Skip to main content









Donation Heart Ribbon

City Council Overturns “Supercenter” Ordinance


Score one for Wal-Mart. The San Diego City Council voted yesterday to overturn its controversial ordinance requiring proposed bog box "supercenters" to conduct extensive environmental and economic impact reports before building in the city.

Score one for Walmart. The San Diego City Council voted yesterday to overturn its controversial ordinance requiring proposed bog box "supercenters" to conduct extensive economic impact reports before building in the city. KPBS Metro Reporter Katie Orr talks about why the council overturned the ordinance.


Katie Orr, KPBS Metro Reporter

Read Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. We hear more now on that story about the big box super stores ordinance. There was plenty of public comment at San Diego City hall yesterday as the City Council considered the repeal of economic impact regulations aimed at big box super stores, but of all the voices heard, perhaps the loudest came from Wal-Mart. The company who funded a ballot initiative against the ordinance, the City Council voted to repeal the law which supporters said was aimed at protecting [CHECK AUDIO] big box store advocates on the City Council claimed the requirements were unfair and only protected labor union it is. Joining me to talk about yesterday's vote is my guest, Katie Orr, KPBS metro reporter. Good morning, Katy.

ORR: Good morning, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: So before the repeal yesterday, what did San Diego require big box stores to do before they could open a city center.

ORR: Well, the City Council had passed an ordinance that required [CHECK AUDIO] to see how the store would affect the neighborhood it would be built in. And supporters of the ordinance like labor unions and some small business owners said that the sides would insure the super center didn't come 234 and dominate the neighborhood. But opponents of [CHECK AUDIO] de facto ban on super centers being wallet in San Diego. So Wal-Mart led an effort to gather enough signatures to force a special election on the issue, unless the council repealed the ban.

CAVANAUGH: Right. Now, what is a stupor center? Think how is that defined.

ORR: Think of your typical target or Wal-Mart basically on steroids. Am they're pretty huge. 90000 square feet, and they have to make up more than ten percent of their revenues from grocery sales. It's a grocery store as well as pretty much anything else you would like to have. But that is something that Wal-Mart supporters say is important, in fact, that, you know, they're providing groceries, especially fruits and vegetables at a low cost and hopefully they would say to urban and poor communities. Some of these communities don't have grocery stores. And so that's sort of a hot topic right now. And Wal-Mart was using that to sort of push the issue along as well.

CAVANAUGH: So how many -- do we know how many super centers Wal-Mart wants to build in San Diego?

ORR: Well, after the ordinance was passed by the council originally, and Wal-Mart launched its petition drive, and that was successful, the [CHECK AUDIO] city leaders who had backed the steer position, and announced that it will build about a dozen new stores in the city within the next five years or so. They're not all gonna be super centers, because those take up just massive amounts of space, and especially in dense urban neighborhoods there's not the space to build a super center. But Wal-Mart says they'll build stores of varying sizes, including building smaller stores compared to the size of trader Joe's super marketings, it is ones, they're experiments and see if that works for them as well.

CAVANAUGH: So why did the City Council repeal the ordinance against requiring Wal-Mart, if they want to build eye super center, to do an environmental impact report, but basically go through a lot of red tape benefit they can put this store in PLACE.

ORR: Well, you know, anti-Wal-Mart people would tell you that this might be a case of David being Goliath, with Wal-Mart being the Goliath in this case. If the City Council had not repealed this ordinance, it would have been forced to hold a special election [CHECK AUDIO] at a cost of $3 million to the city. And this comes at a time when the city is facing a $46 million budget deficit. So a lot of people said, you know, we can't justify spending the money right now. It's also interesting because since the ordinance passed, are the make up of the City Council has also changed. Most notably Democrat Donna Frye has been replaced we Republican Laurie Zapf, and Zapf is one more vote to overturn the measure of she joined council members Carl DeMaio, [CHECK AUDIO] also David Alvarez is now on the council, he replaced ben Hueso. Alvarez voted for repeal, saying again his job to -- his job was to fix the city's budget issue, and spending three million dollars does not help in that effort. [CHECK AUDIO] but council members Tony Young, and Todd Gloria were the ones who actually changed their votes from supporting the ordinance to repealing it. And Gloria was the one who originally introduced the measure, but again he said he couldn't justify spending the money on the election though he was not happy with it.

NEW SPEAKER: Wal-Mart has successfully framed this issue as one of labor unions against consumers. And it appears that their big money campaign will force the City Council to choose been a costly special election and the repeal of an ordinance that was dually approved by the elected representatives of this city.

ORR: And Gloria was in fact pretty passionate about it. And he would like to see things change so that this doesn't happen in the future, but again he said he just couldn't justify spending the $3 million.

CAVANAUGH: And to be clear, the reason that they're basically charging Wal-Mart with subverting the democratic process is -- as Todd Gloria did in that clip is because they paid for the signature gathering effort to get this ballot the mash on the ballot.

ORR: Right. And you know, Wal-Mart is not the only store that this ordinance would have affected. You know, if target wanted to would about a new super center, it would have had to do that. If K mart -- any company that wanted to build this, would have been subject to this ordinance. But Wal-Mart was the one that sort of led the effort to get these signatures, it's a big company, it has eight of resources, but it should be said that there are people who believe the public should decide where the public wants to shop. And the City Council doesn't have any business creating an ordinance to regulate stores, especially when it already has planning boards in place, it has zoning laws and regulations. Of so they saw this as an extra step to just, you know, get back at Wal-Mart, really. So Wal-Mart said, hey, you know, we have the money to spend on this, and we're going to do it. And there were people out there, and I think that's one of the reasons that it ultimately didn't go to the pal on the, because people were afraid it would lose. [CHECK AUDIO] so why spend thee million dollars on an election and.

