Major Retail Project Approved In Commerce

Council approves plan that will bring Walmart to city.

By Jacqueline Garcia, EGP Staff Writer

After six-hours of heated debate over the building of a controversial retail center in Commerce, the City Council approved two resolutions early Wednesday that will allow the project to move forward.

The proposed project runs along Washington Boulevard, from the 710 Freeway to Atlantic Boulevard, and from Washington Boulevard to Sheila Street. It will include four smaller individual buildings for retail stores and restaurants, and a Walmart box store as the anchor tenant.

While the council meeting started at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, it wasn’t until after midnight that the council ultimately voted 4-1 to adopt and certify the Final Environmental Impact Report for the proposed Commerce Retail Center. Councilwoman Oralia Rebollo was the sole dissenting vote.

Lea este artículo en Español: Proyecto Controversial es Aprobado en Commerce

On a 3-2 vote, the council also approved development of the 142,997 square foot Commerce Retail Center, this time with Mayor Pro-Tem Tina Baca joining Rebollo in voting no.

City Council Chambers were jammed packed Tuesday with supporters and detractors of the project, leading to hours of public testimony after the presentations on the project by city staff, the developer, Gatwick Group LLC, and representatives of Walmart.

As the meeting went on, it was clear that the hot button issue was not necessarily the retail center itself, but the inclusion of Walmart as the development’s main tenant. Many of those who spoke on both sides of the issue were not residents of Commerce, but either employees of Walmarts in other cities or activists who are fundamentally opposed to Walmart, wherever they may be.

Supporters see the potential for increased revenue for the city and more jobs, while detractors attempted to paint the big box retailer as unscrupulous and bad to its workers.

Explaining his support for the project, Commerce Mayor Ivan Altamirano told EGP he sees the new center as a win-win situation for the city.

“The land is contaminated and no one wanted to clean it up because it was too expensive,” he explained. “Only one entity said ‘yes, we will clean it up,’ and that was Walmart,” Altamirano said.

“It would have been irresponsible of me to allow that land to stay contaminated. It took confidence to possibly stand alone in my decision, and the courage to make the tough decision that I made,” he told EGP.

Resident Erika Bojorquez disagrees that the development is good for the city. She told the council bringing Walmart, with its “bad reputation,” works against the city’s “Model City” motto.

“People talk about the donations Walmart makes, but why don’t they donate living wages to employees,” she said, drawing applause from the audience.

Commerce City Council Chambers was jammed packed with people wanting to speak on plans that would bring Walmart to Commerce. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Commerce City Council Chambers was jammed packed with people wanting to speak on plans that would bring Walmart to Commerce. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Small business owner Michael Belgan said his 52-year-old company will go out of business if   Walmart is built, costing his 12 employees their jobs.

“My little company’s employees make about $40,000 a year, and that’s way more than what Walmart will pay,” he told the council.
Several other speakers said Walmart is a bad neighbor because they pay low wages and take advantage of people in need of jobs.

Everything sounds good, drawings and video are great, but how many people from Commerce will actually be hired? Commerce resident Richard Hernandez wanted to know.

“You [have to] negotiate with these people. We are depending on you” to get them to hire locally, he told council members.

Walmart opening in Commerce will revitalize the city, the company’s Director of Public Affairs and Government Relations Javier Angulo said Tuesday. He cited a substantial reduction in the number of daily diesel truck trips, cleaning of the contaminated industrial site and an additional $600,000-$800,000 in annual revenue to the city’s general fund as benefits from Walmart opening in the industrial city.

“We want to be the anchor tenant…we are in it for the long term,” he said.

Sal Lopez works at the Downey Walmart and said the company has been great to him. “I have been with Walmart for over 10 years,” he said. “Walmart has a training program, bonuses according to performance” and other benefits, he said responding to criticism of the retailer’s employment practices.

You talk about the positive, but what about the negative, demanded Mayor Pro Tem Baca del Rio. “Look at what happened in Pico Rivera,” she said, referring to the closing of the Pico Rivera Walmart.

The store in Pico Rivera was old and it had plumbing problems, said Angulo. “Now we have higher participation in the store and our associates are very happy,” he told the council.

Jessica Piedra was one of the workers displaced when the Pico Rivera store closed down with little notice, and says the company supported her during the transition. “When the Pico Rivera store closed they sent me to the Baldwin Park location and when the store reopened I was interviewed to be brought back to Pico Rivera,” she said.

Opponents claim the real reason the store was closed was because workers had started to unionize.

Mayor Altamirano asked Gatwick representatives about their hiring plans during construction.

(EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

(EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

“You don’t hire unions. You outsource from other states. How do we ensure the construction of this project stays local?” he asked.

Gatwick is very committed to working with the city as much as we can to hire locally, responded the developer’s attorney, Morgan Wazlaw with Rutan and Tucker.

Council approval of the project, despite their own criticism of Walmart’s business practices and “overwhelming” community opposition, is embarrassing, Mark Lopez, co-director of Commerce-based East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice told EGP, adding “The fight is not over.”

One of the speakers before the vote, however, pointed to a time years ago when there was opposition to another big commercial project in the city, the Commerce Casino.

People at the time thought it would drag down the city, draw prostitutes to the city, but that didn’t happen, pointed out the speaker.

Today the Commerce Casino is one of the largest tax generators for the city, she pointed out.

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Twitter @jackiereporter

jgarcia@egpnews.com

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July 7, 2016  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

Comments

3 Responses to “Major Retail Project Approved In Commerce”

  1. mark! Lopez on July 8th, 2016 12:33 am

    The project as a whole, regardless of Walmart, is a problem because of future displacement with the I-710 Project. The community alternative for the 710 is to place an off ramp where the proposed Walmart, instead of displacing over 100 families. This was ignored by the council members who approved the project and not addresses in the article. Also, the developer was deceiving in their outreach and at public hearings. This was called out, and Tina also called out Javier (of Walmart) for lying. He had a phone conversation with her and them changed his story while speaking in front of the council.

  2. Erika Bojorquez on July 8th, 2016 9:56 am

    I just wanted to clarify that I am not against development of that area, I am however against Walmart moving in when there are already 4 Walmarts within a 5 mile distance: Pico Rivera (2m), South Gate(3.5m), Downey(5m) and Bell Gardens…wait correction they already permanently closed the Bell Gardens location. From the beginning they have stayed true to their reputation of shady business practices.

    I appreciate the Overtime they paid for their employees to come in and speak on behalf of Walmart, but it means nothing since they are not residents of this city. Commerce Residents need their city government to work for them not leave us vulnerable to exploitation. We need good paying jobs. Not more minimum wage jobs that keep our residents trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty. If a company is not paying a living wage then we as tax payers are subsidizing those profits.

    I hope to continue the discussion and continue to fight against a company that has a well documented history of moving into communities, exploiting the local economy and then moving on leaving that community worse off than before all in the name of profits.

    Walmart is by no means the Model Employer and has no business in Our Model City.

  3. Daniel on July 9th, 2016 9:13 am

    The good will out way the bad. This land needed to get cleaned up and developed.

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