Community fights demolition while East Village business owners see no concern with proposed store
By Margie M. Palmer | Downtown News
Editor’s note: the online version of this story differs slightly from the print edition version. The quote from an April 10 open letter to Walmart was from a collection of 21 local community groups and not a single person as previously attributed.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. announced it would be opening their first San Diego Neighborhood Market, choosing the former Sherman Heights Farmers Market building as their desired location. The once bustling Farmers Market, located at 2121 Imperial Ave., opened over 100 years ago but has been vacant since 2010.
Walmart announced that at completion, the 45,800-square-foot store would offer a selection of fresh foods and produce, home-care items and would employ 67 people.
Steven Restivo, senior director of Walmart community affairs, said the size, scale and price-point of the store was reflective of the community’s needs. “Our affordable grocery offerings help serve a real need in the neighborhood,” he said in a press release.
Labor leaders have said they believe the soon-to-be neighborhood market is being anything but neighborly.
San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council Media Director Patrick Pierce and CEO Lorena Gonzalez have been among the strongest voices against the store’s move into Sherman Heights.
Pierce said upon learning of Walmart’s plans to open the Neighborhood Market, residents, non-profit organizations and faith and labor leaders began the process of soliciting the community’s input on the proposed store.
Among the requests presented to Walmart Senior Manager for Public Affairs and Government Relations Aaron Rios were to have the company hire locally, provide affordable health care and invest in community programs.
“All of the issues included are considered vital commitments to meeting the needs of local residents and [are] important for any large retailer interested in being a partner in the success of our community,” read an April 10 open letter to Rio and Walmart. The open letter was signed by 21 San Diego community groups, including Casa de Vecinos de Organizados, Environmental Health Coalition, Logan Heights Neighborhood Council, San Diego Labor Council, Sherman Heights Community Center and local labor unions, among others.
Gonzalez said instead of hiring locally, the big-box retailer brought in a contractor from San Clemente, Calif. and Walmart also failed to acknowledge their other community requests.
“We asked they meet with the community to discuss traffic mitigation [and] we asked they hire locally,” Gonzalez said. “They have done none of that. They are not talking to us.”
Gonzalez also said she, along with other Sherman Heights residents, are heartbroken to see the ongoing demolition of parts of the Farmers Market building.
Demolition crews began removing a corner segment of the building in the early hours of April 17. A Walmart spokesperson said the temporary removal was necessary in order to complete necessary seismic retrofits.
A community rally was held outside the building at 6 a.m. on April 18. Coordinated by the Labor Council, the effort called upon Councilmember David Alvarez and Mayor Jerry Sanders to issue a stop-work order for the site until a judge could review the permitting.
“Leaders will outline the disrespect shown to the community and demand immediate intervention to stop work at the site,” Pierce said in a press release.
Although the group was successful in having the construction temporarily halted, a Superior Court Judge ruled Monday, April 23 construction could continue.
Restivo said the legal green light was good news. “Construction teams are back to work and residents are a step closer to getting what they have overwhelmingly said they wanted: more job opportunities and affordable grocery options in their own neighborhood,” he said.
Gonzalez said she disagrees with Restivo’s assertion that residents want the building demolished.
“I live two blocks from that site,” she said. “Every morning I wake up to see this historic building being crushed. I see this as [Walmart] having disregard for community values and historic resources. It really scares me.”
Gonzalez said she and others believe Walmart is just not a good fit for the community.
“They are not making any effort to reach out to the community. They are not making any effort to empower people by offering them a decent wage,” she said. “They have made no commitment to the communities of Sherman Heights and Barrio Logan.”
Some business owners in downtown, including those closest to Sherman heights in the East Village, said they are not concerned about the retailer’s expansion into the area.
East Village Business Improvement District Director Lisa Lem said the proximity of local businesses to downtown residents and the walkability of the neighborhood are the strongest factors for the lack of concern.
“Business owners aren’t really worried about the Walmart construction,” she said. “It will be located on the other side of the freeway and many of the residents in this area walk to the stores they patronize. [Residents] getting in their cars and driving to Walmart to pick up something they could get by walking a block or two just isn’t a concern.”