CAVANAUGH: As said, council president Tony Young was one of the people who changed his mind about this super center ordinance, and he had a lot of different things that he was weighing in, making up his mind about this.

ORR: Well, Tony Young was actually the focus for a lot of the speak ares, a lot of people from his district, district four, came out in favor of Wal-Mart. Because his district does not have a major grocery store within it, and these people came out and said, listen, we want fresh fruits and vegetables. I want to be able to go somewhere in my neighborhood and buy groceries at a price I can afford. I want a job that Wal-Mart might provide me. So he had that to consider, although Tony Young had said, he has asked Wal-Mart to build a store in his district, or any major grocery store to built a store in his neighborhood for years, and it hasn't happened. [CHECK AUDIO] going to vote to repeal, and all of the discussion at the Council did not change his opinion, and he again he said the tree million dollars, you just can't do it, when that's money that he could put towards keeping libraries open or restoring browned out fire engines.

CAVANAUGH: So even though Wal-Mart says they're planning to build a certain amount of stores in San Diego, they're not planning to build in any particular place.

ORR: No, it's just a general plan. Who knows? You could take them at their word, or if the economy changes, we don't know. We'll see. They just said they're committed to doing it. And that's their outlook. You know, and that remains to be seen. But the council people who were in favor of the ordinance said, you know, this is -- again it's not the council's job to regulate businesses. And there are processes in place to do that. It's not the right time to be limiting development in the city right now. Especially when we're struggling economically. Now.

CAVANAUGH: Now, there was one vote that was against this ordinance, against the repeal of the regulations aimed at big box super stores, and that was Marty emerald.

ORR: That's right. She was the only council member to stand behind her original vote in favor of the ordinance. You know, she says that according to her, since she voted to pass the ordinance, she says she's been harassed by proWal-Mart people, and she should she's certain she'll be harassed again when she runs for reelection, but in this instance, she stuck by her previous decision, and she stuck by the labor unions, essentially.

NEW SPEAKER: It has also become clear to me that if I do not stand on my principles and continue to serve and protect those in our city who are at an economic disadvantage, and truly protect the quality of life in our neighborhoods, that I will have lost my self respect. And with it my ability to serve honestly as a representative of those people. As I have said before, and I will say again, my vote is not for sale.

ORR: And emerald's comments were met by cheers and applause from the people in the audience who were there opposing Wal-Mart, essentially.

CAVANAUGH: Now, there were a lot of people who stood up to comment about this. Tell us how many people were there and if any of those comments sort of stood out to you, Katie.

ORR: Yeah, there were essentially -- there were about 80 or so people there to comment on this issue. It was I mix, but most of them were anti-Wal-Mart. They called themselves worker advocates. There was obviously some coordination between them because a lot of people got up and said things like I can't fight Wal-Mart alone. And I didn't vote for Wal-Mart to make public policy. I voted for you, talking about the council members, and that was just a line -- two lines we heard repeated over and over again, it was about an hour of public testimony. We also heard on the other side, people saying I want a job. One man got up and said, I don't even care if it's a good job. I just want a job. I'm sure Wal-Mart would dispute that their jobs aren't considered good. But [CHECK AUDIO] lived in little neighborhoods like Northpark and south park and said I like the character of my neighborhood, I don't want a Wal-Mart to come in and ruin that. So, you know, they really did represent, I think, probably the classic arguments both for and against Wal-Mart. But in the end, it seems that money kind of ruled the day. And council members who switched their votes could just not justify spending $3 million on a public election.

CAVANAUGH: On a special election to let the people decide whether or not they wanted to repeal this. Just in parting, Katy, I wonder what this vote might say to you about the changing structure of the San Diego City Council, the new members on it and where the power seems goodbye going in this new City Council.

ORR: Well, are it was interesting because there were some commentors on twitter and things like that yesterday talking about the other City Council and who labor unions might have had more of an influence over that council than the current council. Donna Frye and ben Hueso, both pretty liberal Democrats, big workers' rights supporters, and they are not there anymore. Laurie Zapf is certainly a conservative member of the council. David Alvarez, he's a democrat, but he made it clear yesterday that he is with fixing the city's budget problems and so as we just saw here, clearly He's focused on the financial aspect of things. So moving forward, you know, might be a little bit more witnessed. Sherry Leitner, she could be a swing vote on different issues, certainly Tony Young could be a swing vote as well. So I think we might see, perhaps -- it might like the votes a little more interesting.

CAVANAUGH: Just finally, where does this leave Wal-Mart then? Can they just apply for regular permitting then? No special requirements?

ORR: Right. No special -- this did away with the special requirements, so of course they'll still have to go through the zoning and planning processes that exist for businesses, but they're not going to have to take any extra steps if they want to go and build a super center store.

CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you so much for speaking with us.

ORR: Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: I've been speaking with KPBS metro reporter Katie ore, if you would like to comment, please go on-line, Days. Coming up, how San Diego protects against elder abuse, we'll have that discuss as These Days continues on here on KPBS.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or subscribe to our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.