Robert Bush 11:18 p.m., May 25
Politicians, Community Leaders Speak Out Against Walmart in Sherman Heights
A crowd of Sherman Heights residents gathered this morning in front of the historic Farmers Market building on Imperial Avenue to hear a host of activists and local politicians speak on action recently taken by site lessee Walmart to demolish the building, a move that blindsided locals, many of whom said they’d been making efforts to communicate with the company about how to help it successfully enter the area.
While protesters successfully stopped the demolition on Wednesday morning, a large amount of debris appeared to have been removed from the site by Friday. New signs, with an artist’s rendering of the new store, with Walmart logos adorning the top of the building’s iconic tower, were hung on a remaining section of wall, with a message reading “Restore – Refresh – Reinvest.”
“I think today’s message to Walmart is that we must continue to communicate,” said city councilman David Alvarez, the first pol to the podium. “If Walmart wants to be a part of this community, and we think they do, then they should continue to talk to us about what they’re doing.
“We want to see this [property] developed. We want a good grocery store to come into this neighborhood,” Alvarez continued. “I thank Walmart for actually taking an interest in this property, because no one else has . . . I absolutely support the revitalization of this property,” Alvarez said, reiterating that his opposition was not to Walmart itself but the suspended communication between community leaders and the company.
“We’re welcoming them to continue that dialogue,” assured Georgette Gomez of the Environmental Health Coalition.
“We were encouraged by the fact that Walmart representatives came to the table and met with community leaders,” said Christian Ramirez, a Barrio Logan resident. “But sadly, we woke up two days ago to the terrible news that an iconic building was being demolished. This is not what good neighbors do.
“We want to urge Walmart to come back to the table and enter into a legally binding community benefits agreement that respects the integrity of our community, that promotes local hire,” continued Ramirez.
Richard Barrera, a San Diego Unified School District board member, also spoke, criticizing the low level of pay and benefits typically offered by Walmart to employees. “If a business wants to help schools, its number-one responsibility is to recognize that its employees are the parents of our kids,” offered Barrera.
State assemblyman Ben Hueso also expressed disappointment and confusion as to whether Walmart followed the proper permitting procedure before beginning the tear-down.
“I’m questioning today whether that process took place. I’m questioning today whether the full letter and intent of the law was followed in this process, and from my understanding and my interpretation of the law . . . I feel like the letter and intent of the law was violated in this process,” said Hueso.
Perhaps the strongest words of the morning came from state senator Juan Vargas.
“As you can see, Walmart is literally ripping the community apart,” charged Vargas. “They cut corners every step of the way. They’re cutting corners here today.
“We won’t stand for it. We shouldn’t stand for it. We should fight back!” Vargas continued.
Community members will appear before a judge on Monday morning seeking a temporary restraining order blocking further destruction of the building, at least for the time being.