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Walmart meeting riles some residents

People expecting a public forum are upset to find one-on-one format for questions.

October 18, 2011|By Mark Kellam, mark.kellam@latimes.com
  • Garen Yegparian, of Burbank, yells with his Walmart protest sign in front of Burbank City Hall on September 20, 2011. (Tim Berger/Staff Photographer)
Garen Yegparian, of Burbank, yells with his Walmart protest…

Walmart representatives said more than 200 Burbank residents signed cards in support of a new store planned near the Empire Center at a public input meeting Monday, but some who attended the event complained that it was structured to downplay community concerns.

Inside the former Great Indoors building where Walmart plans to open a store adjacent to the Empire Center, five stations were set up covering a variety of store functions, such as operations, construction and environmental sustainability.

Hundreds of residents walked up to the stations, each manned by three to five Walmart employees waiting to answer their questions individually.

Walmart spokesman Steven Restivo said the format allowed for more questions to be answered compared to a traditional public forum, adding that most of the people who signed cards in support of the store were seeking jobs.

A Burbank Walmart will offer about 300 jobs, Restivo said.

But some residents said the way the event was laid out didn’t let concerns about Walmart get the public spotlight they deserve.

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“The event itself is a fraud,” said Burbank resident Kevin Harrop. “We were expecting to be able to ask pointed questions and get answers in a public forum. This is brilliant on their part, but deeply insulting to any resident of Burbank who has any serious concerns about [Walmart]. They just want to silence us.”

Some of the concerns among residents have to do with Walmart’s wages and the hiring of part-time employees.

Restivo said about 60% of Walmart employees work full time, and the average hourly pay rate in California is $12.60. All employees are offered health benefits, he said.

The Burbank store will also not operate 24 hours a day or sell alcohol.

Burbank resident George Irwin admitted he didn’t know much about the Walmart controversy, but said he was disappointed with the format of the meeting, adding that he wanted to hear public concerns and responses from the retailer.

“I was surprised by the format. I expected a town-hall meeting,” he said. “Really what I’m trying to understand is the reasons why somebody wouldn’t want a Walmart in Burbank.”

Burbank resident Dia Ratliff said she welcomes a local Walmart because she currently travels to stores in Porter Ranch and Valencia.

“I come here for the lower prices and clothing,” she said.

Michael Bandiera called opponents of a local Walmart “the vocal minority” and said he supports the company’s move into Burbank.

“If this doesn’t become a Walmart, it’s going to be another big empty store and you know what happens to a store like that? It turns into a Halloween store. We have enough Halloween stores,” he said.

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