On August 14th, the City Council in Stockton, California joined a growing number of communities in capping the size of certain big box retail stores. By a vote of 6-1, the City Council voted to prohibit stores that exceed 100,000 square feet and which contain full-size grocery stores. The ordinance exempts discount stores like Costco or Sam’s Club. There is one Wal-Mart superstore already in Stockton on East Hammer Lane which will not be affected, because it is already open for business. But the company has a second superstore under appeal in court that could be affected. According to The Record newspaper, more than 100 supporters of the ban cheered and applauded the City Council’s vote. “I don’t want to be a big-box city,” Councilwoman Susan Eggman told residents. The Council said that any more superstores would cripple local shops and hurt the downtown’s comeback and the city’s image. Stockton knows that such bans are legal, and so took their vote with little concern that Wal-Mart would try to sue them. The hearing on the ordinance lasted more than three hours. A Wal-Mart spokesman said his company had not decided whether to build a smaller store in place of its planned big boxes. The Wal-Mart spokesman said the ban would limit competition and hurt consumers, who depend on Wal-Mart for low prices, and workers, who depend on Wal-Mart for a job. The ban voted on last week began in February of 2007, when Vice Mayor Leslie Baranco Martin and Councilman Clem Lee called for a way to block superstores. The council then voted unanimously to ask the city Planning Commission to write such an ordinance. In May the Planning Commission considered it, but voted it down. Food 4 Less Stockton, which owns local grocery stores, lobbied for the ban, and a citizen’s group, called Protect Weston Ranch Coalition, appealed the ordinance to the council. The Phoenix, Arizona based Vestar Development Co. had proposed a Wal-Mart Supercenter as the anchor for a planned shopping center in Weston Ranch. The company announced that it would withdraw from the project if the cap was adopted. Another developer planning a Super Target also testified against the ban.
Wal-Mart has a store planned for Spanos Park West. The city approved the store in 2004, but a San Joaquin County Superior Court judge ruled the approval was illegal, and the case is now on appeal. If the court rules for Wal-Mart, the retailer would need no further permits from the city, because it pre-dates the new ordinance. If Wal-Mart loses its appeal, and if it had to apply again to put a store in Spanos Park West — the ban would impact that store. This Stockton ordinance is another victory for local residents’ organizing, and for the effort of the United Food and Commercial Workers, who have promoted such ordinances for years. For related stories, search Newsflash by “California.”