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Santa Ana prepares to ban Supercenters

Saying Wal-Mart sinks wages, the City Council votes 6 to 1 to set an O.C. precedent. A final vote is to be held next month.

January 18, 2007|Dave McKibben | Times Staff Writer

Hoping to protect its small-business owners from more competition, Santa Ana is poised to become the first Orange County city to prevent Wal-Mart Supercenters from opening.

Twenty-one Supercenters, which combine a regular Wal-Mart with a discount supermarket, have opened statewide. But Santa Ana appears to be part of a groundswell of opposition in Southern California to "big-box" retailers. In the last three months, San Diego and Long Beach passed ordinances prohibiting Supercenters.

The Santa Ana City Council, with four new members, voted 6 to 1 Tuesday night for an ordinance that would make it extremely difficult for a Supercenter to open. The council must take a final vote next month.

The company has no known plans to open a store in the city. Under the new regulations, big-box retailers must apply for a conditional-use permit and identify the benefits and costs to existing stores within a three-mile area.

Wal-Mart opponents argue that the retail giant would pay lower wages than those of unionized workers at the supermarkets that would be a Supercenter's main competition.

"These Supercenters directly affect our supermarket chains, where workers are being paid livable wages and getting medical benefits," said newly elected Councilman Sal Tinajero. "These stores hurt our other businesses that treat their employees with dignity."

The vote comes a year after the council voted 4 to 3 against the same law. Only two people spoke out against the ordinance. A few dozen union representatives and grocery store employees attended the meeting, but none addressed the council. Councilwoman Claudia Alvarez was the only council member to switch from her previous vote.She could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

"We're shooting ourselves in the foot," he said. "We're in competition for jobs with other cities. If we pass this ordinance, they're going to open up a Supercenter on one of our borders."

In fact, neighboring Garden Grove is considering such a store in the central part of the city.

So far, businesses and residents there have largely favored a Supercenter because they think it would bring them more customers.

Kevin McCall, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said Supercenters' prices were 17% to 20% lower than grocery stores'. "If we weren't doing a good job treating our family of associates, why would we have thousands of applications virtually every time we open a store?"

david.mckibben@latimes.com

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