Even with the second set of presidential debates in swing, over 30 people attended the Altadena Town Council meeting on Tuesday night to discuss the incoming Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market with Wal-Mart management.
Prior to the meeting, a group of neighborhood organizations gathered to advocate for local business and home grown agriculture. Community members have also gathered support against the Wal-Mart. Neighbors Building a Better Altadena is just one of the groups that has sprung up and has collected over 200 signatures in a letter that was sent to Javier Angulo, Director of Community Affairs, Public Affairs, and Government Relations of Wal-Mart.
“My wife and I are trying to get a community effort to keep Wal-Mart out of Altadena,” said Tom Hubbard, a 28-year resident and member of Neighbors Building a Better Altadena. “We’re not opposed to corporations coming in–just the track record of Wal-Mart going into small communities makes us want us to keep it out.”
Jennifer Gonzales, manager of the Neighborhood Market, began by presenting a few points to the community. She spoke about employment opportunities, stating that hiring for positions will commence once the job hiring center opens in mid December and the company will partner up with the Foothill Workforce Investment Board. Gonazales has a goal of hiring 65 employees, with 40 percent full-time and 60 percent part-time, noting that hiring more full-time associates would make it difficult for employees to advance in the store. Health benefits will vary, but full-time associates will receive health insurance within six months and part-time associates will receive health insurance after one year of working at the store.
“We hope to train associates, so that they can move to bigger and better things,” said Gonzales, who started as a backroom staff and working her way up to different positions before landing as a store manager for the new Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market. “I know what it’s like to start at the bottom and work to the top. I am dedicated to the store, to teach and train the associates to meet their goals.”
Along with hiring new employees, Gonzales stressed that Wal-Mart would participate widely in community efforts. Along with a teacher reward program for local schools, Gonzales highlighted general education development (GED) assistance along with education reimbursement. She also stated that Wal-Mart has volunteered in past health and diversity events in surrounding communities.
“My goal is to develop people in the store so that they know what programs we have and what we can do for the community,” Gonzales said. “I give you my commitment. I will attend meetings and will be very involved.”
When asked about contractors currently working on the remodeling and interior design of the store, Gonzales said she did not have information on whether current contractors were from Altadena. She emphasized that, once the store opened, she would utilize the services of local vendors and providers for maintenance purposes.
Issues raised by residents included increased noise and traffic congestion.
“I am concerned about the noise pollution. I would like to see my home as my castle, I would like to go home to peace and quiet,” said long-time resident Melody Comfort. “It’s really unfair to residents.”
Others were worried about the products that Wal-Mart would carry and, in response, Gonzales clarified that the store would not carry guns or ammunition. Residents were also concerned about the difficulties to small businesses that the store would pose.
“I support local, small businesses,” said Leigh Adams, a 20-year resident and an artist-in-residence at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden. “But the track record of Wal-Mart throughout is in line with Monsanto, trash, traffic, debris, it doesn’t fit in with my community. I will never support it. Hearing it being called a ‘Neighborhood Market’ is like a friend who has cancer – I don’t want it to metastasize and spread in the community.”
The Wal-Mart store on Lincoln Avenue and Figueroa is slated to open within the first two months of 2013.
Correction: Gonzales has a goal of hiring 65 employees, with 40 percent full-time and 60 percent part-time, instead of 40 full-time associates and 60 part-time associates. Also, Melody Comfort was incorrectly identified as Melanie Concord. Patch apologizes for the errors.