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Voters in the Los Angeles suburb of Inglewood voted roughly 60-40 to defeat a ballot initiative that would have allowed Wal-Mart to build a supercenter in the shadow of Los Angeles International Airport.

Inglewood reportedly represented a new strategy for Wal-Mart, which essentially sought to sideline local officials and allow the development without the usual traffic studies, environmental reviews, and public hearings.

Labor and community groups opposed the effort, charging that Wal-Mart would "depress wages, drive out existing businesses, create traffic problems, and actually reduce the total number of jobs in the surrounding area."

According to early numbers, roughly 25 percent of the suburb's 40,000 registered voters apparently cast ballots - even though Wal-Mart collected more than 10,000 signatures to force the vote.

The vote in Inglewood underlined some of the troubles that Wal-Mart is facing on the west coast.

As the votes were being counted, The Los Angeles Times reported that California Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante and other Democrats "are pressuring the world's largest retailer through proposed legislation to improve health benefits for its employees — or pay a steep price."

According to the LAT, "one bill would require 'big-box' stores to reimburse government for the cost of providing public healthcare to workers. Another would require the stores to pay for expensive studies on whether they harm local economies by crushing competition and offering inadequate benefits to workers."

Of course, it isn’t all bad news for Wal-Mart. The Japanese media reports that Seiyu, which is more than 37 percent owned by Wal-Mart, has opened its first western-style supermarket there - part of Seiyu's effort to adapt a Wal-Mart-style approach to retailing.
KC's View:
Tough day for Wal-Mart. But it ain't over…because the Nation of Wal-Mart hasn’t grown to its current proportions by accepting defeat.

It will argue that not enough people voted, or that the union has too much sway over public policy issues, or that it is serving poor people and that only rich people vote. Or it'll make some other argument that will allow it to keep the Inglewood store proposal alive.

The problem is that Wal-Mart spent a reported $1 million to try and get its way in Inglewood, and not couldn’t the company get it done, but its defeat will no doubt serve to embolden opposition elsewhere.

Count on one thing. Wal-Mart won't play defense. It'll launch a retailing offensive in California that'll make your head spin.