City Council Chairman Phil Mendelson attended a lively community meeting Monday, hosted by a group of residents called Ward 4 Thrives. Mendelson listened as a room full of residents voiced their concerns about two Walmart stores being built at Georgia Avenue N.W. & Peabody Street N.W. and Riggs Road & South Dakota Avenue, respectively. They spoke about the survival of small businesses in the area, traffic issues and damage to cars from construction trucks. During the meeting, a tall truck hit overhead wires, causing them to fall in plain sight of the community meeting room inside the Metropolitan Police Department’s Fourth District station. An officer reportedly issued a ticket to the driver.
Area Neighborhood Commissioners Carolyn Cook and Judi Jones also attended the meeting. Cook said she had contacted Ward 4 Council Member Muriel Bowser twice about the Walmart and had received no response, as of President’s Day. “Muriel Bowser will be running for mayor. She is not qualified to be mayor,” Cook said. She suggested getting national attention for the fight against big-box retailers like Walmart. Other residents suggested supporting candidates other than Bowser for mayor, implying that she had not represented their interests. Bowser was not present at the community meeting.
“We’ve done enough planning,” said Judi Jones. “Let’s get the foot soldiers on the ground and get going. They need to mobilize,” Jones said. Gary Cha co-owns several Yes! Organic Market stores in the District and attended the meeting as a small business owner. “I’m still concerned, not just for my stores, but all small businesses,” he said. “If you do the research, what happens elsewhere, we have reason to believe, will happen here as well.” Cha handed over some of his research to Chairman Mendelson at the meeting.
Mendelson, a self-described liberal Democrat, said, “I’ve never been a fan of Walmart. I’ve been the most critical council member.” Mendelson introduced the Large Retailer Accountability Act of 2013, which would require retailers that comprise 75,000 square feet or more to pay a living wage, unless there is a collective bargaining agreement in place. The bill is currently being considered by the Committee on Business and Consumer Regulatory Affairs, which has a hearing March 20 at 10 a.m. Mendelson told the residents that they need to put political pressure on the D.C. government in order to create change. He said he is only one vote out of 13 on city council.
Ann Hoffman has lived in Ward 4 for about 10 years. “I think (the meeting) got us more motivated in a hard-hitting direction, that maybe we can keep aiming the heat at the people than can do something,” Hoffman said. Claire Cook, also a resident, said she thinks residents need to find legal action. “We can show opposition as community members, but we have to find a legal, regulatory way to stop them, so they won’t want to come,” Cook said.
The new Executive Director of D.C. Jobs with Justice also attended the meeting.
Ward 4 Thrives has scheduled another community meeting for residents February 23 at 1 p.m. at the M.P.D.’s Fourth District Station.
Walmart did not immediately respond to requests for comment on this article.