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The City Council will consider Tuesday a ban on big-box grocery stores such as Wal-Mart Supercenters from setting up shop inside San Diego city limits after first discussing the controversial restriction more than three years ago.

City Council offices reported receiving hundreds of phone calls from all over San Diego County about the proposal in the last week and estimate that hundreds – if not thousands – of people will show up to council chambers for the 2 p.m. meeting. In anticipation of the meeting, Wal-Mart advertised on the radio and in a local newspaper, urging people to contact the five council members who have publicly expressed their support for the ban.

In September, the council asked to finally weigh the ban, which proponents say would prevent harsh traffic impacts on city streets because the mega-stores attract so many customers on a regular basis.

“This is a model that comes from a rural area. They try to stick these massive developments into an urban area and it doesn’t work,” said Art Castañares, a lobbyist for a coalition of traditional grocery stores and their workers.

Supporters of the ban also claim the law keeps smaller stores that could fall prey to the new discount retailers in business. The law’s passage would also mark a victory for organized labor, which loathes Wal-Mart’s refusal to allow its workers to unionize.

Opponents, such as the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and Mayor Jerry Sanders, argue that a ban limits commerce and that San Diego could lose out on sales-tax dollars if a Wal-Mart Supercenter opens in a neighboring city. Sanders said he would veto the law if the council passes it, although the council would need just the same majority it received on its passage to override it.

“The City Council shouldn’t be in the place of making people’s shopping decisions,” Wal-Mart Kevin McCall said.

The last vote on the issue fell along party lines, with the council’s five Democrats voting in favor and its three Republicans voting in opposition.

Wal-Mart has also argued that the council’s ordinance illegally limits commerce, although City Attorney Mike Aguirre said he has tweaked the proposal the council provisionally endorsed in September to mirror the city of Turlock’s ban on big-box grocers. This summer, the California Supreme Court refused to hear Wal-Mart’s appeal that the Turlock ban was illegal.

McCall said he thinks the new version should be turned down because the public hasn’t had ample enough time to vet it.

EVAN McLAUGHLIN

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