5. El Centro Lucky Closes Leaving South End Without Supermarket
Employees, neighbors and customers said
they felt blindsided by the decision of corporate parent Albertson’s to close
the Lucky grocery store at 351 Wake Ave. in El Centro by June 15. The space
remained vacant at year’s end.
“A lot of people in the neighborhood
shopped here because it is convenient and some of them don’t have cars,”
said Charlie Sunghera, a store shift supervisor who added he learned of closure
the same time as his employees. “The neighborhood will become a food
desert. And it will impact our merchant neighbors.”
Sanji Patel, owner of the nearby El Centro
Pharmacy just a few doors from Lucky, noted its employees were friendly.
“I have many pharmacy patients who
are disappointed because they’ll have to drive to another grocery. If they open
another location they should keep the same employees because they’re helpful
and know the store inside out,” she said.
Added Antonio Leon, service coordinator
with Access to Independence, a nonprofit teaching independent living skills to
the disabled, “It’s a bummer and sad to have another business in Imperial
Valley closing. That means more employees without jobs. Lucky is reasonably
priced and have some good sales.”
Melissa Hill, Albertson’s director of
public affairs, explained the reason for closure was poor performance tracked
for several years.
City Council Member Cheryl Viegas-Walker
noted residents no longer have the option for fresh, healthy food.
“We’ll keep our fingers cross we get
another tenant in there instead of having a vacant storefront,” she said.
“But we have little impact on corporate decisions. If a company wants to
move to El Centro, one option to consider is waive certain fees.”
The closure affected 35-40 employees. Meat
cutters earned $21.98 per hour, a warehouse clerk $19.76 and utility clerks
“Our HR department is working with
United Food Commercial Workers Local 135 and Local 67 to find other positions
at other Southern California Albertson’s and place as many employees as we can
prior to June 15,” assured Hill.
Allowing for merchant awareness and input,
El Centro passed an ordinance for abandoned shopping cart containment and
retrieval on June 4 to go into effect July 5.
This requires carts to have permanent
identification tags with a company name, phone number and warning of a penalty
for removing carts from retail sites. Businesses must assign an employee to
retrieve missing carts or contract with a service provider.
Council Member Viegas-Walker noted smaller
retailers may not be able to afford the plaques. So Norma Villicana, community
services director, offered a grace period.
“If a business cannot comply within
60 days, or not afford plaques, we’re willing to work with them on an extension
to come up to standard.” said Villicana.
A $50 fine will be imposed for carts found
removed from a retailer’s property more than three times within a six month
period. Then a clean slate starts for
another six months.
“We’ve received complaints from
residents regarding shopping carts in neighborhoods and it’s a nuisance,”
said Villicana. “In April, we recovered over 100 in a four-hour
Most retailers supported the law and some
already implemented measures.
“Our carts have a plastic pole that
knocks into the door frame if anyone tries to remove them,” said Nicole
Castro, manager of the Family Dollar Store at 1111 S. Fourth Street.
Added Priscilla Perches, assistant manager
of Smart & Final, 650 N. Imperial Avenue, “Since we put in an
alarm/locking device a year ago we have not lost any carts.”
At a packed El Centro Chamber of Commerce
in August focus was on “tough love” as Police Chief Brian Johnson and
Sgt. James Thompson (in charge of homeless outreach) advocated a hand up, not a
hand out for the local homeless population.
“We’re not going to arrest our way,
or legislate the way out, of homelessness,” said Johnson.
He recommended community policing,
focusing on forming partnerships and prevention where merchant initiative can
deter crime by design.
“Let’s not enable the homeless by
giving money to panhandlers,” said Johnson. “Instead, donate to
nonprofits. Let’s reunite the homeless with their families. That’s the best
Maribel Mendez, manager of El Centro Day
Out, a facility for therapy to the elderly and disabled, urged more police
patrol cars at night and to enforce the $1,000/day fine for absentee building
Thompson suggested simple adjustments can
make significant improvements: locks on trash containers and regular cleaning
of sidewalks and gutters. He recommended security fencing, lighting and
cameras, as well as avoiding spaces surrounding a business that may enable the people
to camp or hide while using drugs.
Johanna Vincente, owner of C & S
Interiors, urged raising awareness.
“Let merchant volunteers work
together to keep downtown clean,” she said. “Take ownership of the
problem and move forward with a plan in place.”
2. El Centro Tentatively Lays Groundwork for Commercial Cannabis
After several years of renewing a ban on
commercial cannabis storefronts, the El Centro City Council narrowly reversed course
with an ordinance for retail sales in November by a vote of 3 to 2. Council
Members Jason Jackson and Viegas-Walker were opposed. Then-mayor Edgard Garcia
explained he preferred a storefront business with no cultivating or lab testing
“By developing an ordinance, the city
can regulate cannabis through business licenses that have a known business
address,” he said. “And we’ll be able to track the product, where it
comes from, where it ends up and maintain accountability.”
Ardently against cannabis use, Jackson
maintained he supports medical marijuana.
“There’s plenty of opportunity for
people who need it to have access to it,” he said. “Some use delivery
services, while Prop. 64 allows individuals to grow up to six plants at home. I
don’t believe we’ll generate enough revenue to offset added police required to
Viegas-Walker noted her biggest concern is
as cannabis becomes more accessible students will avail themselves of its
“Research shows cannabis can have a
detrimental effect on adolescent minds in the developmental stage,” she
Then-mayor pro tem Efrain Silva expressed
appreciation for his colleague’s comments.
“I’m in favor of a dispensary,” he said. “It’s not that I don’t care for the effects on El Centro youth. We’ll always have social issue challenges here regardless if a dispensary is available or not. It’s not about a revenue stream, but about control and regulation. It’s a legal product and it’s here.”
The city Community Development Department must still develop a cannabis regulatory ordinance, a merit-based application and selection process, and a commercial cannabis tax measure for the November 2020 ballot.
El Centro basked in the glory of the grand
opening of its new Aquatic Center on Adams Avenue from Fourth to Sixth streets
on Oct. 26. Then-mayor Garcia praised city staff for dedication to assure the
pool opened and proving the voter-passed Measure P half-cent sales tax works.
The 3.5 acre facility includes an eight-lane,
25-yard competition pool, a warm-up pool, kiddie pool, and a lazy river pool
with a current that propels guests on innertubes.
However, Council Member Viegas-Walker
cautioned pool admission would not cover operation costs. The city must subsidize
admissions with about $1 million for the first year of operation.
But the pool is expected to attract many
corporate events from businesses,
nonprofits and service clubs, officials said.
fee structure is not a point of contention, explained Garcia. “We are
committed to this and glad to see it happen.”