By ALEX VEIGA, AP Business Writer
INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Voters in this Los Angeles suburb rejected a ballot measure Tuesday that would have allowed Wal-Mart to build a warehouse-sized store while skirting zoning, traffic and environmental reviews.
With all 29 precincts reporting and absentee ballots counted, Inglewood voters opposed the initiative, with 60.6 percent voting 'no' and 39.3 percent voting 'yes,' said Gabby Contreras of the city clerk's office.
That amounts to 7,049 votes against the initiative and 4,575 in favor. Contreras said there are about 40,000 registered voters in the city.
"This is very, very positive for those folks who want to stand up and ... hold this corporate giant responsible," said Daniel Tabor, a former City Council member who had campaigned against the initiative.
Inglewood's City Council last year blocked the proposed shopping center, which would include both a Wal-Mart Supercenter and other stores, prompting the company to collect more than 10,000 signatures to force the vote in the working-class community.
But Tuesday's vote is not likely to settle the debate, which has pitted religious leaders, community activists and unions against the world's largest retailer. Opponents have vowed to take legal action if the measure passes.
Wal-Mart has argued in Inglewood and elsewhere in California that its stores create jobs and said residents should be able to decide for themselves if they want the stores in their community.
But opponents say the Supercenters amount to low-wage, low-benefit job mills that displace better-paying jobs as independent retailers are driven out of business. They also fear the stores will contribute to suburban sprawl and jammed roadways.
Alversia Carmouche, a beauty shop owner who voted against the measure Tuesday, said she was convinced the behemoth discount store would ultimately hurt the community.
"Maybe the store would possibly be a good thing in the beginning, but it will drive out the smaller businesses," said Carmouche, 66. "I really feel it will absolutely close this town out."
Others argued the city southwest of Los Angeles is in need of the kind of jobs Wal-Mart has to offer.
"It's going to bring jobs in the community for young people," said Magda Monroe, 65, who voted for the measure. "I see nothing wrong with that, even if it's minimum wage (jobs), it's better than nothing."
Objections to the Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart have surfaced elsewhere around the country, including Chicago, where the City Council recently stalled a measure to approve the first Wal-Mart inside city limits because of concerns about the company's labor practices.
The company succeeded in lobbying residents of Contra Costa County in suburban San Francisco. Residents there voted last month to allow a Supercenter. But Wal-Mart also lost a vote that day to allow it to open another store near San Diego.
But organizing a ballot initiative in Inglewood was a rare move by Wal-Mart, said Ken Walker, regional director at Kurt Salmon Associates, a retail consulting company.
Previously, Wal-Mart has battled zoning boards, but Walker said this is the first time he's seen the discounter taking the issue to a public referendum.
Wal-Mart officials have said they have not decided what they would do if the initiative failed. The company spent more than $1 million on its Inglewood campaign, according to campaign-finance records, while opponents have spent a fraction of that amount.