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Walmart Wins Battle With San Diego City Council

Audio

Aired 2/3/11

Walmart is known as the place to go to when you don’t want to spend a lot of money, and the San Diego City Council decided it’s also the store you don’t want to spend a lot of money fighting.

— On a 7-1 vote, the San Diego City Council Tuesday repealed a recently passed law requiring developers of so-called "big box'' superstores to compile costly economic impact reports, and rejected an option to put the issue to a public vote.

Walmart Supercenter
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Above: Walmart Supercenter

The "Ordinance to Protect Small and Neighborhood Businesses'' was passed by the City Council last November, but was vetoed by Mayor Jerry Sanders, who said it would limit consumer shopping choices.

Other critics claimed it unfairly targeted Walmart because the company employs non-union labor.

When the City Council overrode the veto, Walmart organized a petition-signing campaign that resulted in far more signatures than necessary to force a decision to rescind the law or place it to a public vote.

City Clerk Liz Maland estimated that it would cost between $2.8 million and $3.4 million to conduct a stand-alone special election. If combined with a vote that could be called by the state on budget proposals by Gov. Jerry Brown, the expense for the city could still top $1 million, she said.

"That's money we don't have,'' said Councilwoman Lorie Zapf, who was not on the panel that adopted the ordinance.

Repeal was "pragmatic, fiscally responsible,'' Council President Tony Young said after noting that he thought the law was otherwise a good idea.

The dissenting vote was cast by a clearly angry Councilwoman Marti Emerald, who predicted she will endure "a barrage of smears and slurs'' when she runs for re-election next year, but had to live with herself and stick with her original decision.

"My vote is not for sale,'' Emerald said. She said information given to petition signers on behalf of Walmart was inaccurate.

Councilman Todd Gloria, who authored the ordinance, reluctantly went with the majority because of the cost of holding an election, while accusing Walmart of framing it as a union vs. non-union issue.

About two-thirds of the speakers in just over an hour of public comment were against repealing the law.

Numerous times, opponents identified themselves as "worker advocates'' and stated, "I didn't vote for Walmart to set policy in this city. I voted for you to do that. I can't fight Walmart alone.''

The company announced last week it planned to build about a dozen new stores, of a variety of sizes, in San Diego over the next five years. Company officials said it would be easier to carry out their promise if the law was no longer on the books.

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