Wal-Mart's End Run

Hartford Courant
April 13, 2004

Voters in the Los Angeles suburb of Inglewood have wisely and emphatically turned down a ballot initiative by Wal-Mart that would have allowed the corporation to build a gargantuan shopping complex free of planning, zoning and environmental regulations.

Rather than a David vs. Goliath victory, as some have characterized it, Inglewood 's rejection of the plan reflects the importance of a community's right to self-determination. It also exposes the perils of California 's laissez-fair ballot laws that could lead to the kind of piecemeal development that creates sprawl.

Inglewood 's city council rejected the plan for a big-box megastore. It cited traffic, labor, safety and economic concerns. Wal-Mart, which plans 40 superstores in California over the next five years, was unhappy with the rejection, as well as the normal channels of appeal.

Instead, the company collected 10,000 signatures to put the question directly to voters, spending $1 million on an advertising campaign.

One community church leader who opposed Wal-Mart's tactics told The New York Times that people were not necessarily opposed to the retail complex, which would have brought jobs and revenue to the blue-collar suburb. Rather they objected to the way in which the company tried to circumvent the regulatory process.

Rest assured, this could not happen in Connecticut , which does not have statewide ballot initiatives. There is no ballot mechanism even at the local level that would exempt development from local regulations. That's as it should be.