One of the defining questions over the City Council’s big box ordinance has been whether it would be an all-out ban against retail supercenters like Walmart that are larger than 90,000 square feet moving into the city.

Supporters of the ordinance, who think the supercenters are bad for communities, insist it would not.

But it does require the City Council to deny the supercenter’s permits if the council or Planning Commission find that a new store would have a negative impact on neighborhood businesses.

In an October report to the City Council, Independent Budget Analyst Andrea Tevlin said the requirement seemed too restrictive, “and may constitute a de facto ban on superstore development.”

That’s the argument the ordinance’s opponents, including Walmart, have made as they’ve waged a vocal public campaign against it.

Supporters of the restrictions have mostly focused on the fact that they would force an economic study to be done showing what kinds of impacts a new store would have on the surrounding community.

There’s not much consensus on the impact that superstores like Walmart have when they move into communities. Supporters and opponents of the stores argue passionately, some hailing the stores for providing lower prices while opponents say they kill small businesses and drive wages down.

But there is little disagreement that superstores, like all new stores, create competition and would likely divert sales from existing local businesses to the new superstore as it claimed a share of local retail spending. If the City Council decided that was a negative impact on neighborhood businesses, the proposed ordinance would prohibit them from approving the new store.

In an interview, City Councilman Todd Gloria said the City Council or the Planning Commission would have to make a subjective determination on whether a store had a negative impact on neighborhood businesses.

“Decision-makers have to make that call,” he said. But he also said that if the findings were negative, the City Council would have little choice.

“They’d have to deny the permit,” he said.

The ordinance would apply to the superstores that are above and beyond the typical Walmart and sell groceries. Those superstores are defined as being larger than 90,000 square feet and devoting more than 10 percent of floor space to the sale of groceries and other nontaxable goods.

The City Council approved it on November 16, and the mayor vetoed it Monday. The council is expected to override the veto with five votes during a special meeting on Thursday. The ordinance would take effect 30 days later.

Please contact Adrian Florido directly at or at 619.325.0528 and follow him on Twitter:

Adrian Florido is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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