You can keep a Wal-Mart superstore out of your community with just one sentence. Santa Clara, Californai is about to do just that. Just over a month ago the City Council in Santa Clara voted 5-1 to draft up an ordinance that will ban superstores over 90,000 s.f. that include a grocery component, and require an Economic Impact Assessment for all retail stores over 75,000 s.f. A model of the ordinance was presented to the City Council by the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council (SBLC). In front of a large crowd of more than 100 anti-big box advocates, the Council voted to prepare the ordinance for a vote in late April. The economic assessment would require the developer or land owner to provide information on the impact of the project on existing retail stores, job quality information and a fiscal analysis. “Santa Clara has the opportunity to step to the forefront of responsible government,” a member of the SBLC told the Council before it voted to prepare an ordinance. “Big Boxes are cancers that require increased traffic on hundreds of arterial thoroughfares to survive,” said a spokesman for the Greenbelt Alliance. “Santa Clara and its residents stand for a more environmentally-friendly ideal.” Ron Lind, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5, told the City Council that Big Box stores offer low quality jobs that lower wage and benefit standards for grocery workers. “Our members are not just ‘union members,'” he said. “They’re your neighbors. They’re the guy you know at the Safeway. Their kids go to school with yours.” The SBLC credited City Councilors Dominic Caserta and Jamie McLeod for working on the Big Box ordinance for more than a year. City staff was instructed to have the ordinance ready for adoption in 60 days.
During debate on the big box ordinance, City Council member Will Kennedy, who is a consumer protection attorney, was the only member to vote against preparing the ordinance. Kennedy told his colleagues, “Many small businesses in Santa Clara have already gone out of business and we don’t even have a Wal-Mart. We have a Costco and that’s basically done the same thing… our local bakery is gone, hardware stores are gone… I don’t support the ordinance approach because I think we might miss the mark here. The one thing that’s constant is things change. If this ordinance is ever enforced, it’ll be enforced in 10 years, 15 years, 20 years, who knows who will come forward. Or actually won’t come forward, it could be another Costco-type of store, it could be anything — we don’t know. But since there’s an ordinance that prevents their even making an application, we’ll never see it or hear about it. And that’s my concern because there is a real desire for retail in this city and let’s face it, cities do need, in order to pay our workers, we need the sales tax revenues, so I don’t like this across the board approach. I would rather do it in an approach that would allow us to evaluate whatever store we’re dealing with, which may not be Wal-Mart, it could be completely different at the time that we actually deal with the issue.” Readers are urged to email City Councilor Will Kennedy at http://santaclaraca.gov/about_us/email-us.aspx?MayorandCouncil with the following message: “Dear Councilor Kennedy, You are right that Costco has the same corrosive effect on small businesses that Wal-Mart has, but the corporations coming to Santa Clara with big box stores are most likely going to be national chains that will change the small town character of Santa Clara. Your city already has 8 Wal-Mart stores within 25 miles, including the San Jose Wal-Mart on Story Road less than 6 miles away to the southeast, and the Milpitas store on Ranch Drive, also less than 6 miles away to the northeast. You are already saturated with discount stores. As time goes on, Wal-Mart will be seeking to close all those discount stores and either expand them, or build another superstore close by. These stores will increase traffic and crime in Santa Clara — but they will not dramatically change net sales — because most of their sales will be captured from existing merchants, or from other Wal-Marts in the area. These chain stores will only start to build smaller stores when local officials begin demanding it of them. A Wal-Mart supercenter adds no value economically to Santa Clara, and the proposed limit on the size of superstores is the most straight-forward way to keep them out. Your smaller, locally-owned businesses will fare better, and more money will circulate in the trade area, instead of being siphoned off to Arkansas. I urge you to vote for the Big Box Ordinance when it comes before the City Council in April. You can’t buy small town quality of life on any shelf at Wal-Mart. But once they take it away from you, you can’t buy it back at any price.”