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Calexico shopping center developer seeking ‘big box store' exemption

January 13, 2001|By RICHARD MONTENEGRO, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — The developer of a shopping center nearly ready to break ground here has asked the City Council to exempt his project from a proposed ordinance barring "big box stores."

Meanwhile, the same developer is contemplating an appeal to a Dec. 27 Calexico Planning Commission decision that approved the proposed "big box" ordinance and sent it into the hands of the Calexico City Council.

Kris Hoffman of Calexico Crossroads LLC, a development group, set to build a Food 4 Less supermarket, a Carl's Jr. restaurant, and potentially a Target department store at the former Fed-Mart site on highways 111 and 98, will go before the City Council on Tuesday when a public hearing will be staged regarding the ordinance.

The proposed ordinance calls for a limit to the amount of sales-floor space a minimum-100,000 square-foot store can devote to nontaxable items such as food. Under the ordinance, such a store could only stock 5 percent or less in nontaxable goods.

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Hoffman on Friday said as part of the proposed second phase of the Calexico Crossroads Shopping Center, a store of about 140,000 square feet, stocking more than 5 percent nontaxable items, is being pursued as an anchor tenant.

Target has been that rumored tenant. However, all Hoffman would say is proposals to build in Calexico have been sent to a variety of stores, including Target.

A letter stating Hoffman's position was faxed to the City Council on Friday.

"With the letter I'm hoping they're able to understand there is an additional impact felt by (such a store). This type of tenant will generate a tremendous amount of sales tax, property tax and jobs," he said. "What they're doing in essence is exporting the tax (revenues) and jobs to another city."

The intent of the big box ordinance, proposed by the independent grocers of Calexico and a consultant working for national supermarket chains, is to protect grocery stores from the massive buying power at the disposal of giants like Wal-Mart or Kmart, stated a representative with the independent grocers recently.

That representative has said such large stores use groceries as a loss-leader to attract customers, with groceries priced so low grocery-only stores can't compete.

Hoffman said such large stores do not consider themselves grocery stores.

He added he thinks both the Planning Commission and the City Council have been misled to some extent by legal issues regarding the big box ordinance.

Hoffman said cities with similar statutes already have similar stores in their cities or in adjacent communities.

"The restriction didn't have the effect of depriving the customers of this merchandise at this type of pricing," he said.

He further claims there were a number of documents contained within backup materials provided by a consultant working with the independent grocers to the Planning Commission and the City Council that discuss the legality of such an ordinance and indicate the ordinance was adopted by several communities.

While he said there is no question the ordinance is legal, Hoffman claims one such community named in correspondence never passed the ordinance put before it.

Hoffman said in 1997 Napa city officials had such an ordinance before them intended to block the construction of a large store. The ordinance was defeated and the store was built in that community one year later.

"I don't think they've been made aware of the impact this will have on the city," he said. "It's been presented in a very narrow perspective."

Further, Hoffman said his attorneys are contemplating an appeal to the Planning Commission decision that forwarded the ordinance to the Calexico City Council.

"We are reviewing our alternatives. We feel the manner in which (the issue) was stealthily noticed was improper," Hoffman said. "I received (the commission agenda) in Los Angeles at 1 in the afternoon the day of the hearing."

He requested a hearing delay in writing as he was instructed to do, but the request was denied.

Hoffman added he will be at Tuesday's council meeting to reiterate his case in person, something Hoffman said he didn't get an opportunity to do before the Planning Commission.

Several Calexico City Council members have been contacted by Hoffman via telephone. Among them was City Councilman Gilbert Grijalva, who said he hopes to take a careful look at the ordinance Tuesday.

"I have some concerns," Grijalva said. "We do have high unemployment and we do have people interested to invest here and create jobs."

Hoffman's letter to the council states 200 to 250 jobs would be lost if his development is not exempted from the ordinance.

Grijalva added he's not sure the city should be discouraging business and trade, adding, "I think we should be encouraging investment to come in here."

Calexico Mayor Javier Alatorre said Friday he thinks Hoffman has a legitimate concern.

"I agree with him that his project was already in process" when the big box ordinance came about, Alatorre said. "Unless I have additional information, that project should be exempt."

Alatorre said he is supportive of protecting local businesses that have continually given back to the community. However, Alatorre said he would like to see the ordinance revised slightly to the originally proposed ordinance dimensions that called for limiting a minimum-150,000 square-foot store to a sales floor containing no more than 7.5 percent in nontaxable items.

"I think eventually changing it to that wouldn't have a big impact on our community," he said. "I still believe in the free enterprise system."

Of the big box issue, Alatorre noted, "It's a decision that's going to be controversial. But I believe we need to make it."

Staff Writer Richard Montenegro can be reached at 337-3453.

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