Sprawl-Busters reported on November 30, 2006 that the San Diego, California city council had taken the first major step towards imposing a cap on the size of retail buildings when it voted 5-3 on November 28th to ban retail stores of more than 90,000 s.f. that use 10% of their interior space to sell groceries or other merchandise that is not subject to sales tax. This ordinance is modeled on similar ordinances in California, most notably Turlock, where Wal-Mart has failed repeatedly to challenge the law in the courts. The Mayor of San Diego told reporters at the time that he would veto the new cap if it went through its required second vote in January. Councilman Tony Young, who voted for the cap, told the Associated Press, “I have a vision for San Diego and that vision is about walkable, livable communities, not big, mega-structures that inhibit people’s lives.” That vision came closer to reality yesterday, when the City Council voted to approve the big box ordinance. As adopted, the measure would limit the size of superstores, like the ones that Wal-Mart has been trying to build. The second reading of the ordinance was delayed from the original January date, so that the public could have time to comment. San Diego’s act is pre-emptive, since the city currently has no Wal-Mart supercenter, but local sources indicate that Wal-Mart wants to add several supercenters in San Diego. As with November’s vote, the new ordinance was adopted on a 5-3 vote. Mayor Jerry Sanders, who also opposed the ordinance, warns he will veto it, but 5 votes on the Council is enough to override the Mayor’s veto. Wal-Mart is now busy preparing to hire people to gather signatures to put the measure on the ballot in the form of a referendum. This would not appear before voters until February, 2008 — another nine month delay for Wal-Mart. The mayor has 10 days to veto the ordinance. The City Council will then have a month to vote to override his veto.
Sprawl-Busters wrote in November that Wal-Mart was likely to put this to a referendum, because their only other options are to pack their bags or go to court. But litigation was a dead end in the Turlock, California case. When the November vote happened, Wal-Mart was quoted as saying, “Certainly we’re disappointed but there’s still a number of steps left in this process. We need to look at what our options are.” But according to NBC San Diego, the company is already hiring signature gatherers. Wal-Mart dropped its legal challenge to the Turlock ordinance after a federal judge in Fresno said Turlock’s zoning law did not infringe on the company’s constitutional rights. The California Supreme Court refused to hear the case, so every state and federal legal action pursued by Wal-Mart went nowhere. San Diego, which has more than a million people, already has four Wal-Mart stores within its boundaries, but the retailer wants to convert them into larger superstores. Wal-Mart successfully implemented a referendum campaign in Contra Costa, California, to overturn a similar zoning law. The advantage to Wal-Mart in these voter campaigns is that they can dump an unlimited amount of corporate money into the effort. There is no campaign finance law that limits corporate contributions to a ballot question committee. As a result, it has become commonplace practice for Wal-Mart to spend a quarter of a million dollars or more on one referendum. Buying votes at Wal-Mart is not an everyday low price affair. Wal-Mart could build a 99,000 s.f. superstore. They have a prototype called the “Urban 99,” but the bigger the footprint, the bigger the profit. In the pursuit of extra sales, Wal-Mart is engaged in another drawn-out campaign — the kind that takes years to bear fruit, if ever. Readers should email Mayor Jerry Sanders and tell him, “Don’t veto the big box ordinance.” You can email him by going to: http://www.sandiego.gov/mayor/contact/