In a startling turnabout, San Diego City Councilmember Donna Frye on Tuesday changed her mind on a law passed last month that essentially banned Wal-Mart Supercenters within the city of San Diego, effectively killing the law, which had been several years in the making.
The ban passed in June by the skin of its teeth, a 5-3 vote, with Frye voting with Council President Scott Peters and Councilmembers Toni Atkins, Ben Hueso and Tony Young (all Democrats). The majority cited adverse impacts on small business, traffic and neighborhood character. Councilmembers Jim Madaffer, Brian Maienschein and Kevin Faulconer (all Republicans) voted against the ban, citing low, low prices and freedom of choice for consumers.
As he promised, Mayor Jerry Sanders vetoed the law, forcing the City Council to hold a veto-override vote this week. Because the council can override a veto with the same five votes that pass a law, a veto is largely symbolic—unless one of a five-vote majority changes his or her vote.
"I have serious and great concerns about the impact of supercenters on mom-and-pop stores," she told an audience that included many disappointed supporters of the ban. But because she believes Wal-Mart would prevail in a public referendum, Frye chose instead to head down a path that would give the City Council greater control over development proposals on a case-by-case basis.
"I do not like the idea of having giant supercenters," she said, "but I also believe there is a way to deal with this issue that will inherently be better for our city."
Frye suggested an ordinance that would require Wal-Mart and other big-box retailers that propose building huge stores that also sell groceries to apply for a conditional-use permit, which allows the highest level of public input, and pay for an independent study of neighborhood economic impacts.
The council will discuss her proposal further at a future meeting.
"It's a sad day today," reacted Councilmember Young. He and Hueso repeated their fears that, absent a ban, Wal-Mart would build what Young called "monstrosities" in their districts, which are home to some of the lowest-income San Diegans. Peters added that he knows of no one who wants one in his or her own community.
Seeking an in-public commitment to play nice, Frye asked Wal-Mart spokesperson Aaron Rios how his employer would react to her recommendation, prompting Young to wonder aloud why the council was asking for a private company's permission to set policy.
CityBeat broke the story of Frye's plan on its blog (www.lastblogonearth.com) on Tuesday morning. Not that that's a big deal-we just want to promote the blog.
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