As one of the State’s most impacted environmental justice areas, Commerce has suffered the brunt of cumulative impacts of heavy manufacturing in conjunction with decades of pollution from truck and train traffic.
These impacts have a chilling public health legacy measured in high incidences of respiratory illnesses, cardiovascular disease, cancer and countless other chronic conditions. Every resident knows someone who has suffered from these conditions.
The Bandini neighborhood is now in the unlikely position of receiving some small measure of relief thanks to the long overdue cleanup of contamination from the Exide lead battery recycling plant.
Ironically, this relief comes seemingly just in time to coincide with a proposed Walmart center which will bring additional truck traffic, pollution and traffic safety issues on a busy arterial street and the likely loss of nearby homes due to the I-710 Expansion Project.
The City cannot ignore or override CEQA consideration to address these significant impacts.
In fact, as currently proposed, the City is on the hook to pick up most of the costs to install an unproven traffic control system to mitigate some of these safety issues. That Walmart would pay only 3% of this cost equates to corporate welfare for a company whose business practices force a significant portion of their workforce to seek public assistance in order to make ends meet. In effect, the proposed Commerce Walmart will be ripping off taxpayers twice.
In addition, the property is contaminated with volatile organic compounds. After the Exide debacle, the public deserves to know how the community’s health will be protected.
Furthermore, Walmart has proven to be an untrustworthy business partner to cities across the United States. Washington D.C. spent $90 million to make a similar project viable only to have Walmart pull the plug and stick taxpayers with the bill. “I’m blood mad,” said D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser.
Closer to home the Walmart store in Pico Rivera closed abruptly for eight months last year due to alleged plumbing issues without notice. With this unprecedented action, Walmart put approximately 500 people out of work and caused the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue to the City of Pico Rivera. According to a published news report in the LA Times, this action caught the city administrator and mayor of Pico Rivera by complete surprise.
Add to that the recent closures of stores across the country including the one in our neighboring City of Bell Gardens, it paints a clear picture of Walmart’s “here today gone tomorrow” business practices that leave in its wake blighted urban sprawl, lost revenue and in Commerce’s case the distinct possibility of Bandini residents losing their homes.
Finally, it is of note that large groups of people have been bused in from outside of the community to the last two Planning Commission Meetings wearing yellow shirts touting “More Jobs for Commerce.” While it is uncertain who was footing the bill for this effort two things are clear. The first is that someone stands to gain financially. The second is that this deliberate effort to create the perception of support for the project and mislead residents is an insult to this community.
Commerce was founded as “The Model City.” I believe that standard still matters in what we do to improve our community. Based on the way this corporate giant destroys small businesses, mistreats their workers and exploits cities like Bell Gardens, Pico Rivera and now Commerce for profit at any cost, Walmart does not meet that standard.
Jason Gardea-Stinnett is a Commerce resident and former Commerce Public Information Officer.