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City Gets Earful From Impatient Wal-Mart Patrons

Retailing: Huntington Beach City Hall fields hundreds of calls after blocking the store's plan to open.

January 24, 2002|DAVID HALDANE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Huntington Beach officials Wednesday bore the wrath of hundreds of would-be Wal-Mart shoppers who called City Hall demanding to know why the city wouldn't let the store open on schedule.

"I tell them the store will open as soon as it satisfies the requirements," said Mayor Debbie Cook, who fielded several calls. Wal-Mart officials "are trying to strong-arm the city," she said.

Wednesday's scheduled opening of the Wal-Mart, long fought by nearby residents because of traffic and noise concerns, was postponed because the store failed an electrical inspection and didn't complete several projects at nearby Lambert Park that were required by the city, Cook said.

The park improvements include adding some railing, improving handicapped access and doing some sandblasting.

"They set an artificial [opening] date," she said. "Why should an emergency on their part suddenly constitute an emergency on our part? Should we automatically give them a permit just because they're Wal-Mart?"

Wal-Mart spokesman Robert S. McAdam said he had spent most of the day dealing with the "endless stream of cars" bearing customers who had to be turned away. People were given fliers telling them to call the city for more information.

"We've been letting them know that we are waiting for a certificate of occupancy from the city," he said, adding that the store was "absolutely ready to go" with employees stocking shelves and cleaning. "At some point they'll run out of chores to do."

The electrical problems were corrected immediately after Tuesday's inspection, and the park projects will probably be completed by Friday, he said.

"All we have to do is fire up our computers," McAdam said. "From the time we get our certificate, it will take us about 30 minutes to get up and running."

The mayor's response: When the company completes the required work, "we'll be out there in 30 minutes to inspect."

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