Senate approves bill aimed at helping local governments fight superstores |

Senate approves bill aimed at helping local governments fight superstores

Don Thompson

SACRAMENTO (AP) – Bills that would give local governments more power to fight Wal-Mart and other huge stores are heading to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, over the objections of the giant retailer, business groups and Republican lawmakers.

The latest bill, approved 23-16 Wednesday by the Senate, would require local governments to consider an economic impact report before approving any “big box” store that was more than 100,000 square feet. On Tuesday, a 24-13 vote sent Schwarzenegger a bill requiring retailers to pay communities’ legal fees if the local governments prevail in lawsuits that challenge zoning ordinances or regulations aimed at restricting mega-stores.

“Clearly, Wal-Mart in particular has been using its money and influence to try to influence local government decisions,” said the bills’ author, Sen. Richard Alarcon, D-Van Nuys.

The state has an interest, he said, because “Wal-Mart is the most egregious offender when it comes to having employees use public assistance – in fact, training them to apply.”

The bill approved Wednesday would require Wal-Mart and other mega-store retailers to pay for environmental studies. Alarcon said those reports will give local officials the information they need about transportation, housing, wage, employment, taxes and other impacts.

Wal-Mart opposes adding economic reviews that it says would invite lawsuits to block stores, company spokeswoman Trudi Hughes said in an interview.

“If local governments want to stop projects, they can. They don’t need state legislation,” Hughes said. “This is legislation that will hurt consumer choice. We’re hopeful Governor Schwarzenegger will veto the bill.”

Two years ago, Schwarzenegger vetoed a previous Alarcon bill requiring economic impact statements by big-box retailers. In his veto message, he said it “would stifle market competition and expansion of employment within California.”

Republican senators said the legislation unfairly singles out Wal-Mart, hurting not only the company but the low-wage earners who depend on it for reasonably priced merchandise and groceries, as well as jobs.

“People go there because they want low prices,” said Sen. Jim Battin, R-Palm Desert. “If the place is so evil and awful, then why do so many people want to work there? Why is it so successful?”

Alarcon said in an interview that Schwarzenegger could be influenced by Wal-Mart’s contributions to his campaign funds.

Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Margita Thompson said he has taken no position on the bills.

“The governor signs legislation based on what’s in the best interest of the state,” she said.

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