Thursday, February 5, 2009
Salinas Councilwoman Jyl Lutes wants a city ordinance to preempt Wal-Mart from building a supercenter in Harden Ranch Plaza. Wal-Mart plans to move its existing discount store into the former Home Depot building, but Lutes fears a combination retail and grocery store would put nearby Target and Safeway out of business.
“They don’t have any problem with shutting Safeway down,” Lutes says. “Safeway is a California-based operation. The last thing we need is more California businesses going belly up.”
The Planning Commission will consider the big box ordinance Feb. 18, followed by the City Council on March 3, says Chris Callihan, senior deputy city attorney. The ordinance would restrict retail stores greater than 100,000 square feet from dedicating more than 5 percent of floor space to non-taxable food items.
It’s unclear, however, if the ordinance would affect Wal-Mart’s plans. The world’s largest corporation wants to move its Westridge store to Harden Ranch, remodel its current location and eventually operate two Wal-Marts in Salinas, says company spokesman Aaron Rios. The Home Depot location is 130,000 square feet including the garden center, about the same size of Wal-Mart’s current store.
Rios says Wal-Mart hasn’t determined how much food and retail will be in the stores, so it’s premature to say if a big box ordinance would derail its plans. The ordinance could hurt Salinas’ bottom line though, Rios says, adding that a second store would bring 230 jobs and $500,000 in sales tax revenue to the city: “Those type of ordinances are limiting to their retail opportunities.”
Lutes hopes to finish a fight she picked with Wal-Mart years ago. In 2004 the City Council pursued a big box ordinance. Wal-Mart lawyers started calling, and the issue never came to a vote.
Lutes asked staff to bring the ordinance back in December, about a month after Wal-Mart bought the Home Depot site for $8 million. While Lutes is eager to install roadblocks for the anti-union giant, Harden Ranch Leasing Director Fred Goldsmith says Wal-Mart is the only retailer willing to fill the empty parking lot after a four-year search.
Goldsmith says surrounding stores are struggling, and his company won’t be able to lease the empty Circuit City site until it has a strong anchor like Wal-Mart. “Each day they are vacant,” he says. “Each day they are not open is a disaster for us.”