became the center of Altadena's anti-Walmart sentiment when about 50 people gathered there Friday night to figure out ways to speak out against the impending arrival of a
The members of the Save Altadena group assembled Friday night's meeting and others before it, with organizer and former Town Council member Steve Lamb emphasizing to the audience some of the group's missions, such as supporting local businesses and finding ways to put Altadena's positive qualities in the spotlight.
"People think Altadena is a poor place, full of people who can't expect or don't deserve quality retail," he said. "I've been told that a lot … but if you look at the demographics, Altadena is one of the wealthiest places in Southern California."
Talk quickly turned to Walmart and its reputation among residents in many neighborhoods -- including Altadena -- as a harbinger of doom for homegrown businesses, property values and the local economy. One resident called it a "mom-and-pop killer", while another mentioned Bernadette Giglio, an Altadena resident who works in the fashion industry, who passed along a Wall Street Journal article that notes rising crime rates within a six-block radius of Walmart stores.
While Lamb acknowledged there is nothing legally anyone can do to stop the opening of this particular Walmart market, the intent of the group is to "organize like we can stop it" and perhaps make an impact on discussion regarding future Walmart project sites in SoCal.
"Walmart is playing this game … they've figured out how to get around the zoning code so there's no public comment. They've found more than 200 sites in Southern California where they are trying to do this," he said, adding that he has also written to Edel Vizcarra, the land use deputy for Supervisor Mike Antonovich, about the possibility of modifying county code to require conditional use permits for grocery stores that are more than 15,000 square feet. Unlike their traditional megastore brethren, Walmart neighborhood markets focus on groceries instead of serving up a wide-ranging litany of items to its customers.
The pervading theme of Save Altadena's grassroots messaging about Walmart was education. Someone jokingly mentioned taking pictures of Altadenans who would be shopping at the Walmart market. While that idea was quickly shot down, some saw potential in getting across a different message.
"Instead of making the people who need to shop there uncomfortable, how do we make the people who made this possible uncomfortable?" asked Shawna Dawson, another of Save Altadena's organizers. "I imagine that there must be an element of organized pressure that can be put on these folks."
Another resident mentioned how the use of yard signs can lead others to educate themselves.
"I think things like the yard signs … even if it's after the first part of the campaign, could say 'I won't shop at Walmart' and we can express to people why that's important, and where they should be going," said Ericka Lozano-Buhl. "What are the independent businesses? Instead of saying you shouldn't shop at Walmart, we need to say 'This is why we say no to Walmart'. That's what we need to do."
Another resident noted that while the group doesn't have the legal ammunition to combat Walmart, "we have the power to boycott, we can speak with our wallets." Someone else mentioned speaking through hand-written letters to Los Angeles County's supervisors and land-use deputies. Lamb and Dawson also plan on gathering thoughts from the audience and other residents and compile them into bullet-pointed educational flyers to distribute. Other methods tossed around were bilingual meetings, flyers and the screening of films such as Walmart: The High Cost of Low Price, the 2005 documentary that examines Walmart's impacts and business practices.
At its meeting next week, the group plans to flesh out more ideas, including language on lawn signs and flyers. There will also be a screening of the Walmart documentary. Several members of the group also plan to attend Saturday morning's protest march against Walmart in Chinatown.