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Huntington Beach Blocks Today's Wal-Mart Opening

January 23, 2002|DAVID REYES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Huntington Beach Wal-Mart that has long been fought by nearby residents will not open as scheduled today because the company failed to finish several on-site projects, according to city officials--a charge Wal-Mart disputes.

The store at Talbert Avenue and Beach Boulevard failed electrical inspections Friday and Tuesday, a city spokesman said.

In addition, several projects at nearby Lambert Parkthat were required as part of the city's approval for the store--adding a railing, improving handicapped access and sandblasting--had not been completed in time for today's opening, said Richard Barnard, a city spokesman.

"We did indicate to them that until they correct these problems, we will not give them an occupancy permit," he said.

Instead, the store was forced to delay its opening and to hold a reception Tuesday afternoon in the parking lot for more than 230 employees and their families.

Wal-Mart officials are hopeful the store will open later this week.

The company believes that most of the city-ordered work has been completed, said Robert S. Mc Adam, a Wal-Mart spokesman. But the city blindsided the company with its refusal to accept either a bond or a written promise that the rest will be completed, he added.

Residents have fought the retailer from the outset over construction of the store at the former Crest View Elementary School site, citing traffic, noise and other concerns.

After the store was approved by the city Planning Commission, residents qualified a ballot initiative to overturn the city's decision. But the measure was defeated by a 54%-46% margin in March 2000.

Lee Scott, Wal-Mart's chief executive and president, in a letter to Mayor Debbie Cook dated Jan. 18, told her that the company has cooperated and tried to meet every city request. He urged the city to overlook the construction shortfalls.

"On behalf of your citizens and our associates," Scott said in the letter, "isn't it time to get past our differences and move on with this project?"

Scott's letter also noted that the city will "needlessly forgo" the sales tax from $137,000 in sales each day the store remains unopened. In addition, 40 community organizations in Huntington Beach are also expected to receive $66,300 in contributions, "when our store opens," it said.

Although McAdam, who was at the Huntington Beach store, was telling passersby that the store would open at 8:30 a.m. today, the city is adamant that unless all the problems are fixed, including the park walkway railing, no permit will be signed allowing the store to open. "When it's completed--fully completed--we're ready to roll," Barnard said.

Wal-Mart has spent more than $1 million to finish projects the city required, McAdam said.

Those requirements include an 8-foot sound wall for adjacent residents, who also were given the option of having double-pane windows installed at Wal-Mart's expense to decrease noise; shielded parking lot lights; and a truck bay with a roof and walls on three sides to help muffle noise.

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