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Small California Town Blocks Wal-Mart's Expansion Plans - 2004-04-07


Voters in the California city of Inglewood have dealt a blow to the retail giant Wal-Mart, which had planned to build a super-store in their city. The world's largest retailer still has aggressive plans to expand in the region.

Inglewood voters rejected a measure Tuesday that would have allowed the massive project but would have exempted it from environmental reviews and public hearings. More than 60 percent of Inglewood voters said no to the measure, which was put on the ballot after the local city council turned down the project.

Wal-Mart supporters, who include Inglewood's mayor, say the 25-hectare complex would have brought jobs to a city with a high unemployment rate, and offered goods at discount prices. Wal-Mart super-centers sell clothes, appliances, and groceries.

A coalition of opponents, including labor unions, local businesses, and activist Jesse Jackson, say Wal-Mart pays low wages and offers few benefits, and would hurt the city's existing businesses. Wal-Mart critic Daniel Taber hopes the vote sends the retail giant a message.

"While we may want to shop at discount prices, we may want to have employment opportunities for our friends and families and seniors and young people, we will not sacrifice our rights as citizens and give you the opportunity to build in Inglewood any way you choose," he said.

This resident, however, had looked forward to shopping at Wal-Mart, whose massive buying power allows it to undersell competitors and offer low prices.

"I thought it would be nice to have one here," he said.

The company's loss in Inglewood may make it more difficult when the battle moves to Los Angeles in a few months. Some Los Angeles leaders are drafting a proposal to ban large super-stores from parts of their city.

Wal-Mart plans to bring 40 super-centers to the Los Angeles area over the next four years, as part of an effort to move beyond its rural base into America's big cities.

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