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Tony Young on Walmart

December 30, 2010 - 4:47 pm

Tony Young chats with a grocer. Photo by David Rolland

A few weeks ago, the majority of the San Diego City Council voted in favor of subjecting proposed big-box “superstores” (stores larger than 90,000-square-feet) to an economic-impact study. The biggest opponent of the ordinance was, of course, Walmart. Councilmember Tony Young supported the ordinance while at the same time calling out Walmart for not building a store in his district (“Could you actually build two?” he said). Shortly after the vote, I chatted with him about his position and why he thinks Walmart’s not taken him up on the invite. I regret not getting the interview on the blog or in the paper sooner, but given that Walmart appears to have collected enough signatures for a ballot initiative to overturn the ordinance (the San Diego City Clerk has 30 days to verify the sigs), no better time than now.

As much as Young said he’d like a Walmart in his district, he supported an all-out ban on big-box stores in 2007, using the term “monstrosities” to describe them. So, could Walmart’s snubbing of District 4 be retaliation for Young supporting the ban three years ago?

“Even before that, I got them in my car and showed them the sites where I think it would be great for them to build,” he said. “And they didn’t do anything. And so now they’re trying to rally the ministers and giving them a lot of false information about Walmart.”

(Voiceofsandiego.org’s Adrian Florido wrote a good piece about the tension between District 4 ministers—whom Young considers key advisers—and Young. And, on KPBS’s Editors Roundtable, John Warren, a minister and editor of Voice and Viewpoint, blasted Young for supporting the big-box economic-impact study.)

“I don’t have a parcel of land that’s big enough to build a Super Walmart,” Young countered. “They’re trying to say to my district… that I don’t want fresh fruits and vegetables in my district because I’m not supporting the Super Walmart. And I’m saying to my constituents, ‘You can’t build a Super Walmart in my district anyway,’ number one, and by the way, can you please build a Walmart in my district so we can get some fresh food?”

A couple of months ago, CityBeat editor David Rolland took a drive around District 4 with Young. One of the stops was a market that had been selling expired food (Dave took the above photo of Young talking to the store’s owner). Protecting small businesses in his district wasn’t behind his vote for the ordinance, Young said, because a lot of those small businesses aren’t good for the community.

“I’m not here to save those places, because they’re not helping me at all,” he said. “They overprice and the food is horrible. The meat is not good, the vegetables are shrivled up. There are a couple of small stores that do pretty good, but a lot of them are horrible. And some of those stores are essentially liquor stores that have a couple of items in the back.”

I asked why he thinks grocery chains—Walmart included—aren’t seeing an opportunity to open stores in District 4. Young pointed out that a study showed that his constituents spend most of their money outside the district because of the lack of nearby options.

“I think it’s perception,” he said, “and the perception is not earned. Maybe in the past, but now we have a very low crime rate. Our household income level is about $1,000 less per year than Donna Frye’s district. We definitely have a higher income level than District 8 and District 3 and they have [grocery stores]. It just doesn’t make any sense. Part of it is, I think, our redevelopment agency has to get better at attracting these folks. We have to change the perception and explain to folks, ‘Hey, you can make money here.’ I’m not asking folks to give us any charity. This is a place where you can actually make money.”

One grocery store that’s opened is District 4 is Food 4 Less. “I think it’s like the number one store in the district,” Young said. “They’re making a lot of money.”

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. lucasoconnor permalink
    January 1, 2011 - 10:44 am 10:44 am

    Would obviously be great to get more big grocery stores in the district, but if there’s that much money to be made, there should also be a real opportunity to work with existing and potential local small business owners to responsibly and profitably fill the gap. It allows for more adaptivity, more focused selection, and more community buy-in.

  2. Seth Combs permalink
    January 6, 2011 - 3:25 am 3:25 am

    This is a great article. Balanced, succinct and easy to read. Personally, I’d rather eat overpriced shriveled fruit and brown meat than buy anything from Wal-Mart, but that’s just me. My only criticism is that I had to look up the neighborhoods that Young represents. There’s a lot of them so it would have been nice to reference somewhere in the text. Fantastic job, Kelly.

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