About 30 people demonstrated Tuesday night on the steps of Burbank City Hall, calling on city officials to explore every avenue possible to stymie a Walmart near the Empire Center.
The demonstration was the most visible show yet of opposition against the planned Walmart at the former Great Indoors since the now-vacant site was purchased by the world’s largest retailer in June.
Walmart spokesman Steven Restivo said last week that he expects the company to use all of the 120,000-square-foot building, adding that “we want to come into Burbank the right way.”
For many of the residents protesting Tuesday outside City Hall, the announcement last week confirmed their worst fears since news of Walmart’s purchase of the 12-acre site became public.
“Hopefully, as one big voice, the city will hear us,” said Kate Nixa, one of the organizers of the demonstration. “I know they say there's nothing that can be done, but we're trying every angle to see if that's true. We would love to work with the city, not against it.”
City officials say the site is zoned for commercial-retail use, so there’s little they can do if Walmart stays within city codes. And Restivo has said repeatedly that despite the naysayers, ultimately it will be the shoppers who “vote with their wallet.”
Former Burbank mayor Anja Reinke said as she entered City Hall during the demonstration that the hue and cry would likely have little impact in the end.
“I hope it has some influence, but I doubt it,” she said. “I don't think Walmart cares.”
Walmart has pledged to host public meetings to give community members an opportunity to weigh in on what attributes they’d like the store to have, including whether it should be open 24 hours a day — which would require a conditional-use permit from the city.
Opponents of the Walmart say it will drive out small businesses, creating job losses that will negate any gains in sales tax revenues for the city. But representatives for the company point to its millions in donations to nonprofits in communities where it operates.