About 60 protesters gathered early Wednesday morning in front of the Farmers Market Building, a historic Sherman Heights structure, dating to the 1920s, whose tower and grain silo are visible to drivers on Interstate 5.
At issue was the apparent demolition of the building begun without notice yesterday afternoon on behalf of Walmart, which has announced plans to open a store on the site. Community leaders said the company had previously promised to preserve the “historical integrity” of the building, which they took to mean that the building’s exterior would not be altered.
Last week, a coalition of community and labor groups published an open letter to the retail giant, following up on a meeting at which local residents voiced their concerns regarding the new store’s impact on the neighborhood. At that time, the community was expecting a response by April 12, but those gathered this morning said all communication had been cut off by Walmart.
Protesters questioned whether Walmart had obtained permits for the level of demolition that was being performed. A worker from Steve Julius Construction of San Clemente, when asked to provide proof that proper permits had been obtained, told police that “Walmart has directed us not to [release information].”
At some point during the night, an individual or group gained access to the top of the pink tower and hung a banner reading “Occupy Sherman.”
San Diego city councilman David Alvarez arrived around 7 a.m. By then, protesters had locked arms in front of the entrance to the construction site and began chanting, “Show us the permits!”
“We don’t know yet,” said Alvarez when questioned as to whether the proper demolition permits were in place. “It was a little surprising when we got the call [from citizens reporting the demolition] yesterday.”
Alvarez said it would take several hours for the city to conduct a review of what Walmart and its contractors were allowed to do to the property, and if they had moved to demolish the historic site without permission, punitive actions would be taken.
“My understanding is that the city attorney’s office will be involved . . . they may assess some penalties and corrective action may be taken,” Alvarez explained.
As of 8:00 this morning, protesters remained in place while construction workers milled about in front of a fenced parking lot across the street, with no sign that work was set to begin.