Salinas May Repeal Big-Box Ban
Voters in Salinas might not get to weigh in on Wal-Mart.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
With Wal-Mart bankrolling the campaign and cash-strapped Salinas footing the bill to put a big-box ban on the ballot, some councilmembers are reconsidering sending this fight to voters.
Salinas Councilman Tony Barrera’s vote was one of five that approved the ordinance, which would restrict retailers 90,000 square feet or larger from selling groceries in more than 5 percent of the floor space. But Barrera says he may vote to repeal the ordinance on June 2. “Dollar for dollar, we can’t compete against Wal-Mart,” he says.
After the council agreed to limit the amount of grocery space Wal-Mart could have in a new store planned for Harden Ranch, Salinas Consumers for Choice, a political group funded by Wal-Mart, submitted some 7,195 signatures (about 15 percent of Salinas’ registered voters) to allow city residents to vote on a referendum that would overturn the City Council’s big-box ban.
Salinas Consumers for Choice spent more than $42,000 on the petition; Wal-Mart has contributed $60,500 to the group.
The city would have to spend about $230,000 to put the issue on the November ballot—or three times that much to hold a special election. Barrera says it’s hard to justify the expense when city employees are taking furloughs and pay cuts to offset a $12.6 million deficit next fiscal year.
Mayor Dennis Donohue, who voted against the ordinance, says the city should remove the restraint on businesses. “We should repeal it because it’s the right thing to do in terms of maximum economic flexibility,” Donohue says. Salinas Valley growers and the Chamber of Commerce support Donohue’s position.
Taking the side of labor unions, which are the principal backers of the anti-big box law, Councilman Sergio Sanchez says the city should let voters decide.
“The cheaper prices can be attractive in the long run, but I don’t think [Wal-Mart] benefits businesses,” he says. “It definitely doesn’t benefit workers.”