Last week, I wrote that Councilman David Alvarez, who’s running for mayor, had supported the construction of three Walmarts in his district.

That’s not true. There are three Walmarts in District 8, the area of South Bay neighborhoods Alvarez represents. The company built two of them since he’s been a member of the City Council. But the third has been there for some time.

I am hereby giving myself a false. The story’s been corrected.

Scott Lewis on Politics LogoBut the fact check, like fact checks often do, has led to a complicated story. Alvarez’s team wanted me to know that he does not support Walmarts. Unfortunately, it’s a lot more complicated than that.


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Here’s the statement they gave me from Alvarez:

During my time on the City Council, I have not once voted in support of a Walmart development in District 8, let alone multiple Walmarts. In fact, in regards to the location on Imperial Ave, I requested that the City Auditor investigate whether the permits were procured inappropriately.

I asked if that meant he opposed them. I didn’t get a response.

Why does it matter?

I raised the issue in the midst of my discussion with UFCW President Mickey Kasparian, who leads grocery workers at places like Vons and Ralph’s. Labor leaders like him are pushing hard and spending a lot on Alvarez. Practically the only direct interest Kasparian has in city government is in the city’s dealing with Walmarts, which Kasparian hates and would love to regulate.

As he told me, it’s not jobs he thinks San Diego needs. It’s good jobs.

As former Mayor Bob Filner’s term in office exploded in controversy, he gave the final OK to that Walmart Neighborhood Market on Imperial Avenue that Alvarez mentioned above. Some had thought Filner might try to hold it up, as he did with a Jack in the Box in North Park.

If Alvarez supported Walmarts, that would make Kasparian’s support of his mayoral bid more interesting than it already was.

Alvarez has not been clear on Walmarts in his district. He has certainly not been clearly against them.

Let’s start with the one that was recently built at 575 Saturn Blvd.

In 2012, city leaders gathered at its groundbreaking. Alvarez was not there but he issued a statement:

“I am pleased to see an anchor tenant move into this building that has been vacant for several years. I believe having a successful business here will assist in the economic rejuvenation of the community and will help serve the residents retail needs,” he wrote.

Walmart highlighted multiple articles that include Alvarez’s statement on its site.

Then there’s the controversial Sherman Heights Walmart that went up at Imperial Avenue. You might remember this row. Neighbors got upset when they saw walls come down at the historic farmer’s market building. Some tried to stop it. Ultimately, a judge ruled that all was in order and construction resumed.

It just opened.

So where was Alvarez on it? As his statement said, he requested an audit. But did he outright oppose it? Or did he support it?

I couldn’t find any evidence that he had opposed it. Though Georgette Gomez, a community activist in the area, tweeted that Alvarez “fought to hold Walmart accountable.”

In this April 2012 interview on KPBS, Alvarez says clearly that there’s a desire for something like Walmart in the neighborhood.

“Absolutely, the community is, overwhelmingly, in support of a grocery store coming in to the community,” he said.

He said his concern was that he and others had just learned of the plans to build there and Walmart was not being open about what the building would look like.

“They were moving on a path without trying to engage the community,” he said.

Then the host asked whether it was too late for Walmart to win the community over.

“Absolutely not too late. Let’s get down to business. Let’s all stand together when you announce the store is opening,” he said.

Walmart has been pleased with Alvarez. Here’s a statement the company sent me:

Walmart values the opportunity we have had to work with Councilmember David Alvarez on the South San Diego and Neighborhood Market stores in his district and appreciates the help he has given us in working with the community to create jobs and increase access to fresh, affordable food. We have received positive feedback from the community on both stores and look forward to continuing to serve the residents of District 8.

There’s one other big Walmart issue with which Alvarez has dealt: the city’s big-box ordinance. In late 2010, the city passed an ordinance requiring a special conditional-use permit for large so-called Walmart Supercenters. The City Council would have gotten the power to kill such stores if economic studies determined they would have adverse impacts on other businesses.

It was a major decision and Walmart leaders were furious. They immediately gathered signatures to force a referendum. They succeeded.

Alvarez was not in office when the City Council passed the ordinance. But he was when Walmart threw it back to Council demanding it go to the ballot. The Council decided not to let that happen, saving the roughly $3 million the special election would cost. The Council repealed the ordinance itself.

Ben Hueso, Alvarez’s predecessor and the president of the City Council when he was there, had been the law’s champion and pushed it through before he left.

But when it came back, Alvarez helped kill it. He said the city could not afford the election.

Here’s how he put it:

In the end, I think this ordinance has become a test of strength between two sets of special interests, and serving special interests and high-paid lobbyists is not my priority. My priority is in solving our city’s structural budget deficit. My priority is in serving our constituents through the city services we provide, good efficient quality city services.

