When Sacramento City Council members vote on the big-box store ordinance during tonight’s meeting, they’re going to have three choices, none of which will satisfy everyone in the sure-to-be-crowded chamber.
The political tussle over the ordinance has been so fraught that city staff took the rare step of providing one recommendation – the repeal of the old ordinance – as well as two possible alternatives.
Option 1: Total repeal
This option repeals the requirement that companies seeking to build a big-box store conduct an Economic Impact Analysis.
The approach was what was originally passed by the Planning and Design Committee. It removes the EIA requirement altogether for any proposed store with over 90,000 square feet with more than 10 percent of its space dedicated for groceries.
Supporters of the EIA requirement argue that big retailers can afford the $50,000 to $100,000 cost and that council members and the public can benefit from the information the reports provide.
Those against requiring EIAs point out that big-box retailers tend to avoid jurisdictions that require them, preferring instead to open stores just outside the city limits. In the last four years, three Walmarts have opened near Sacramento’s borders. In this scenario, say supporters of the repeal, the big-box stores still compete with small business in the city, but don’t pay the city sales tax.
Option 2: Midtown and East Sac exception
This proposal would keep the EIA requirement, minus a contentious wage and benefit analysis, for any big-box store seeking to locate in the grid or East Sacramento. City staff drafted this approach after community activists in Midtown and East Sac raised cain, but council member Jay Schenirer voiced his opposition to this approach after he received complaints from Oak Park residents who felt those areas were getting special treatment.
Option 3: Exceptions (Or, if you prefer, the Delta Shores option)
This option would keep the EIA requirement except in two circumstances: Retail stores expanding by less than 25% in total square footage or for existing planned unit development designated for retail before this year. As the Sac Bee notes in an editorial today, this approach would clear the way for superstores in the Delta Shores project in South Sacramento, and for several locations in North Natomas.
Scott Mende, the city’s new growth manager, has lead the city’s effort to remove the EIA requirement, and said that if the council does go forward with any of the three options, large superstores would still need to go through the Planning and Design Commission for a conditional use permit.
"It’s not like we’re giving anybody a free pass," he said.
This fact hasn’t satisfied the neighborhood activists/groups opposed to the repeal – including three who have posted on Sac Press – Michael Murphy, representing the Marshall School/New Era Park Neighborhood Association, Rick Guerrero with the Environmental Council of Sacramento and George Raya with the Stonewall Democrats. (As a reminder, Sac Press is an open site and anyone can post. Here’s how).
Another aspect of the issue that has garnered a lot of attention and debate has been the donations both Walmart and the foundation started by the company’s founders have made to the nonprofits affiliated with city council members. Walmart reps say that the company’s donations are not connected to city politics, and that the company and the foundation, the Walton foundation, operate separately.
According to Sacramento News and Review columnist Cosmo Garvin, Sacramento City Attorney Jim Sanchez looked into whether the $8 million donated by Walmart to StudentsFirst, the lobbying group founded by Mayor Kevin Johnson’s wife Michelle Rhee, might mean the mayor would have to recuse himself from the big-box vote. Sanchez concluded that the donations "do not rise to the level of a financial conflict that would require the Mayor to disqualify himself," Cosmo reported via his Facebook page.
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