Wal-Mart Mounts Campaign to Sell Simi Valley Voters on Store : Election: Residents are being asked to back a measure that would enable the retailer to build near a proposed regional mall site.
Wal-Mart has hired a political consultant and launched a telephone campaign to drum up support for a Nov. 2 ballot measure that would let the discount chain build a store in Simi Valley.
Campaign statements filed last week show that the Arkansas-based company--the nation’s largest retailer--has already spent more than $28,000 on campaign expenses.
The sum included $17,000 to Santa Barbara consultant John Davies, who helped former Oxnard Mayor Nao Takasugi win a seat in the Assembly last year.
In Simi Valley, Wal-Mart wants to build on a prime hillside location just north of the Simi Valley Freeway near 1st Street. But the city’s planning rules prohibit development of this site before a regional mall is constructed nearby.
Davies, working with local Wal-Mart supporters, is urging voters to approve Measure V, which would allow a large retail store on the hillside before a mall is built. Even if the measure is approved, however, construction plans would have to undergo an exhaustive review by city officials.
In an interview, Davies said Wal-Mart is accepting no outside donations and will pay all costs incurred by the pro-Measure V campaign. He said the drive could cost up to $80,000 and is intended merely to inform voters.
“Wal-Mart’s not doing anything but talk about where the location is, the jobs it will bring, the amount of tax dollars it will bring and the type of message it would send” to other employers considering a move to Simi Valley, Davies said Tuesday.
One of the key foes of Measure V is another political consultant, Steve Frank, who has been involved in several high-profile campaigns, including his own unsuccessful run for Simi Valley mayor last year.
Frank, who is working on a volunteer basis, belongs to a loose coalition of business representatives, labor leaders and environmentalists who object to the proposed Wal-Mart for a variety of reasons.
Wal-Mart opponents reported no contributions, and Frank said they don’t expect to raise more than $5,000. Frank said they will speak out against the ballot measure, but cannot match the financial clout of Wal-Mart.
“Here you have Arkansas ‘slickies’ trying to buy an election in Simi Valley,” Frank said. “They have to hire these high-powered people and spend lots of money to overcome the people of Simi Valley. This is indeed a David-versus-Goliath thing.”
Frank said a Wal-Mart store on the hillside could destroy the city’s chances of attracting a regional shopping mall nearby. He also argued that Wal-Mart, with its array of merchandise and low prices, would put many small stores out of business.
“The people here oppose it,” Frank said. “That’s why they have to spend that much money.”
In response, Davies contended that Wal-Mart needs to spend a large sum to counter misleading statements by Frank.
“He’s a master manipulator, and Wal-Mart wants the truth to be out,” Davies said.
Frank and Davies have tangled before. In a bitter 1992 GOP primary race for Assembly, Frank supported Alan Guggenheim, who came in second behind Davies’ candidate, Takasugi.
Executives at Wal-Mart’s Arkansas headquarters declined to comment on the campaign. The retailer, as a matter of policy, does not talk about potential store sites until all city approvals are in place, Davies said.
In the telephone campaign Davies supervised the past few weeks, about 14,000 residents were told that a new Wal-Mart would create hundreds of new jobs and generate $750,000 a year in sales tax money that could be used for police protection, graffiti removal and school improvements.
According to a script provided by Davies, voters were told that “passing Measure V also sends a much-needed pro-business message to other potential employers.”
Campaign workers said they were phoning on behalf of community leaders, including four past presidents of the Simi Valley Chamber of Commerce and the president of the Simi Valley Police Officers Assn.
The chamber itself will take no position on Measure V, but past officers have the right to do so, said Nancy Bender, the chamber’s executive director.
After hearing the telephone message, voters supported the proposed Wal-Mart by a margin of more than 2-to-1, Davies said.
The “Yes on Measure V” advisory committee is made up of 42 people, including residents affiliated with Simi Valley veterans organizations, service clubs and business groups. The committee also includes City Councilwoman Sandi Webb and Board of Education member Doug Crosse.
Committee member Dick Rhoads, who has owned an independent grocery store in Simi Valley for 25 years, said he believes that a Wal-Mart will attract shoppers from other cities.
“We’d be getting the sales tax from other communities,” he said. “Right now, we have Simi Valley people driving to the Thousand Oaks mall and the Northridge mall, and we’re not getting any sales tax benefit from that.”
Councilwoman Barbara Williamson said she would not necessarily oppose a Wal-Mart elsewhere in the city. But because she objects to the hillside location, Williamson is opposing Measure V.
“What it boils down to is whether the residents want to see retail on our hillside,” she said. “They’re willing to sacrifice the hills for a mall because we desperately need one. But they don’t want to see a Wal-Mart or a K mart up there, in my opinion.”
Williamson said she is not intimidated by the large amount of money Wal-Mart can pour into the local election.
“It doesn’t matter how much money you put into it,” she said. “You cannot buy a vote. I, as an elected official, will support whatever my community wants. But nobody’s convinced me that this is what the community wants.”