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Wal-Mart goes super if ‘big box' ordinance repealed

March 24, 2001|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — The City Council here could repeal its "big box" ordinance at the April 3 council meeting, clearing the way for the local Wal-Mart to expand into a Super Wal-Mart.

If the council doesn't repeal the ordinance, a special election could be conducted sometime in June and Calexico voters will decide whether to allow Wal-Mart to expand, according to City Clerk Lourdes Cordova.

The "big box" ordinance was passed earlier this year by the council in a unanimous vote.

The ordinance specifies that a retail store bigger than 150,000 square feet that sells non-taxable items, such as food, can only devote 7.5 percent of its floor space to those items.

Wal-Mart submitted paperwork for a referendum on March 16 to repeal that ordinance.

In the months since the council passed the ordinance, Wal-Mart supporters circulated a petition and gathered signatures of registered Calexico voters in an attempt to authorize the referendum.

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Calexico requires at least 900 valid signatures of registered voters before a referendum is authorized.

Cordova said Wal-Mart gathered 1,784 signatures. She said she is verifying the signatures and probably will be finished by Friday.

If the council decides to repeal the ordinance, there will be no need for an election, Cordova said.

While Wal-Mart is 119,000 square feet, store Manager Phil Aubry said: "In the future we would like the opportunity to expand."

He said if the store expands it will do so to offer more groceries. With the "big box" ordinance in effect, Wal-Mart is unable to expand into a Super Wal-Mart.

A Super Wal-Mart, by design of the Bentonville, Ark.-based chain, is more than 150,000 square feet and features an expanded grocery department.

Mayor Pro Tem Victor Carrillo said the community doesn't need a Super Wal-Mart.

"I was in support of the original ordinance and I still am," Carrillo said.

He said the "big box" ordinance was intended to "protect the small businesses and the community."

Aubry said if the council doesn't repeal the ordinance, "we can still do it (expand) if we win the election."

Calexico business owners Blanca Lopez of Casa Blanca Realty and Joe Moreno of Apple Market spoke about the possibility of either a repeal of the ordinance or an election.

"We hope that the people know before they vote what they are voting for," Lopez said.

She said a Wal-Mart expansion would not bring new jobs to Calexico.

"All of the jobs that are gained would be offset by the jobs lost in other parts of the city," she said.

She said people don't know that half the sales tax money Calexico receives from Wal-Mart goes to pay off improvements Wal-Mart made to city property in 1992.

According to a city of Calexico financial statement she provided, Wal-Mart spent more than $2.5 million for the construction of improvements.

As per the agreement, Calexico repays Wal-Mart yearly by returning half the money the city receives from the sale of taxable goods at Wal-Mart.

According to financial estimates by the city, the improvements could be paid off by 2008.

That is an important component of the "big box" debate, according to Moreno.

He said Calexico does not benefit if Wal-Mart sells more non-taxable goods.

"The city will benefit if it is taxable items," he said.

Lopez agreed. "How are we going to pay off the improvements if they increase their non-taxable goods?" she said.

Yoli Cordero of Garcia Food said she favors a balanced business environment.

"I'm not against growth," she said. "I'm for a combination of small and big stores."

That sentiment was echoed by Brawley resident Enrique Muñoz.

"I shop at the Wal-Mart in El Centro and the one in Calexico but I also shop at local stores," Muñoz said.

On Friday he was shopping at California Supermarket in Calexico.

While he favors a Wal-Mart expansion, he agrees there should be room in town for big and small stores.

Veronica Noriega of Calexico was shopping Friday at the Calexico Wal-Mart with her daughters Veronica, 14, and Andrea, 3.

"Wal-Mart is good like it is," she said. "It shouldn't be allowed to get bigger."

Noriega, like Muñoz, said she shops at both big and small stores.

"When I'm not at Wal-Mart, I shop at Peso Market," she said.

Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419.

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