On October 30, 2007, Sprawl-Busters reported that the City Council in Atascadero, California had voted 4-1 to require city staff to stop processing the retailer’s proposal to construct a 195,000 s.f. store on Del Rio Road. Mayor George Luna said at that time that continuing the review process would only prolong the inevitable defeat of the proposal. “I don’t see the reason getting more information on a store I would never vote for,” the Mayor told the media. Now, roughly two months later, local residents want to put more teeth into the city’s zoning ordinance. Currently, the city’s General Plan has a limit of 150,000 s.f. for big box stores — but the zoning ordinance has no such limit. So Atascadero residents are going to the ballot to stop big box superstores like Wal-Mart. The group Oppose Wal-Mart has submitted its Notice of Intention to Circulate a Petition with the city clerk on Monday of this week. The City Measure is titled “Taxpayers’ Initiative Ordinance To Reduce Costly Effects Of High Intensity Urban Development By Preserving Atascadero’s Unique Small Town Character.” According to Oppose Wal-Mart, the Measure will ask the voters to amend the Atascadero Zoning Ordinances to approve a maximum limitation (cap) of 150,000 s.f. on the size of any single big box commercial structure and prohibit discount superstores in all zoning districts of the city. “The purposes and intent of this measure are to: Guarantee the right of Atascadero’s citizens to determine Atascadero’s future growth and quality of life; Preserve and better implement the overall intention and Smart Growth Principles of the 2025 General Plan; Ensure the long-term economic viability of existing commercial plazas; Prevent concentration of traffic and associated air quality impacts; Ensure the region’s welfare and prevent the adverse impacts of L.A. style urbanization.” The group notes that the County and all major cities on the Central Coast already ban discount superstores and many have size caps. Tom Comar, spokesperson for Oppose Wal-Mart, says the petition will “shield the City and citizens from the negative impacts superstores are anticipated to have, such as, cannibalization of existing businesses and their sales tax revenue, jobs, and small-town character, higher taxes and utility rates to subsidize growth, increased air, water, noise and light pollution, crowding, congestion and increased crime, and inadequacy of city services.” The ordinance itself says that “Big box commercial structures shall be prohibited in all zoning districts in the city,” and defines “big box commercial structures” as “an individual retail commercial establishment with 150,000 square feet of gross floor area. The ‘gross floor area,’ of such a store includes outdoor storage areas, any outdoor area providing services, such as, but not limited to, outdoor merchandising display, garden supplies, plant display, snack bars, etc. ‘Gross floor area,’ however, does not include loading area. For the purpose of determining the applicability of the 150,000 square feet maximum, the aggregate square footage of all adjacent stores within 300 yards which may share either a series of checkout stands, management areas, storage area, common entrances, or a controlling ownership interest, shall be considered a single commercial establishment (for example, a plant nursery associated with a general merchandise store or home improvement store, or a discount department store associated with a grocery store).” The proposed ordinance also prohibits “Discount Superstores” in all zoning districts within the city, which is defined as “a retail discount store in excess of 90,000 square feet with at least 5% of gross floor area dedicated to non-taxable goods such as groceries. Wholesale clubs or other establishments selling primarily bulk merchandise and charging membership dues or otherwise restricting sales to customers paying a periodic assessment or fee shall be excluded from this definition.” Oppose Wal-Mart undertook this effort knowing that Wal-Mart spends as much as half a million dollars of corporate money to oppose such initiatives.
The proposed ordinance also allows city officials to “adopt guidelines to implement and interpret this Initiative measure following public notice and public hearing, provided that any such guidelines shall be consistent with the provisions and intent of this measure. Any such guidelines must be adopted by two-thirds’ vote of the City Council.” Oppose Wal-Mart says that their ordinance “will ensure the retention of the historic Colony Landscape pattern, unique small-town rural character and atmosphere of the City, and ensure these qualities are protected for present and future generations. Besides consistency with the General Plan, these proposed amendments will protect the public welfare.” The group is concerned about “the long-term economic viability of neighborhood commercial centers in the city along El Camino that are grocery-based anchor tenants, i.e. Spencer’s, Food for Less, Albertson, and Vons plazas (two or more could close down, resulting in increased vacancy rates and a general physical deterioration of the center as a whole).” Oppose Wal-Mart notes that “these proposed amendments are in keeping with zoning ordinances that have been in effect for years on the Central Coast that either limits the size of or the amount of groceries a discount store may sell, including the County of San Luis Obispo itself, and the cities of Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo, Arroyo Grande and Santa Maria. These proposed amendments will confirm the City of Atascadero’s commitment to the region’s economic goals and welfare.” For further background on the Atascadero Big Box Ordinance Petition, contact Tom Comar, Spokesperson for Oppose Wal-Mart at 805-461-3710.