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Thu, Nov 30, 2006 - Page 10 News List

San Diego takes aim at Wal-Mart with big store ban

NOT WELCOME The city council voted in favor of a controversial ban on megastores in a bid to prevent large chains from moving into the area


The city council voted late on Tuesday to ban certain giant retail stores, dealing a blow to Wal-Mart Stores Inc's potential to expand in the nation's eighth-largest city.

The measure, approved on a 5-3 vote, prohibits stores of more than 8,100m2 that use 10 percent of space to sell groceries and other merchandise that is not subject to sales tax. It takes aim at Wal-Mart Supercenter stores, which average 16,650m2 and sell groceries.

Mayor Jerry Sanders will veto the ban if the Council reaffirms it on a second vote, which will likely happen in January, said mayoral spokesman Fred Sainz. The Council can override his veto with five votes.

"What the Council did tonight was social engineering, not good public policy," Sainz said.

Supporters of the ban argued that Wal-Mart's presence puts smaller competitors out of business, pays workers poorly, and contributes to traffic congestion and pollution.

Opponents said that the mega-retailer provides jobs and low prices and that such a ban would limit the choices available for consumers.

"Quite simply, I do not think it is the role of the San Diego City Council to dictate where families should buy their groceries," said Councilman Kevin Faulconer, who opposed the ban.

Councilman Tony Young, who joined the 5-3 majority, countered, "I have a vision for San Diego and that vision is about walkable, livable communities, not big, mega-structures that inhibit people's lives."

Wal-Mart spokesman Kevin McCall said the Bentonville, Arkansas-based company may consider a legal challenge or voter referendum if the measure becomes law.

"Certainly we're disappointed but there's still a number of steps left in this process," he said. "We need to look at what our options are."

Wal-Mart has about 2,000 Supercenter stores, including 21 in California, but none in the San Diego area.

The retailer has 18 regular Wal-Mart stores in the San Diego area, including four within limits of the city of 1.3 million people.

Wal-Mart has not disclosed any plans for a Supercenter store in San Diego area. Sainz, the mayoral spokesman, said the retailer probably wants to expand.

"It's complete and total guesswork but I'm inclined to think they would," Sainz said. "Everything I've seen and heard from them makes me think they would."

San Diego's move comes two months after the Chicago City Council failed to override Mayor Richard Daley's veto of a so-called "living-wage" ordinance that would have required giant retailers to pay their workers higher wages.

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