‘Kill Wal-Mart’ Bill Awaits Brown Action
By KATY GRIMES
The sequel “Kill Bill Vol. 3” will be released by director Quentin Tarantino in 2014. The plot might come from what’s called the “Kill Wal-Mart” bill that just passed the California Legislature.
SB 469 is by State Sen. Juan Vargas, D-San Diego. It’s officially called the Permit Streamlining Act. That may sound enticing. But it actually would have the opposite effect for bigger retail businesses in the state.
No wonder — for real — in the Capitol it’s commonly called the “Kill Wal-Mart Act.”
Backed by the powerful labor union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, SB 469 would require cities or counties to prepare economic impact reports before the approval of the construction of superstores such as those built by Wal-Mart.
At a time when jobs are disappearing from the state, members of the Assembly Republican Caucus expressed outrage that such a bill was even being considered.
Also called the “Small Business and Neighborhood Business Protection Act,” SB 469 defines a superstore as exceeding 90,000 square feet, selling a wide range of consumer goods and devoting 10 percent of the sales floor are to the sale of items that are exempted from the Sales and Use Tax Law. Commonly, that’s food.
The bill’s analysis says that “the goal of this bill is to create financial accountability and the transparency that local communities need to make land use decisions about the impact giant supercenters have on existing businesses, jobs, public services and neighborhoods.” But environmental and economic impact reports are already required.
The bill specifically excludes discount and warehouse stores such as Costco and Wal-Mart-affiliated Sam’s Club, partly because they also sell wholesale to other businesses. However, “Even Costco, which presumably would be helped by the bill, called it ‘protectionist, anti-competitive and anti-consumer,’” reported the Los Angeles Times.
“It is clear that SB 469 has one primary purpose: to erect legal barriers to make it more difficult for Wal-Mart to expand in California,” Costco Chief Executive Jim Sinegal wrote in an Aug. 4 letter to Vargas. “The consumer would be the loser because prices are likely to rise as a result of decreased competition in the marketplace.”
Many say the bill is a nod to labor unions and an attempt to control local governments.
“This interferes with local zoning laws,” said Assemblyman Brian Jones, R-La Mesa. “This law says the state knows better how to zone your community.”
Jones said that the bill was an overreach by unions. “This is extremely offensive.”
Assemblyman Chris Norby, R-Fullerton, said the bill might be acceptable if it only applied to projects receiving redevelopment subsidies. “It is a step too far by interfering with the private sector. It ought to be left up to private enterprise,” he said.
“If we don’t like Wal-Mart, why don’t we just tax Wal-Mart?” asked Assemblyman Don Wagner, R-Irvine.
The bill’s language continues:
“This bill would, in addition, require a city, county, or city and county, including a charter city, prior to approving or disapproving a proposed development project that would permit the construction of a superstore retailer, as defined, to cause an economic impact report to be prepared, as specified, to be paid for by the project applicant, and that includes specified assessments and projections including, among other things, an assessment of the effect that the construction and operation of the proposed superstore retailer will have on retail operations and employment in the same market area.”
That the bill specifically names “superstore retailers” is telling.
“In my district, Wal-Mart provides 600 jobs. This is targeted at big superstores,” Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Hesperia, said.
Assemblyman Dan Logue, R-Linda, asked Gov. Jerry Brown to consider not signing until unemployment dropped lower then Michigan’s unemployment rate, currently at 10.9 percent. California’s unemployment is at 12 percent, and many predict it could increase.
Assemblywoman Linda Halderman, R-Fresno, addressed “the 18.7 percent unemployment rate in the Central Valley and the 40.7 unemployment rate in Firebaugh,” as causing an obesity problem. A medical doctor, she said diabetes and obesity are linked with small stores being unable to afford fresh food. So people end up subsisting on prepared foods. Halderman said superstores like Wal-Mart have created access to fresh food for her constituents.
But the floor debates grew contentious. “Every time our cities stand up to the unions, they come here to change the law,” said Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield. “This job-killing bill is a way for unions to circumvent local authorities. We need to expand the pie instead of continuing to fight over disappearing pie.”
Grove said the Legislature “is owned by the unions.”
That sparked a response of outrage from Assembly Majority Leader Charles Calderon, D-Whittier. “It is wholly inappropriate to suggest that any outside group owns this Legislature, whether it’s labor or the Chamber of Commerce, or anyone else,” he said.
“But we know that this bill will pass,” Assemblyman Kevin Jeffries, R-Riverside, said. “There is no one group that owns the Legislature, but we know who is pushing this bill. The question is, ‘Whose ox will we gore next?’” Jeffries said businesses are leaving California and cities in his district need stores like Wal-Mart.
Calderon objected again to Jeffries’ remarks and threatened to “close the bay” — insider Capitol jargon for closing the Assembly chambers and the gallery, where media, staff and visitors were — and replay the recording of the session.
Then Jeffries argued that Calderon was objecting to Republicans’ remarks and debate, but ignoring derogatory comments from Democrats.
As predicted, the bill passed 46-28 in the Assembly and 21-14 in the Senate. It’s now awaiting Brown’s signature.
May 22, 2013