One of those “special interests” Alvarez was talking about, of course, was Kasparian’s union, UFCW.

After the law’s collapse, Kasparian and allies got then-state Sen. Juan Vargas to push a law in Sacramento that would have required these large Walmart Supercenters to do those special economic impact studies. But that’s it. Unlike the San Diego law, it would have no teeth after that.

Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed it. One of the votes against it in the Legislature came from Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher.

And that was one of the votes Kasparian told me he’s having trouble forgiving Fletcher for.

    This article relates to: Business, Community, David Alvarez, Mayoral Candidates 2014, Mayoral Election Issues 2014, Nathan Fletcher, Neighborhood Growth, Politics, Scott Lewis on Politics, Share, Special Mayoral Election 2014

    Written by Scott Lewis

    I'm Scott Lewis, the editor in chief of Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you'd like at scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0527 and follow me on Twitter (it's a blast!): @vosdscott.

    21 comments
    Glenn Younger
    Glenn Younger

    WalMart is a tough one. Many people like to hate them for their impact on the non-big box businesses. But when they are providing a service to a community where others won't, and lower cost groceries, it makes me think they should be praised. Maybe a better questions is "why don't the unionized stores go to these under served neighborhoods?"

    Glenn Younger
    Glenn Younger subscribermember

    WalMart is a tough one. Many people like to hate them for their impact on the non-big box businesses. But when they are providing a service to a community where others won't, and lower cost groceries, it makes me think they should be praised. Maybe a better questions is "why don't the unionized stores go to these under served neighborhoods?"

    Luusanti
    Luusanti

    Rant! I don't support this candidate, but this report is all speculation.

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann

    If Alvarez doesn't want Wal-Marts and other big-box stores in his neighborhood, then he should prove it by eliminating zoning laws that favor chain stores over Mom and Pop shops. For example, the law that requires each business to have an overabundance of parking, paid at the business' own expense. Chain stores can afford it, but small businesses often cannot. I say "overabundance" because the fiscally optimal amount of parking is not the amount where the parking lot never gets full, but the amount where the cost of building another parking space equals the additional revenue it helps bring (MC=MR). It seems strange that we create laws that disproportionately attract chain stores, but then when one wants to build, we say, "no, not you." How's that for micromanaging? If there's anything good to say about this kind of bureaucracy, it's that it keeps politicians employed and off the streets.

    shawn fox
    shawn fox

    Well that is what big government does. You can't have it both ways. It is the people that continue to vote for micro managers, and then wonder why it is so difficult to build anything or to start a business!

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    If Alvarez doesn't want Wal-Marts and other big-box stores in his neighborhood, then he should prove it by eliminating zoning laws that favor chain stores over Mom and Pop shops. For example, the law that requires each business to have an overabundance of parking, paid at the business' own expense. Chain stores can afford it, but small businesses often cannot. I say "overabundance" because the fiscally optimal amount of parking is not the amount where the parking lot never gets full, but the amount where the cost of building another parking space equals the additional revenue it helps bring (MC=MR). It seems strange that we create laws that disproportionately attract chain stores, but then when one wants to build, we say, "no, not you." How's that for micromanaging? If there's anything good to say about this kind of bureaucracy, it's that it keeps politicians employed and off the streets.

    shawn fox
    shawn fox subscriber

    Well that is what big government does. You can't have it both ways. It is the people that continue to vote for micro managers, and then wonder why it is so difficult to build anything or to start a business!

    Jim Jones
    Jim Jones subscriber

    Standard political answers from soulless politicians, "Let the record show I'm for it if you are, against it if you are, and I'm not going to take a firm stand that might cost me a vote."

    Mark Giffin
    Mark Giffin subscribermember

    Or Half my friends are for this issue while half are opposed while I have consistently said I support my friends

    Jim Jones
    Jim Jones

    Standard political answers from soulless politicians, "Let the record show I'm for it if you are, against it if you are, and I'm not going to take a firm stand that might cost me a vote."

    Mark Giffin
    Mark Giffin

    Or Half my friends are for this issue while half are opposed while I have consistently said I support my friends

    David Hall
    David Hall

    Doesn't look all that complicated to me. Alvarez wants business to invest in his district, to the benefit of the community. The community needs grocery stores. Vons wasn't jumping at the chance, nor Ralphs, nor Albertsons. Walmart was. He may not exactly like Walmart, but in the end, having them is better than having nothing. Sounds like he's being pragmatic.

