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Brown veto means victory for 'big-box' stores in county, state

Wal-Mart has earned a victory in its effort to add supercenter stores in San Diego County and around California.

Last month, Gov. Jerry Brown announced his veto of a measure by State Sen. Juan Vargas (D-San Diego) that would have required economic impact studies on big-box supercenters prior to their approval.

"While I recognize that the merits of large-scale projects need to be carefully considered, plenty of laws are already on the books that enable and in some cases require cities and counties to carefully assess whether these projects are in a community's best interest," Brown wrote. "This bill (SB469) would add yet another layer of review to an already cumbersome process."

Vargas' bill would have required local jurisdictions to assess how a big box retailer -- not just Wal-Mart -- would impact jobs, business districts, traffic and properties, before a project could go forward.

Sen. Vargas, who dubbed his measure the Small and Neighborhood Business Protection Act, vowed to continue his efforts.

"Research continues to show that supercenters cause business districts to suffer, significantly decrease the net number of jobs and often rely on taxpayer-funded government services, like Medicaid, to provide health care for their employees," Vargas said in a statement. "I will continue to work to make sure that our communities know the truth about these supercenters and how they claim to be creating jobs, when actually they are destroying them."

Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT) officials countered Vargas' remarks with a statement of its own.

"Wal-Mart joins city officials, industry groups, businesses and nonprofits across California in thanking Governor Brown for vetoing SB469, a bill that would have cost Californians thousands of jobs and created additional obstacles to business growth and attraction," the Bentonville, Ark.-based company wrote. "The veto helps restore confidence in our state’s economic future, especially during a time we should all be working together to create economic development opportunities for our communities. We look forward to doing our part to grow the state’s economy and create quality jobs while helping Californians save money on the products they need."

Some Walmart Supercenters already exist in the county, with more are on the way.

The city of Poway, which has had a Walmart on Community Road for many years, has seen many of the same arguments that Vargas has made. There also have been arguments that the regularly-sized Walmart contributes to vacancies on nearby Poway Road.

Those concerns notwithstanding, on a 4-1 vote late last month (Councilman David Grosch dissented), the Poway City Council voted to permit the existing 142,000-square-foot store to add 36,000 square feet with a grocery component to its store.

Along with groceries, the stores offer amenities like full-service bakeries and delicatessen functions that can be found in larger supermarkets.

The Poway store won't be the only Walmart Supercenter in San Diego County.

Wal-Mart opened its first San Diego County supercenter in Oceanside in July 2009.

Oceanside was followed by a supercenter in EastLake in the fall of that year, and another was added on Camino Canada in El Cajon in mid-2010. A Vista Walmart became a supercenter in fall 2010.

Wal-Mart also has large supercenters in Riverside communities such as Temecula and La Quinta.

The city of San Diego has wrestled whether to restrict supercenters during the past couple of years.

The City Council initially approved an ordinance late last year that required many of the same things Vargas had called for, but it didn't hold up.

After Wal-Mart said it had enough signatures for a vote to overturn the measure, the council reversed itself.

While supercenters seem to attract most of the publicity these days, not all of the Walmart stores here will be supercenters, as there is a planned store in Encinitas, formerly a Home Expo, along Leucadia Boulevard.

Work to convert the roughly 100,000-square-foot store is expected to take about one year.

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