Wal-Mart foes pressure Marina to ban larger models of big box stores.

Big Boxing Match: Pushing It: Some expect Wal-Mart to accelerate plans for expansion.— Jane Morba

Fearing that Wal-Mart will build a supercenter and drive out unionized grocery stores in Marina, big box foes want the City to pass an ordinance to stop the retailer from growing.

The law would restrict retail stores greater than 90,000 square feet from having more than 10,000 square feet of non-taxable items like groceries, says John Rowe, spokesman for Citizens Against Wal-Mart in Marina. Supermarkets like Albertson’s in Marina wouldn’t have to compete with the non-union retailer if the City passes the ordinance.

“It would stop [Wal-Mart] from destroying businesses,” he says.

The anti-Wal-Mart coalition wants the City to act before the retailer expands its store at the corner of Reservation and Beach roads.

But Mayor Ila Mettee-McCutchon says she’s in no hurry. She says it’s in the personal interest of Wal-Mart opponents like Rowe to keep a supercenter out of Marina. Rowe is a Safeway employee and a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers union.

“For them to try to rush us to adopt an ordinance because it’s in their personal interest does not make me in a hurry,” Mettee-McCutchon says, adding that Wal-Mart told her it would be two to three years before they would consider enlarging their footprint.

“It’s an opportunity to control our own destiny.”

Last month Wal-Mart purchased the property and an adjoining parcel from Tallen & Keshen Holdings. The real estate group originally leased the site to Wal-Mart with plans to put in a major retail store and small shop next to the anchor store.

Now that Wal-Mart owns the 10-acre site, the retail giant could build a supercenter with a full-line supermarket. Spokesman Kevin Loscotoff says the company doesn’t plan to a build supercenter, but owning the land will allow Wal-Mart to expand in the future.

“It’s an opportunity to control our own destiny and be able to fulfill any future customer needs in Marina,” he says.

The City Council could seal Wal-Mart’s fate. Next month councilmembers will review a report on big box ordinances. Councilmembers told staff to research the issue in April 2006—the same month the city of Turlock won a nearly three-year legal battle with Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart sued Turlock after it banned retail stores greater than 100,000 square feet that devote more than 5 percent of space to non-taxable items. A state appeals court upheld the ordinance because it was consistent with the city’s general plan.

Councilman Ken Gray says a similar ordinance could defend the city’s unionized supermarket jobs. “It seems like a good idea,” he says, “to try it to protect good paying jobs and try to limit the potential adverse impact of the world’s largest corporation on the small businesses of Marina.”

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