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Judge Will Not Stop Walmart Construction In Sherman Heights

Bulldozers took to the historic Farmer's Market building on Imperial Avenue in San Diego six weeks after Walmart announced it would convert it into one of its stores.
Adrian Florido
Bulldozers took to the historic Farmer's Market building on Imperial Avenue in San Diego six weeks after Walmart announced it would convert it into one of its stores.
David Alvarez on Walmart
The latest on the move to build a Walmart grocery store in Sherman Heights.
GUEST:Adrian Florido, KPBS Fronteras reporter David Alvarez, San Diego City Councilmember, District 8
Following a New York Times expose' alleging Walmart engaged in extensive bribery in Mexico, the company's stock dropped 5-percent on Monday. If the allegations prove to be true, Walmart may find itself in trouble with the US department of Justice.
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A judge on Monday denied a bid for a temporary restraining order that would have stopped demolition work at the site of a Walmart store in a landmark building in Sherman Heights.

Members of neighborhood and labor-affiliated groups claimed that Walmart began demolishing the iconic Farmers Market building before issuing proper notice. They went to court last week in a bid to get the project shut down.

The retailer's lawyers said it has the necessary permits to begin work on its future Walmart Neighborhood Market, which will be smaller than the typical big-box store and focus mainly on groceries. The site is in a building that has a tower that dominates the skyline east of Interstate 5 near downtown.

City Councilman David Alvarez, who represents the district where the new Walmart is planned, spoke to KPBS.

He said residents in the area "have been asking for a long time for a grocery store," including produce and a pharmacy.

"But even better news would be that the community would be informed about what Walmart is really deciding to do in that neighborhood," he said.

A city permit calls for seismic retrofits of the structure, including the removal of the north wall, windows, roof and floor.

That demolition startled members of the community, Alvarez said. Although Walmart has put up a banner showing what the store will look like, they have not shared enough details about their plans, he added.

Alvarez said he has a letter from Walmart that states the iconic Farmers Market site "is going to be maintained and enhanced."

In his ruling, Judge Joel Pressman said the work was consistent with city-approved plans that call for maintaining the facade. He also said the building in its current condition is a safety hazard, so the plaintiffs, the Coalition for Safe and Healthy Economic Progress, should have acted sooner.

"It's good news when construction teams are back to work and residents are a step closer to getting what they have overwhelmingly said they want - more job opportunities and affordable grocery options in their own neighborhood," said Steve Restivo, the senior director of community affairs at Walmart, in a statement.

"We will continue to engage with the community as we improve the vacant Farmers Market building and create a new, vibrant destination for local customers,'' he said.

While the tower is easily visible to commuters, the structure does not meet any of the city's criteria for historic buildings.