Council approves tentative requirements for new ‘superstores’

By Joe Britton

City News Service

The City Council on Wednesday tentatively approved an ordinance to require developers to conduct an economic and community impact study before a “superstore” could be built in San Diego.

The City Council voted 5-3 in favor of the so-called “Ordinance to Protect Small and Neighborhood Businesses.”

Council members Carl DeMaio, Kevin Faulconer and Sherri Lightner were opposed.

The ordinance, which was proposed by Councilman Todd Gloria, would require an analysis of the economic impact superstores would have on neighborhoods and communities before they can be built.

It will affect retailers larger than 90,000 square feet that generate more than 10 percent of revenues from groceries.

Opponents argued the law unfairly targets Walmart, and is essentially a “defacto ban” on its Supercenters.

Gloria said the ordinance does not ban superstores and doesn’t focus on any one retailer.

“My legislation does something very simple, it asks for information,” Gloria said.

“The public has a right to know, and every council member up here has a right to know, if this is good, bad or indifferent,” he said. “Put that on the record and let us judge that on its merits.”

Faulconer said the ordinance would obstruct business at a time when the city should be doing the opposite.

“We need to be doing everything we can in the city of San Diego to incentivize business, not pass policies to impede them,” Faulconer told his colleagues.

Lightner argued that the ordinance had not gone through a thorough enough public process. She also said there needs to be consistent land-use regulations that are applied fairly’’ to all large retail stores.

Dozens of people testified during a special hearing this afternoon on the issue.

Shirley Mansfield, who works at a Vons in Chula Vista, said that when a Walmart near her store recently converted into a Supercenter it hurt sales and drove out nearby small businesses.

“Big box stores hurt everyone,” Mansfield told the council.

“They don’t bring in new tax revenue and they certainly don’t create new jobs,” she said. “What they do is devastate small businesses by taking away their share of the pie.”

Aaron Rios, a spokesman for Walmart, said the ordinance was created to protect special interests.

“The measure is before you today solely because it is supported and promoted by a small group of special interests who put their priorities above the majority of San Diegans,” Rios said.

Walmart’s workers are not unionized, while many of the employees at local grocery store chains are.

DeMaio argued that the regulations would limit consumer choice and will force Walmart to open their stores in neighboring jurisdictions, taking with them millions in sales tax revenue.

“More so than limiting consumer choice, it chases away much needed sales tax revenue from the city of San Diego,” he said.

An attempt at an outright ban on superstores failed three years ago.

In 2007, the City Council voted to approve an ordinance banning superstores, but the decision was later vetoed by Mayor Jerry Sanders. The veto was upheld when Councilwoman Donna Frye, who originally supported the ban, reversed her position.

The ordinance approved by the City Council today requires a second reading. A meeting has already been scheduled for Nov. 16. Another meeting has been scheduled for Dec. 2 to override Sanders’ likely veto.