There’s trouble in paradise for the likes of Wal-Mart and Target. For most Americans, Hawaii conjures up beautiful beaches and far-away paradise. But the paradise in Hawaii now comes with Home Depots and Wal-Marts. On the island of Maui, they want to change all that. The Maui News reported recently that the Maui County Council Planning Committee has taken an initial step on legislation that would amend the county’s zoning laws to prohibit large discount retailers. The committee recommended that a bill to prohibit superstores in Maui County should be forwarded to the three county planning commissions for review as well as to the Hana Advisory Committee, the Maui Planning Commission and the Maui County Cultural Resources Commission. Council Chairman Riki Hokama introduced the bill when he became aware that other counties in the state are working on similar legislation. The Kaua’i County Council in May, 2007 approved a law prohibiting retail or wholesale store larger than 75,000 s.f. Kaua’i is the first in the state to implement a ban on large stores. “I don’t have a problem being considered a protector, if that’s what it takes to protect local people and the economy,” Hokama explained after discussing how big-box stores such as Target and Wal-Mart try to dominate the regional trade area. Hokama explained that oversized discounters have a negative impact on the economy when they affect smaller businesses. “Is it worth it?” he said. “It’s time for us to address those hard questions.” Hokama’s bill would set limits on retail facilities or expansion of retail facilities exceeding 90,000 s.f., offering more than 25,000 different products or dedicating more than 20,000 s.f. to groceries. The Maui bill is modeled on what Sprawl-Busters calls “the California Cap” because it was developed by the United Food and Commercial Workers to prevent large superstore groceries from proliferating. The cap does not affect stores like Costco and Home Depot. Maui already has a 136,000 s.f. Costco, a 141,892 s.f. Wal-Mart, and a 150,500 s.f. Home Depot. Residents on Maui have been receiving anti-big box mailings that say, “Do we want Maui, Hawaii, or anywhere USA?” The Maui News reported that few people showed up for the hearing on Hokama’s bill, but one local resident told the Council, “No self-respecting person should be caught dead in Wal-Mart. All we want is cheap, cheap, cheap. Even Kmart is empty because it’s cheaper at Wal-Mart. All the money is going to China. Not the nice Chinese people, we are talking about the Chinese.” Another Maui resident lamented the “gauntlet of fast foods and parking lots and big-box stores” now present on the island, which is one of the first things visitors see when they come to Maui. “We are beginning to look like anytown U.S.A.” He said the mom-and-pop stores he was familiar with are gone, because they “couldn’t compete, plain and simple.” “I don’t think this bill is anti-business; I think it will enhance local business,” he said. The manager of the Kahului Wal-Mart testified that Wal-Mart supports the local community while providing jobs. She said 40% of the items in Hawai’i Wal-Marts are from 53 local vendors. She said the Hokama bill was “anti-competition and unfair,” especially to the local vendors. On Maui, she said, Wal-Mart is a large employer of local people and the store also makes large donations to the community. The county’s administrative planning officer asked the council to amend the bill to make it similar to the Kauai law. He suggested having the bill define either where superstores could be or set limits and development standards in the different zoning areas or districts. He said the provision to define a superstore by the number of products sold in the retail outlets would be difficult to enforce. Hokama made no changes to his bill, and referred it to the planning commissions for further work up.
Hawaii had a bitter battle with Wal-Mart in the downtown area, and Home Depot has had several local fights with Hawaiian groups. The transition to the large stores has neither been smooth nor easy. It is not suprising that now the communities are starting to fight back legislatively, and taking the same approach being promoted by unions on the west coast. The “California Cap” concept has spread throughout California, Arizona and other western states. In the east, the cap is usually a straightforward limit on size that has nothing to do with internal square footage. The “East Coast Cap” is easier to legislate, and applies to all big box stores, not just ones with groceries or other non-taxable goods. For earlier stories, search Newsflash by “caps.”