COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | RICHARD RIDER

Wal-Mart working to repeal San Diego superstore ban

In November, the San Diego mayor, the city council, the labor unions and the downtown business subsidy establishment (the Chamber of Commerce, etc.) got their collectivist backsides handed to them on their Prop D sales tax increase. With a 62 percent "no" vote, it was the most lopsided defeat of a sales tax increase I've seen to date. After an epic battle, it was a particularly satisfying win for the rest of us.

Now, some of these same losers are facing a second, potentially larger humiliating defeat next spring. A majority of our city council recently voted to impose a de facto ban on Wal-Mart superstores in the city.

Bad decision. And it’s about to become a really bad decision.

Wal-Mart has decided to go to the mattresses on this one.

Apparently they are tired of labor union-controlled politicos banning what clearly is a popular business service -- selling groceries and other goods at a substantial discount, saving families thousands of dollars annually.

Without fanfare, Wal-Mart is spending the needed bucks to referend the Wal-Mart ban ordinance -- to bring it to a public vote. Perhaps you've seen the professional signature gatherers outside Wal-Mart, Vons and other stores. There is not the slightest chance that they won't qualify this voter referendum for the ballot.

A referendum differs somewhat from a proposition or initiative. It is not a vote to pass a law. It is a vote to rescind a law recently passed.

A referendum is very difficult to do -- usually. Opponents of an ordinance have only 30 days after a law is passed to print petitions (which must include the full ordinance), collect the needed signatures and submit them to government.

Too often such a referendum is a ragtag effort, and fails to succeed in the short time frame allowed. But Wal-Mart is no ragtag outfit.

It appears to me that Wal-Mart has drawn a line in the sand. No mas!

And they've chosen well in selecting San Diego as the major city battleground against union attacks on Wal-Mart and on consumers. San Diego voters are sick and tired of labor unions running our state, county and city governments -- not to mention our school boards.

While San Diego is not a particularly conservative city, the Prop D vote shows a widespread disdain for our city leaders and their bigger government agenda. Where labor union endorsements USED to be a positive thing for candidates and causes, such is no longer the case here.

I predict that supporters of consumer choice (the Wal-Mart position) will win the election by a 2 to 1 margin. Labor can spend its usual big bucks on their propaganda, but Wal-Mart spending will make it an even contest. And an even contest means defeat for the labor unions.

The Wal-Mart ban supporters have only two lame arguments to offer:

1. "It is not a ban." Wrong. With a city council controlled by labor, and with a majority city council vote required to OK a Wal-Mart superstore application, the ordinance clearly is a ban. Wal-Mart knows it, and so do the labor bosses -- who are surely gloating over their recent victory against the public -- and especially against the lower to middle class folks in the city.

2. "A referendum special election will cost the city millions." Yes -- and no. A special election (which will be required) with only the Wal-Mart referendum on the ballot could theoretically cost up to $3 million -- if a conventional election is held with precinct polls, etc. But if the election is a mail ballot, the cost could be far less -- I'd guess it would cost about $800,000-$1 million.

Such a mail ballot has been done before in San Diego. In the 1980s we had a special mail ballot election concerning taxpayer funding of the downtown convention center. The voter "turnout" for the arcane special election was astonishingly high -- and that was decades ago when few voted "absentee." Today half the citizens in San Diego routinely vote using a mail ballot.

But there's an even better solution. While the city’s Wal-Mart ban is now a law, the city council can pass a new ordinance to rescind the ban.

Of course, even with the addition of consumer champion Lorie Zapf, the council still appears deadlocked 4-4 on this issue. But, faced with an unneeded special election and the accompanying humiliating defeat, one or more of the Gang of Four labor union sycophants may decide that they don't need their teeth kicked in by voters -- again.

I must admit, the frisky soul within me relishes the idea of this election. If the city council refuses to rescind the ban -- saving the city the cost and aggravation of a special election whose outcome is clear -- I will look forward to joining the consumer coalition that will take our union-owned politicians to the wood shed for a much deserved, good old fashioned whuppin'.

Rider is chairman of the San Diego Tax Fighters.

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Richard Rider 2:51pm December 13, 2010

(CONTINUED) My bet is that our SD city council will do the same. The city council labor union acolytes are still bleeding from the Prop D thumping, and they don't relish another even more lop-sided defeat. Even the mayor would oppose them. No one wants a $3 million election -- including the labor unions who call the shots. Hence one or more of the Gang of Four will "see the light" and vote to rescind the ban. That surrender will please me -- sorta. I'm really looking forward to boxing their anti-big box ears in an election. It would be a massacre.

Richard Rider 2:44pm December 13, 2010

(CONTINUED) Latest cost figures indicate such a single issue full San Diego special election could cost the city over $3 million. If it is done by mail ballot, a rough estimate of savings would be in the 50% range -- or less. And if part of a statewide election, the savings could be larger. But consider the recent Salinas experience. As I understand it, the city politicos there did the unions' bidding, banning a big box Wal-Mart. The company responded with a referendum petition drive (with LOTS of extra sigs), and the city council wisely rescinded their mistake -- negating the need for a stinkin' election.

Richard Rider 2:40pm December 13, 2010

I've done a bit more research on the San Diego city super Wal-Mart referendum time line. Wal-Mart needs only 31,029 valid signatures. After the petitions are submitted (they MUST be submitted by 3 January), the city has 30 days to verify the sigs. After verification, it goes before our city council. The council then has an opportunity to rescind the ordinance (requiring a 5-3 vote). Assuming the Gang of Four wants to absorb another beating at the polls (leaving the council in a 4-4 deadlock), the election then must be scheduled within the next 11 months. I suspect Gov. Brown ET AL will put tax increases on the statewide ballot in the late spring or summer, so that could be the time of the election.