    Scott Lewis
    Scott Lewis

    He could have said that, if that's the case. He did not. They took issue with my sentence that he had supported Walmarts and wanted to make it clear he had not. They didn't want to elaborate on the statement they sent at all, which is all about how not supportive he was. It's more complicated than that.

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster

    Mr. Hall: I agree. It's a conundrum. As Alan Gin stated in his Sunday UT opinion piece, Walmart and other big box stores have depressed wages and put many mom-and-pop stores out of business, advancing income inequality in this country. On the other hand, in Mr. Alvarez's district, there are apparently a paucity of grocery stores common to most other neighborhoods. There are no easy answers here.Wealthy see gains as middle-class loses jobshttp://www.utsandiego.com/news/2013/sep/28/wealthy-see-gains-as-middle-class-loses-jobs/There will always be some inequality in a market-based economy. Some people will be better at doing certain things, and there will be winners and losers. But the level of income inequality in the United States has reached a level unseen since the 192...

    David Hall
    David Hall

    Only if you want to use it to write articles. Otherwise, it's pretty easy to read between the lines. If I were him, I wouldn't go out of my way to antagonize a big business either, especially when they're providing a service his community seems to like.

    David Hall
    David Hall subscriber

    Doesn't look all that complicated to me. Alvarez wants business to invest in his district, to the benefit of the community. The community needs grocery stores. Vons wasn't jumping at the chance, nor Ralphs, nor Albertsons. Walmart was. He may not exactly like Walmart, but in the end, having them is better than having nothing. Sounds like he's being pragmatic.

    Scott Lewis
    Scott Lewis administrator

    He could have said that, if that's the case. He did not. They took issue with my sentence that he had supported Walmarts and wanted to make it clear he had not. They didn't want to elaborate on the statement they sent at all, which is all about how not supportive he was. It's more complicated than that.

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    Mr. Hall: I agree. It's a conundrum. As Alan Gin stated in his Sunday UT opinion piece, Walmart and other big box stores have depressed wages and put many mom-and-pop stores out of business, advancing income inequality in this country. On the other hand, in Mr. Alvarez's district, there are apparently a paucity of grocery stores common to most other neighborhoods. There are no easy answers here.Wealthy see gains as middle-class loses jobshttp://www.utsandiego.com/news/2013/sep/28/wealthy-see-gains-as-middle-class-loses-jobs/There will always be some inequality in a market-based economy. Some people will be better at doing certain things, and there will be winners and losers. But the level of income inequality in the United States has reached a level unseen since the 192...

    David Hall
    David Hall subscriber

    Only if you want to use it to write articles. Otherwise, it's pretty easy to read between the lines. If I were him, I wouldn't go out of my way to antagonize a big business either, especially when they're providing a service his community seems to like.

    Liam Dillon
    Liam Dillon

    To piggyback on Scott's kicker, I asked Fletcher about the Vargas Big Box bill during my recent Q&A with him: LD: You voted against the Juan Vargas bill on big-box stores. But that’s a policy that you could now as a mayor initiate. Is that the kind of thing that we would see from you now? NF: It’s the type of thing I’d be willing to take a look at in terms of the economic impact report. Not a ban. LD: Do you regret the big-box vote? NF: I’m not going to reach back in every vote I ever took. http://voiceofsandiego.org/2013/08/29/fletcher-its-difficult-to-admit-that-youve-changed/Fletcher: It's Difficult 'to Admit That You've Changed'http://voiceofsandiego.org/2013/08/29/fletcher-its-difficult-to-admit-that-youve-changed/Former Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher became the first big-name candidate to declare for San Diego's special mayoral election. His quick shift from Republican to independent to Democrat will inevitably factor into how receptive voters are to his pitch.

    Liam Dillon
    Liam Dillon memberadministrator

    To piggyback on Scott's kicker, I asked Fletcher about the Vargas Big Box bill during my recent Q&A with him: LD: You voted against the Juan Vargas bill on big-box stores. But that’s a policy that you could now as a mayor initiate. Is that the kind of thing that we would see from you now? NF: It’s the type of thing I’d be willing to take a look at in terms of the economic impact report. Not a ban. LD: Do you regret the big-box vote? NF: I’m not going to reach back in every vote I ever took. http://voiceofsandiego.org/2013/08/29/fletcher-its-difficult-to-admit-that-youve-changed/Fletcher: It's Difficult 'to Admit That You've Changed'http://voiceofsandiego.org/2013/08/29/fletcher-its-difficult-to-admit-that-youve-changed/Former Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher became the first big-name candidate to declare for San Diego's special mayoral election. His quick shift from Republican to independent to Democrat will inevitably factor into how receptive voters are to his pitch.