'BIG-BOX' RETAILERS UNDER FIRE PROPOSED CONSTRUCTION OF TWO WAL-MARTS FOUGHT BY GROCERY UNIONS.
LANCASTER - Two proposed east-side shopping centers, both to be anchored by ``big-box'' stores, are drawing opposition from grocery store unions who believe such projects endanger jobs.
United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770 and the Joint Labor Management Committee of the Retail Food Industry are voicing objections to proposed centers at Avenue S and 47th Street East in Palmdale and at Avenue J and 20th Street East in Lancaster.
The unions contend big-box retail stores, such as Costco and Wal-Mart, run local grocers out of business and reduce wages and benefits for workers.
``We intend to do everything legally possible to stop them,'' said Rod Diamond, executive assistant to the president and director of political affairs for UFCW Local 770.
Both shopping centers are expected to be anchored by ``super'' Wal-Mart stores, each housing its own grocery store. Wal-Mart is a nonunion store chain.
Palmdale officials confirmed Wal-Mart is looking at the proposed development at Avenue S; Lancaster officials said it is city policy not to discuss projects until deals are finalized.
``The city fathers are taking away good jobs with good benefits,'' Diamond said. ``We hope their constituents will convince their councils that low-paying jobs aren't what they want.''
Lancaster City Manager Jim Gilley countered that grocery stores have been able to compete with big-box stores in Lancaster and that to say another big-box store would shut businesses down is a disservice to grocery stores.
``Our attitude is every job is of value,'' Gilley said. ``There are people of every station in life who need jobs.''
Officials for both cities said their residents want to see the shopping centers developed. Residents on the east side of the Antelope Valley have complained in the past that they have been overlooked in terms of economic development.
Lancaster City Council approved a conditional use permit at their Feb. 22 meeting for the 335,000-square-foot shopping center proposed for their community, rejecting claims there was not enough environmental study of the project.
An appeal said the environmental review of the project, particularly for traffic and noise, was inadequate and sought further study. The appeal was filed on behalf of three Lancaster residents - Delila Hargrave, Misty Bruner and Maria Pugh - by Civic Solutions Inc., a San Juan Capistrano consulting firm.
The appeal was supported by UFCW Local 770.
In voting against the appeal, Lancaster officials noted the area has long been earmarked for commercial development in Lancaster's General Plan. They also noted the project will serve a part of the city where residents have complained of being overlooked in terms of economic development.
``It's within the General Plan, and it seems to be what the majority of east-side residents want,'' Mayor Frank Roberts said.
The Palmdale project, a 368,947-square-foot shopping center on 33 acres at Avenue S and 47th Street East, has not yet come before the City Council.
Officials for both UFCW Local 770 and the Joint Labor Management Committee of the Retail Food Industry met with Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford earlier this month to voice their concerns.
Ledford said he believes Palmdale's east-side residents want the shopping center to go forward.
The development company proposing the Lancaster shopping center, Wood Lancaster No. 3, is a partnership that includes Stan Rothbart, a Los Angeles developer with a history of developing retail centers anchored by Wal-Mart stores. Rothbart developed the Palmdale Promenade and a Simi Valley shopping center, each with a Wal-Mart store.
Rothbart is also part of the development company working on the Avenue S project in Palmdale.
Last year, grocers and labor unions were able to get a bill through the state Legislature that would block retail stores larger than 100,000 square feet from being built if they intended to have more than 15,000 square feet devoted to nontaxable merchandise, such as food. Gov. Gray Davis vetoed the bill, but its supporters are expected to make another bid to get legislation approved this year.