City Council Passes Superstore Regulation Ordinance

Over the objections of several of its members and a threatened mayoral veto, the San Diego City Council passed an ordinance Tuesday that prohibits certain types of large retail developments commonly known as superstores.

The council voted 5-3 to ban the building of retail establishments within city limits that are larger than 90,000 square feet and generate more than 10 percent of revenue from non-taxable goods, like groceries.

Touting the importance of consumer choice, Councilmen Kevin Faulconer, Brian Maienschein and Jim Madaffer cast the dissenting votes.

"I do not think it is the role of the City Council to dictate where families buy their groceries," Faulconer said.

But Faulconer joined the rest of the eight-member council in unanimously voting to require tougher review of any proposed store project larger than 50,000 square feet.

Mayor Jerry Sanders is opposed to limiting the size of retail stores, but supported a more stringent permitting process.

"Banning superstores would send an anti-business message to retailers," Sanders told the City Council at the start of the meeting. "We would in essence be telling retailers that we don't want you here."

According to Fred Sainz, a spokesman for the mayor's office, Sanders intends to veto the ordinance prohibiting superstores.

The council could overturn that veto with five votes.

Several council members argued that the law is needed to protect the city's small businesses and to preserve neighborhood character.

"I believe that we should support small businesses and thriving businesses," Councilman Tony Young said.

"The fact is that in San Diego we have to have some limits," he said. "You just can't do and build anything."

Councilman Scott Peters also expressed concerns about the traffic and parking issues the superstores generate.

"For me, again, it's the issue of traffic concentration," he said.

A Wal-Mart spokesman testified that the ordinance unfairly targets the company because it is the only retail chain looking to place a superstore within city limits sometime in the near future.

Wal-Mart operates enormous Supercenter stores nationwide.

"Consumer choice should be left in the hands of the consumer," Wal-Mart spokesman Kevin McCall told the council. "Why would this council turn away a company that is seeking to bring full-service grocery stores to communities with limited options?"

Wal-Mart executives have said they would challenge any ban in court.

Hundreds on both sides of the issue attended the 3 1/2-hour meeting.

Auday Arabo, president of California Independent Grocers and Convenient Stores, said superstores "undercut" small mom-and-pop businesses.

"Their (Wal-Mart) Supercenters don't play fair," Arabo said.

Local grocers and labor leaders have endorsed the ban on the grounds that it would protect union pay and benefits.

Others said superstores keep prices down for consumers.

"We do not believe government should determine consumer choices," said Lani Lutar, president of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association.

"Prohibiting a Wal-Mart superstore from coming to San Diego is anti-competitive and only hurts San Diego consumers."

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