Group hopes to help grow businesses while collecting signatures to stop Wal-Mart
By Justin Chapman 09/12/2012
Not all members of Save Altadena, a small army of individuals opposed to Wal-Mart opening in the unincorporated community in the mountains above Pasadena, agree on every detail involved in the campaign to stop the corporate giant from coming to town.
In less than a month, the group gained 270 members — more than three times the number of people who voted in the last election for the Altadena Town Council, an advisory board that has no real power but advises Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich on major issues, including the building of a Wal-Mart.
With so many new people coming together in such a short amount of time, it would be a stretch to say they agree unanimously on many, if any, issues. One thing that members of this growing political force all seem to agree on, however, is the need to keep Wal-Mart out of Altadena and promote businesses that are already there, businesses that have long been struggling and may not survive if forced to compete against Wal-Mart.
So far, neither the Town Council nor Antonovich have taken positions on proposals to allow two new Wal-Mart outlets — one, a Neighborhood Market at Lincoln Avenue and Figueroa Drive, and the other a store at Lake Avenue and Calaveras Street.
In response to those proposals, the group started a signature petition drive to have the LA County Board of Supervisors impose a moratorium on construction of retail stores 15,000 square feet or larger. So far, the group has collected more than 1,300 signatures, which it plans to present to the Board of Supervisors. A date for the presentation has not yet been set.
“Remember, until Wal-Mart has an occupancy permit, they cannot open,” said Jeanette Lamb, co-founder of Save Altadena.
“If we get the moratorium passed, at the very least they will have to wait, do traffic studies and obtain a conditional use permit (CUP) before they can open the store on Lincoln, and before they can start building on Lake Avenue,” said Lamb, wife of local activist and former Town Council member Steve Lamb.
Last month, members of the Postal Workers Union began gathering signatures for the moratorium alongside members of Save Altadena.
“Mike Evans, the union’s local president, really understands the concept of solidarity and that an injury to one is an injury to all,” said Steve Lamb.
The moratorium proposal was presented to the Town Council at a packed July 17 meeting, where 35 residents expressed support for the idea. But despite the turnout, the Town Council took no action.
At that meeting, Wal-Mart spokesperson Javier Angulo explained that the proposed Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market on Lincoln Avenue would be utilizing a “site-to-store” service, where a customer could order any item in Wal-Mart’s catalogue and have it delivered to the Lincoln store, making the site a “parcel delivery terminal.” According to the Altadena Community Standards District Code, such a terminal would require a CUP to operate.
“Although the county won’t pursue this, because they say it is not the main thrust of the business, nowhere in the code is there any mention of any percentage of a business that is required for those services to be valid criteria for a CUP,” said Altadena resident James Knight. “Wal-Mart generally has separate parking for ‘site-to-store’ customers, so I imagine it’s not minimal.”
According to Edel Vizcarra, a representative from Antonovich’s office, county counsel determined that, because items ordered via the “site-to-store” method would be included with regular deliveries and would not require any additional trucks, it does not make the site a “parcel delivery terminal,” indicating they would not pursue a CUP on this matter.
The Town Council has not taken a stand on the two proposed Wal-Mart stores, but a few members have spoken out, as individuals, in support of Wal-Mart.
As for the existing local shops and grocery stores in West Altadena and on Lake Avenue, Town Council member Brent Musson believes business owners need to catch up to the digital age.
“My hope is that our local businesses will learn to adapt and to thrive in a digital age, but, unfortunately, many of our local shops were struggling long before Wal-Mart decided to come to town,” Musson wrote in an open forum he created online. “With or without Wal-Mart, if many Altadena business owners don’t fundamentally adapt the way they do business to the pervasive threat of online competition, they will not survive. I don’t want my local businesses to go away. I do want to see them more determined to thrive in a digital age rather than to expend all of their energies protesting.”
Musson went on to write that if he could have voted on the matter, he would not have voted for a Wal-Mart, but added that he does not support a moratorium.
“I’ve tried to get Trader Joe’s, Fresh & Easy, Whole Foods and a host of others to come to that corner. By the way, I don’t see any local businesses trying to develop Lincoln and Figueroa.”
That’s where some of Save Altadena’s more productive tactics come into play. Members have been actively “cash mobbing” locally owned businesses in Altadena by choosing a store each weekend and getting the word out to residents to shop at that store in order to support it in a unique and meaningful way.
The next cash mob is from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday at Poncitlan Meat Market and Restaurant, 2291 Lincoln Ave, Altadena, just north of Woodbury Road.
The group is also actively seeking desirable businesses that could fill all the vacant lots and empty buildings littering Altadena.
“There are lots of businesses Altadena does not have and needs,” said Steve Lamb, “such as women’s clothing, men’s clothing and shoe stores, ice cream shops, restaurants, bookstores, day spas, art galleries, equestrian tack shops, furniture stores, soap shops, sporting goods (stores), a movie theater; we need that stuff. We already have enough pharmacies and grocery stores.
“A Beverly Hills landlord shoving more of that down our throats and imperiling our existing businesses isn’t an answer to blight and unemployment,” he said, speaking of developer Arman Gabay, who owns both properties in question. “It is a creator of those conditions.”
One suggestion that has come forth during the Save Altadena meetings is encouraging the Altadena Library Board of Trustees to consider using the Lincoln Avenue location as an expanded site, where the literacy program could be greatly increased to focus on programs that make adults more employable and well-informed citizens.
As for the Lake Avenue site, Save Altadena has suggested to Gabay’s leasing agent that three or four restaurants could be developed there.
“Those are just a couple ideas,” said Jeanette Lamb. “We are looking for more and are open to more. We are looking for businesses to inhabit the Blockbuster, Altadena Nursery, Ronnie’s Automotive and other empty sites around town. Both the Altadena Town Council and the Chamber of Commerce have been AWOL on these issues, and we aim to really save Altadena from commercial death and community death by chains, so we are working on those efforts to bring local sustainable businesses into town.”
The group’s next meeting is set for 7 p.m. Friday at the Friends Retirement Center, 2691 N. Lincoln Ave., Altadena.