will be inflicted on Friars Road near the huge development at Mission Center Road--the Quarry--has never seemed to cause the city planners any concern. So why this? Could it be special interest lobbies are swaying our City Council?

I shop at Walmart. For the most part, I like a lot of the low priced products offered me. If some of the merchandise is not to my liking, I don't buy.

Free country, freedom of choice, less government intervention remember?


( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'Tom Fudge'

Tom Fudge, KPBS Staff | January 28, 2011 at 2:58 p.m. ― 6 years, 1 month ago

There's no question the opposition of local unions was the reason why the City Council was so especially concerned about the traffic impacts of Walmart. But should we be surprised when Walmart's plans to expand get so many people riled up? Walmart is a lightning rod in a thunderstorm. Their take-no-prisoners approach to marketing is why they're so controversial. The previous writer's comments about freedom of choice are true. But communities also have a right to determine what kind of urban planning they want to practice, what labor policies they want to encourage and what constitutes a level playing field for all businesses that compete in the local marketplace. As to what's best for the economy... the Walmart dilemma was best summed up by a retailing expert I spoke with several years ago. He said Americans can't have both high wages AND low prices. Walmart gives us the latter but not the former. We have to decide which is more important to us.

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'henriksj'

henriksj | January 28, 2011 at 3:31 p.m. ― 6 years, 1 month ago

The article should be about "Don't mess with the citizens of San Diego". The council members who are under the thumb of the unions are the ones who created all these problems. If they paid attention to what the citizens want, the issue would not have arisen. You can bet these council members will continue to fight to oppose the opening of any stores, no matter how much people could save, how many people would be employed and how much access to fresh food many will have that they don't have now. What you call Wal-mart's "take no prisoners" approach is only necessary because the unions can't stand to lose this one, even as everyone else is disadvantaged by their outrageous tactics; thus Wal-mart has to continue to fight.

For more info on this see "Looming bankruptcy caused by excessive public employee salaries and unfunded union pensions and other benefits, State of California." Applies to most municipalities as well.

Thanks for the "objective" article from taxpayer-funded KPBS.

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'Greg Duch'

Greg Duch | January 28, 2011 at 4:19 p.m. ― 6 years, 1 month ago

Tom: Walmart's actions can best be described as "THE ARROGANCE OF POWER". What I do not understand is why so many folks applaud and aid the establishment of a monopoly corporation, Walmart has gone from dominating their markets to monopolizing their markets, in so many US cities and towns.

Yet, so many consumers seem convinced that Walmart is "THE PATRON SAINT OF CONSUMERS" protecting the little guy from those evil, "price-gouging mom and pop" stores. Since when is opposing a monopolistic global mega-corporation, the equivalent of being "anti-American"? I prefer to see vibrant competition in markets, not ONE club-wielding monopoly, which feels obliged to, and has the power to dictate local public policy.

Walmart has one and only one priority. That is making lots of money for Walmart. Are they really in the business of consumer protection?, as so many seem deluded into believing. ----Heel NO! Some people possess such a life-or-death loyalty to a comptetition-killing monopoly, that it borders on the irrational. And yes, just as an aside. Walmart is not without its saving graces. Walmart has done a wonderful job of making China an affluent country and the dominant, most powerful trading partner with the USA. Walmart has done immeasureable good in altering the balance of trade in favor of the Chinese, and hugely adding to the financial wealth of China. So, if China were not rolling in so much dough, Who, if not the Chinese, would the USA be able to borrow the billions upon billions of dollars it needs to maintain the illusion of financial? stability???? GregD

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'brixsy'

brixsy | January 28, 2011 at 9:50 p.m. ― 6 years, 1 month ago

I'd rather see some organic co-ops or some stores that actually give a c**p about the community they're in, not their shareholders.

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'Tom Fudge'

Tom Fudge, KPBS Staff | January 29, 2011 at 9:13 a.m. ― 6 years, 1 month ago

Walmart cares about the community. They just care more about their shareholders. Same is true of Vons, or course. It was ironic to shop at Vons during the past several weeks and be accosted multiple times by people outside the store gathering signatures to qualify the Walmart ballot measure, which Vons opposes. I didn't sign it but then I rarely sign ballot initiatives. Signature gatherers always position themselves outside grocery stores. But I expect Vons shoppers probably had no problem with Walmart establishing its own grocery stores in San Diego. Did the think about urban planning, the footprint of a Supercenter or the wages Walmart pays? Probably not. But they do think about price. Like I said... there's a reason why Walmart is the world's largest retailer.

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'brixsy'

brixsy | January 29, 2011 at 9:47 a.m. ― 6 years, 1 month ago

Yes, you've got a point. I just have a different vision of where I'd like to get my food; not a mega-store, but somewhere where they expect people to bring reusable bags, with specialty / ethnic goods rather than prepackaged / frozen ones. A place where you know the cashiers by name. Rather idealistic, I guess, but one can dream.

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'Greg Duch'

Greg Duch | January 29, 2011 at 11:12 p.m. ― 6 years, 1 month ago

Tom- Walmart is greatly concerned with the community. It cares deeply about spending trends and the level of average disposable income; as well as the local minimum wage law.

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'Greg Duch'

Greg Duch | January 31, 2011 at 2:50 a.m. ― 6 years, 1 month ago


( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'Tom Fudge'

Tom Fudge, KPBS Staff | January 31, 2011 at 8:57 a.m. ― 6 years, 1 month ago

Brixy-- You may be idealistic but there are a lot of shoppers like you and they also have the power of the purse. If Walmart does introduce Neighborhood Markets into San Diego, my guess is they'll do it with shoppers like you in mind. Does that mean you'll shop at Walmart afterall? Maybe not. But they know you're out there. On another point... I find it interesting, though not surprising, that Walmart is controversial even in China!

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'Greg Duch'

Greg Duch | January 31, 2011 at 6:55 p.m. ― 6 years, 1 month ago


*****By Parija Kavilanz, senior writer***January 26, 2011****: 3:37 PM ET
NEW YORK (CNNMoney***) -- China has accused Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, and its French competitor Carrefour of price gouging and misleading consumers by advertising false discounts on goods sold in their stores.

The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the Chinese agency that coordinates economic and social development, made those charges in a statement posted on its website on Wednesday.(END OF CITATION FROM CNN MONEY) ---FOR ENTIRE STORY, SEE:

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'Tom Fudge'

Tom Fudge, KPBS Staff | February 1, 2011 at 10:32 a.m. ― 6 years, 1 month ago

Another comment via personal email:: San Diego does not need anymore Wal-Marts. The prices are extremely cheap and seeing as to how minority neighbrhoods are in a recession they would be easily convinced to spend all of their money on cheap items. rather than saving in times that money is scarce. Kids would have cheap and easy access to junk food aiding to child-hood obesity. the clothes are most likely made in third world countries through "CHILD LABOR" not sure san diego really needs to associate itself with a label like that. GAP recieved a lot of its clothes through child labor and theyre a name brand company. Wal mart has an extremely large amount of "CHEAP CLOTHES" at an even cheaper price...HMMM I wonder why its so cheap..because the workers are hardly paid anything to make it. Before you agree to anything ask for a list of product resources and do a backround check as to the working conditions of the workers producing anything wal mart sells. We're in a new ERA and anything linked to child labor or inhumane labor conditions is being deeply scrutinized and investigated and those found guilty are being punished. And so are its associates hence the term "GUILTY BY ASSOCIATION" :-) keep those words in mind :-) and believe me if any new wal marts are opened up "We the People" will engage in an intense backround check. "COLLEGE STUDENTS" we are smart. :-)

( | suggest removal )