Discovering the formula - Page 2

Is San Francisco's local charm really safe?
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19 after Guardian press time.
Maxwell's legislation could become moot this November if voters approve Proposition G, the Small Business Protection Act, which would extend conditional-use permitting to the entire city, making any proposal from a chain store subject to public hearings and an arduous Environmental Impact Review at the expense of the applicant, not the city.
Dozens of counties and municipalities have enacted similar ordinances around the country in response to the track records of megaretailers. Public criticism is mounting against corporations such as Wal-Mart and Home Depot for drawing the shopping masses by reducing prices to quash smaller competitors and for pulling profits out of communities instead of keeping them local, as small businesses tend to do.
But the chain stores aren't just rolling over.
"It's happening in enough places that it's reached a point where they're feeling nervous about how it's affecting their growth," Mitchell said about the retail giants. Her organization has been assisting communities for several years in drafting legislation against formula retail and is seeing some of that legislation undercut by voracious chain stores. Wal-Mart, the most notorious foe, dumps thousands of dollars into local election races. The tactic is especially evident in California.
"Wal-Mart spends more in California than anywhere," said Nu Wexler, spokesperson for Wal-Mart Watch, a Washington-based organization with hawk eyes on the company. "They have active lobbying in all 50 states, but California is a particularly important market for them."
He attributes that to the state's status as the sixth-largest economy in the world. In 2002, Wal-Mart promised to open 40 supercenters in the state within four to six years. As of October 2005, only six had been opened. "They're fighting expansion battles all over the country, but they're having an especially difficult time in California," Wexler said. Inglewood, Turlock, and Hercules have all recently dodged Wal-Mart.
But several other cities have not, despite protective measures, and in the last year 12 more supercenters have opened in California, bringing the grand total to 19.
Contra Costa County, apropos of no immediate threat, passed a 2003 ordinance prohibiting "big box" stores over 90,000 square feet. In response, Wal-Mart dumped more than $1.5 million campaigning for a measure overriding the ordinance on the next available ballot. In 2004, the ordinance was overturned by 54 percent of voters.
Four years of fighting in Rosemead resulted in two city council shake-ups, with a recall election of two council members set to be decided this week; a possible Brown Act violation when city officials approved a permit for Wal-Mart during a meeting when it wasn't on the agenda; and multiple lawsuits from both sides. Wal-Mart spent $200,000 campaigning and dropped another $100,000 in local charities to spread some good cheer. It worked: doors opened at a new supercenter Sept. 18.
Last August, a Wal-Mart opened just across the bay in Oakland even though the city already had a ban on big-box retail larger than 2.5 acres. Spurning the city's provincial laws, Wal-Mart found real estate regulated by the Port of Oakland — which, similar to San Francisco's port, is outside the city's jurisdiction and not subject to local ordinances.
"It was passed in a backroom deal with the port before the city could have any public hearings," said Adam Gold, a spokesperson from Just Cause Oakland, a local group that opposed the store. "It made it difficult to resist it. It had already been approved."
At the state level, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recently vetoed Senate Bill 1414, introduced by San Francisco's state senator Carol Migden, which would have required employers with more than 10,000 workers to put 8 percent of total wages toward health care.