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San Diego Puts New Restrictions On Future Supercenters


San Diego City Council has voted to put extra conditions on retailers that want to develop supercenters in the city.
Supercenters are bigger than ordinary Big Box stores - they are the size of football fields.

San Diego City Council has voted to put extra conditions on retailers that want to develop supercenters in the city.

Supercenters are bigger than ordinary Big Box stores - they are the size of football fields.

Testimony at the public hearing was heated. The vote was 5-to-3, and the issue may not be over yet.

This is not the first time arguments about the benefits of supercenters have filled San Diego City Council chambers. Three years ago the council tried to ban them, but, the mayor vetoed the ban.

No applications for a supercenter have been submitted . . . yet.

This time round, Councilman Todd Gloria proposed an ordinance which would require companies to pay for an economic impact study, before being granted a permit to build a superstore.

“This is not a ban,” he said. “It does not retroactively apply to big box stores. If you like the one you go to now, you will continue to be able to go there. It is not targeted to any one retailer, no pun intended, and it does not restrict consumer choice.”

Although the city’s ordinance does not only apply to Wal-Mart, that’s the company that is challenging it.

Tom Turner, the attorney representing Wal-Mart, told the council that requiring a study to show a supercenter would not have an economic impact on a neighborhood is an impossible impediment.

“Even a small business coming in is going to have some impact,” Turner said. “Any rational developer would see that if they had to go through this uncertain, expensive, time consuming process with almost no likelihood of success, they are going to develop someplace else.”

In fact, Wal-Mart sent the San Diego City Council a letter, saying if the ordinance passed, the company would build elsewhere. This implied threat irritated Lorena Gonzalez, head of the Labor Council Of San Diego and Imperial Counties.

The Labor Council is adamantly against Wal-Mart Supercenters, which they see as undercutting wages in the city.

“I think they should be banned,” Gonzalez said. “That’s not going to happen, so let them prove how good they are, that’s all this ordinance would require them to do.“

But others, like Matt Adams of the Building Industry Association, argued strongly that an overriding consideration right now is generating jobs.

“You may not agree it is a ban. I think it is,” Adams said, “but it is going to make it harder and more expensive, and it’s going to take longer to do this if they want to, which means you are sacrificing construction jobs which are important to me, and you are sacrificing jobs which are very important to the City of San Diego.”

Several people argued consumers should have the choice of shopping at a supercenter if they want to.

But Mickey Kasperian of the union that represents 12,000 grocery workers in San Diego wasn’t convinced there would be more consumer choice, or a net gain of jobs.

”Big box retailers come into a community, they swoop up the ma and pa stores, the ethnic markets, neighborhood grocery and drug stores. That’s not choice,” he said.

The City’s Independent Budget Analyst looked at studies of the economic impacts of supercenters in other communities and concluded that the results are inconsistent. In some cases they have a positive economic impact, in others they have a negative impact and in yet other cases they have little economic impact at all.

In fact San Diego City’s sales taxes may not change significantly at all. But what is likely to change is where that sales tax comes from. In other words, the supercenter will generate sales tax income to replace taxes from smaller retailers that disappear.

San Diego City Councilwoman Donna Frye changed her vote on the Wal-Mart issue three years ago -- supporting a ban and then deciding to support the mayor’s veto.

This time she called the ordinance requiring an economic impact study “a good compromise.”

“If it’s a really good deal,” Frye said, “and that is always one of the arguments that are advanced, what a really good economic deal it is, I would think that someone would be jumping at the chance to do that economic impact analysis to show the community what a good value they are.”

Carl DeMaio, Kevin Faulconer and Sheri Lightner voted against the ordinance.

The mayor may be hoping that if he vetoes it, one more council person will change their mind like last time, and uphold his veto again. A date has already been set for that vote next month.

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