Fresno council member wields slingshot in battle with Walmart

FRESNO, Calif.

Walmart won approval to expand its Southeast Fresno store into a supercenter Thursday. Fresno's city council voted five-to-one to approve the project on Kings Canyon near Peach.

The world's biggest retailer wants to get bigger in Southeast Fresno. Walmart proposed to turn this 130,000 square foot store into a supercenter by adding about 40,000 square feet of groceries.

The company says their project would add 100 temporary construction jobs, 85 permanent jobs in the store, and give the neighborhood a facelift, like what neighbors saw when they built a store in Pinedale.

"I saw the Pinedale area transformed when Walmart went in there," one Pinedale resident told the council.

The store is in council member Sal Quintero's district. He doesn't want to see Walmart get into groceries, but he dramatically admitted he was in an underdog's position, like David against Goliath.

"I got a slingshot," he said, holding up a large rubber weapon. "I hope it's enough."

Quintero says he fears vacant storefronts. There are about 100 unused retail locations on Kings Canyon near the Walmart and he argues the giant store will drive big grocery stores out of business too.

That's also the fear of Chris Enriquez, who stocks groceries at the nearby Von's -- one of eight grocery stores within a two-mile radius. He says Walmart supercenters have driven other stores out of business in Sanger and Dinuba, and he believes pink slips will go out at other stores, even as Walmart starts hiring.

"They're going to leave empty buildings behind," Enriquez said. "It's been proven before in Dinuba, in Sanger. In Sanger, Rite-Aid closed, Save Mart closed. In Dinuba? Save Mart closed, costing over 100 jobs.

Business analysts said that might be an exaggeration of the project's impact.

"Our report concluded under worst case conditions that the proposed project might result in one supermarket closing," said Roger Dale, and analyst for Natelson Dale, which Walmart paid to do an environmental impact report for the city.

Walmart bused dozens of employees to City Hall to deliver the message that they can co-exist with all kinds of businesses. And they reminded the council of the company's charitable work in the community, including this year's $100,000 donation from the Facebook "Fighting Hunger Together" campaign.

In the end, five council members decided Walmart would do more good than harm, leaving Quintero holding his slingshot in vain.

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