Megastore gets set to take on Salinas big-box ban.
Thursday, June 10, 2004
Wal-Mart, the big, bad discount behemoth, looks to be targeting Salinas elected officials who last month called for an ordinance to effectively ban big-box stores like Wal-Mart Supercenters.
In May, the council voted 5-2 to ask city staff to draft a law that would ban stores bigger than 135,000 square feet. Then Salinas City Attorney Wren Nosky’s phone started ringing. It was Wal-Mart.
Nosky says the super-sized store hasn’t filed a lawsuit against the city—yet.
“We have had a couple of phone conversations with Wal-Mart attorneys,” Nosky says. “No litigation has been threatened. But do I think it’s a threat? Absolutely.
“If an ordinance is adopted—and that is not a fait accompli—I expect the level of rhetoric with Wal-Mart will step up in intensity. So far it’s been—I wouldn’t characterize it as friendly—I guess not very hostile.”
Wal-Mart did not return calls seeking comment.
After an ordinance has been written, the council will hold a public hearing on the proposed big-box ban before voting on the draft law. A hearing date has not been set. Nosky says he expects the proposal to return to the council in July or August.
The council’s decision to move forward with the big-box ban follows Wal-Mart’s aggressive announcement that it will build 40 supercenters in California over the next few years. Some Wal-Mart Supercenters swell upwards of 220,000 square feet—about the size of six football fields.
The mega-retailer has also begun targeting cities and counties that have tried to thwart its development plan, filing lawsuits against some cities, including Lodi and Turlock, and forcing ballot initiatives elsewhere, such as Contra Costa County and Inglewood.
“Our staff is walking on eggwshells,” says Councilmember Jyl Lutes, the council’s most vocal opponent of huge big-box stores. “All across the nation, supercenters have been targeting councilmembers who have supported ordinances banning these big stores, and targeting cities with lawsuits and alternate ballot measures.”
Less than a week after voting in support of the supercenter ban, Lutes was the target—and the recipient—of a suspicious phone survey.
“They just said it was a market survey,” Lutes says. “They were asking questions about whether or not I supported an ordinance to prevent a supercenter or a Wal-Mart from coming in; would I vote for a city councilmember who voted for such an ordinance. And then they gave me a list of reasons why it was not a good idea to have an ordinance banning Wal-Mart—good prices, convenience, accessibility, choice of where to shop.”
Lutes and others have repeatedly criticized super-sized chain stores for driving neighborhood grocery stores out of business, increasing gridlock on city streets and highways, and offering employees low wages and few benefits.
“I understand that people like what’s inside the store—the low prices, the convenience “ Lutes says. “But they hate what happens outside the store—the traffic, the ugliness and acres and acres of concrete. We can’t afford the social costs.”