The city council last night voted for a 30-day review of Wal-Mart's project plans.
Over a hundred people packed City Hall ready to speak before the city council on why they want a Wal-Mart in Menifee.
After the retail giant had successfully cleared the way for a ballot initiative to take up residence in the city, the city council was required to choose from one of three options, either to let the ballot initiative continue, or approve the project now and cancel the ballot initiative, or ask for a 30-day review.
Several councilmembers actually sounded supportive of Wal-Mart, but found it could not approve its plans because of the way Wal-Mart presented its petition to voters. It's petition contained several minor differences than what the city's Planning Commission had originally approved.
As a result, the city council along with the city's staff, could not say with any certainty that they understood the details of Wal-Mart's current project plans. Hence, the city council was not willing to approve something they didn't have all the answers to.
Instead, the council opted for the 30-day study of Wal-Mart's plans based on what was presented in the petition. Once that study is complete, the council will vote whether to approve Wal-Mart's plans and bypass a ballot initiative, or allow the ballot initiative to continue.
The city council sounded very apprehensive about paying $113,500.00 of city funds to create a special election just for this ballot. However, councilman John Denver noted that there will be a general election in June where Governor Brown will ask voters to pony up more taxes. If they allow this Wal-Mart ballot to piggyback on that June election, the city's costs will drop to about $30,000.00.
By asking for a 30-day study, the city can delay matters long enough to qualify for that June election.
As many as 30 residents handed in speaker slips to testify before the council, 28 of whom spoke in favor, one taking a neutral stance, and one who was against. Not all of them spoke however, opting to forego after several others before them repeated the same message.
Many of those who did speak were elderly on fixed incomes, stating that they currently shop at Wal-Marts in Perris, Lake Elsinore, and Murrieta, and would love a Wal-Mart in Menifee to cut down on fuel expenses.
Another speaker indicated that at his age of 57 years, he's not quite retired, but has been unemployed for three years and no one wants to hire him. He said that at his financial state, he was very willing to work for Wal-Mart.
The one speaker who was against Wal-Mart expressed fear that smaller local businesses would get put out of business.
|This map of Menifee shows how many residents currently shop at Wal-Mart in other cities.|
|Residents filled City Hall with stickers given to them from Wal-Mart representatives|
Several representatives from Wal-Mart were on hand. Before the meeting got underway, they passed out stickers to everyone saying "Wal-Mart Yes!"
Aaron Rios, Senior Manager of Public Affairs with Wal-Mart, acted as the spokesman in the meeting. John Denver asked why Wal-Mart chose to bypass the original city council hearing and opt to conduct a petition, Rios answered, "We wanted to show how much public support there is for Wal-Mart". Denver continued, phrasing his question a different way. Rios answered, "It's the most expedient process to get this project started."
Councilwoman Kuenzi asked him if Wal-Mart would pay the $113,500.00 they could cost the city because of its choice to seek a ballot initiative. "No", Rios answered, "We will not cover the cost of an election."
Rios did go on to say that Wal-Mart is prepared to pay $3.8 million towards the cost of expanding Scott Rd bridge. That project is expected to cost approximately $40 million, and it's still not clear when it might start.
Wal-Mart originally planned to occupy the future building around February 2013, but moved that date to Sep 2013. Rios explained that they are willing to delay that date to as far as mid-2015 if the city needs more time to complete bridge expansion. City staff would not go on record as saying bridge expansion would be complete even by mid-2015.
Rios went on to say that this new Wal-Mart will create 300 permanent, benefitted jobs, and generate about $790,000.00 in annual sales tax revenues for the city. He even cited a figure of $150 million in revenues generated by new businesses that grow up around Wal-Mart. I assume those revenues are annual gross receipts.
Councilman Tom Fuhrman asked Rios some tough questions regarding Wal-Mart's impact on the local economy and worldwide economy. "How many foreign made products do you sell?" he asked. Rios couldn't answer. "How many employees of this Wal-Mart will actually live in Menifee?" Rios couldn't answer that specifically. However, he did say that in other Wal-Marts throughout California, a majority of Wal-Mart employees live in the same city as their Wal-Mart.
Fuhrman went on to state that the city council this evening only heard from about 100+ people who signed the petition, and more petitioners needed to be heard from. "We need to hear from the other 7,900 on whether or not they want a Wal-Mart", a statement that caused John Denver to shake his head and roll his eyes in disbelief. "I implore people who are against Wal-Mart to come out of the woodwork and let's hear from you!" Fuhrman continued.
In the end, the city council voted 4-1, with Fuhrman against, to ask for a 30-day review of Wal-Mart's current project plans as they were submitted in the petition.
Fuhrman voted no based on his belief that there are many petitioners who are not necessarily supporters of Wal-Mart. "I believe there are lot of people who signed the petition who wanted to vote against it" he explained. He went on to say that he found at least six such petitioners.