While “on vacation,” I was pretty shocked to see the news that Mayor Vince Gray had told Walmart it better open a store in his neighborhood, at Skyland Town Center, if it wanted to open anywhere else in the District—even threatening to withhold building permits as leverage.
For one thing, Walmart would have decent grounds to sue over that kind of move, and would likely win; building permits have to be issued based on zoning and code compliance, not the Mayor’s whims. For another, it’s not like Walmart has been holding back from opening stores, even east of the river: They’re exploring pretty much every available location, and very few places are too poor or too underpopulated to plunk down a store with the world’s lowest prices. Besides, Gray has been talking for months about getting an enforceable community benefits agreement based largely around local hiring. Why put his foot down on this issue, without talking about the rest of the things D.C. wants from Walmart?
Well, Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development Victor Hoskins did his best to walk back his boss’ comments, telling the Post editorial board that they had been made in “jest.” Gray has a decent sense of humor, but it didn’t sound like he was joking here.
Adding to the confusion of this whole incident, one of the people in the Walmart meeting says the Post story was off base. “That’s so not true,” says Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander. “From my perspective, it was more of a negotiation with Walmart that we wanted a city-wide [community benefits agreement]. If they’re not able to do that, then maybe they’re not able to do business in D.C.”
The city-wide CBA is under review, and will be presented to the full Council in the next week or so.
Meanwhile, Walmart is just going to keep on keeping on, waiting—-like the rest of Ward 7—-for the city to work out all the kinks at Skyland.
“From our standpoint, we’re just going to continue what we’ve been doing around that site,” says Walmart spokesman Steve Restivo.