Environmental lawsuits stymie Wal-Mart’s attempts to colonize California

Retail Brobdingnagian and perpetual defendant Wal-Mart, having carpeted much of the U.S. in Supercenters, has its sights set on one of its last potential growth markets in the country: California. But the Golden State has proved a stormy climate for the hungry giant; dozens of lawsuits have been filed against cities across the state, charging that Supercenters violate the comparatively strict California Environmental Quality Act, signed in 1970 by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan. The suits claim that the cities, in approving the ginormous stores, underestimate traffic congestion, air pollution, and — in a novel accusation recently backed by a state appeals court — decay caused by the closing of other, smaller stores. Many of the suits are filed by citizen groups whose membership and sources of funding are secret. Wal-Mart says the groups are fronts for unions like the United Food and Commercial Workers, who fear that the company’s entry into the market will push down wages and labor standards and drive other employers out of business.