In an effort to alleviate problems associated with a proposed Wal-Mart store in Northridge, Los Angeles City Councilmember Greig Smith produced a mitigation package that looks to address the major concerns of community members.
In the mitigation package, traffic will hypothetically be lessened through intersection improvements, additional turn lanes, traffic surveillance and control systems.
Also listed in the package is a condition that limits Wal-Mart’s hours of operations and its sale of alcohol, guns and ammunition.
The new Wal-Mart would be built near the corner of Tampa Avenue and Nordhoff Way. One of the main concerns voiced by Northridge residents was the possibility of excess traffic in the already congested area.
“This is absolutely a traffic issue,” said Mitchell Englander, chief of staff for Smith, who represents the Northridge area.
Jim Alger, president of the Northridge West Neighborhood Council, said he gathered information that said the Wal-Mart store would put between 5,000 and 9,000 more cars at the Nordhoff Way and Tampa Avenue intersection every day.
Both the Northridge West and Northridge East neighborhood councils have voted in favor of the mitigation package, which will now be negotiated with Wal-Mart.
“It is (Wal-Mart’s reputation) to agree with whatever it takes to get their store built, and then chisel away as the years progress,” Alger said.
Representatives from Wal-Mart declined to comment on the proposed building plan for a Northridge store, as well as the mitigation package.
According to the Northridge West Neighborhood Council, some residents support the building of a new Wal-Mart due to its low prices and convenience.
“I have four kids. It’s a good thing for me,” said Maria Coreas, an employee of the Levitz outlet store on Tampa Avenue and Nordhoff Way.
Coreas said she believes the Wal-Mart will overcrowd the area, and will conflict with various grocery stores, such as Gelsons, which is in the same shopping center.
“Business people do what they do because they want to get ahead, and you can’t control that,” she said.
The Northridge West Neighborhood Council has received more than 1,000 signatures from residents and business owners in the area that are opposed to the project.
“At the first community meeting, the community could have said, ‘We support Wal-Mart,’ ” Alger said. “But that didn’t happen then, or since.”
In an effort to get his message across about the issue, Alger said he traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with representatives from Wakeup Wal-Mart, an organization that frequently criticizes Wal-Mart for what it says is its negative effect on employees and the communities it borders.
“When someone travels to Washington D.C. to represent a group of folks in a small section of Northridge, California, people tend to understand the magnitude of your frustration,” Alger said.
There has also been a formed partnership between the two Northridge neighborhood councils and the Northridge business council.
Alger said he acknowledges that neighborhood councils are organizations that represent the residents, which sometimes conflicts with the communities’ business interests. In this case, Alger said the business and residential communities are united in opposition.
“I believe it is so because anyone who takes a (good) look at this project can see it is just plain bad for Northridge,” Alger said.
In dealing with this issue, Smith has been in close communication with the neighborhood councils. They both agree in their opposition, but Alger said he and Smith have had conflicts during the process.
“Smith has always told me that he opposed the Wal-Mart,” Alger said. “The problem occurred when his office stopped all communications with either the neighborhood council or myself. His staff has since decided to split hairs with the phrase ‘supports’ versus ‘does not oppose.’ To me, they mean the same thing.”
Alger said he felt that Smith’s staff had personally attacked him to a point where communication between the two groups had become non-existent. The confrontation was then leaked to the local media. Alger said he is saddened by what happened, but understands that such activity is a necessity in politics.
“I was elected to hold our officials accountable, and I intend to do just that,” Alger said.
Englander said he acknowledges that Smith has always opposed the building of the Wal-Mart store, and that he has never changed his position on the issue, even though critics have said otherwise.
“Smith is the strongest advocate for neighborhood councils,” Englander said.
Even though Alger has faced problems in dealing with Smith, he acknowledges that Smith has helped him and his council try to stop the building of the store.
“I have consistently asked for an environmental impact report,” Alger said. “Smith has used the information provided to him by my attorney and experts to now join me in asking for the EIR. I am very pleased to see that Smith has finally come out strong on this issue. It is all I ever asked him to do.”
The EIR would disclose traffic issues that could come from the new store, as well any urban decay that would result from the project.
Englander said the EIR would then go out for public inspection, from which it may or may not be turned down. If it were not rejected, the EIR would go to the L.A. City Council for further discussion and a possible vote.
With the development of the EIR, the debate over the new store will continue. Englander said it could take another year for the EIR to be completed.
“Wal-Mart is the largest corporation in America, (and) we are fighting their money,” Alger said. “Call me a sucker, but I still believe that ‘we the people’ means something. In this case, it means we can win.”
John Barundia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.