Councilmember Todd Gloria appeared before San Diego's planning commissioners on Thursday on behalf of a new city ordinance that would protect small neighborhood markets by making it more difficult for mega-retail stores exceeding 90,000 square feet to open in the city.
The ordinance requires big-box retailers, such as Super Walmart and Super Target, to add to their cart during checkout an economic analysis that would determine how a mega-retailer would impact local businesses.
Last June, the Land Use and Housing Committee directed the city attorney's office to draft an ordinance. Now drafted, the ordinance was presented to the planning commissioners at their October 7 meeting without the development services department having had the opportunity to vet the ordinance. City council is expected to hear the item during a November 16 meeting.
"A number of studies have documented the potential for big-box superstores that also sell groceries to undermine the usability of local commercial centers, increase traffic levels, and increase the potential for neighborhood blight," testified Gloria to the planning commission.
Gloria and other proponents of the ordinance say the measure would drive down the price that the small neighborhood businesses has been paying in competing with the big-box retail centers, while opponents feel the ordinance is anti-business and pro-union and was pushed through without proper review.
"I can't help wonder why the ordinance is being considered at all," said attorney Thomas Turner whose firm, Procopio, Cory, Hargreaves, and Savitch, represents Walmart.
"Prospective applicants would elect to pursue a project outside city limits," said Walmart's lawyer. "The proposed ordinance results in an outright ban on the stores."
After 12 public speakers — all but one opposed to the ordinance — the city's planning commissioners demonstrated their frustration that the item was put through the express checkout before getting development services department's approval.
"We are basically being told that it doesn't matter, this is moving on, and I am offended by that," said planning commissioner Robert Griswold, who earlier in the meeting admitted to owning stock in Walmart and Costco.
Councilmember Gloria responded to the commissioner's concerns: "This is a new form of government (strong-mayor system), where the legislative branch does not have the same relationship with the development services staff that we once did."
After other planning commissioners expressed their frustration and anger, they unanimously passed a motion encouraging the council to submit the ordinance to the city's development services department before the council hears the issue.