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    Big Box Referendum Qualifies (Barely) And LB Big Box Ban Ordinance Is Suspended; If Council Doesn't Repeal Ordinance, Voters Will Decide

    (Dec. 18, 2006. updated text) -- LB City Clerk Larry Herrera has filed paperwork indicating that a referendum sought by "Long Beach Consumers for Choice, sponsored by WalMart Stores, Inc." challenging an anti-big box ordinance enacted by the City Council (7-2, DeLong & Lerch dissenting), contained just barely over the 10% of petition signatures of LB registered voters needed to suspend the ordinance immediately.

    The Council is now required to reconsider the issue...and if it doesn't repeal the ordinance, it must submit the issue to voters in an election. (In other words, the ordinance can't/won't take effect without an affirmative vote by LB voters.)

    The petitions, submitted by Randy Gordon [Pres/CEO of the LB Area Chamber of Commerce] and "Long Beach Consumers for Choice" contained 33,391 signatures...but City Clerk Herrera says the petitions only contained 21,219 (10.293%) valid signatures of registered LB voters.

    The City Clerk says he determined that as Oct. 23, LB had 206,136 registered voters...meaning not less than 20,613 were required to certify the referendum.

    In other words, with barely 606 signatures to spare, the referendum petition is legally sufficient to suspend the effective date of the Council-passed big box ban ordinance.

    That means the issue now lands back in the laps of City Councilmembers...who must decide whether or not to repeal the ordinance on its own...or let voters decide in a special election or the next regular municipal election (June 08).

    The Council-passed ordinance prohibited certain "big box" operations...defined by the ordinance as over 100,000 sq. ft with over 10% of their floor area dedicated to non-taxable merchandise (exemptions for merchandise clubs).

    Under CA's Election Code:

    If a petition protesting the adoption of an ordinance, and circulated by a person who is a registered voter or who is qualified to be a registered voter of the city, is submitted to the elections official of the legislative body of the city...within 30 days of the adoption of the ordinance, and is signed by not less than 10 percent of the voters of the city...the effective date of the ordinance shall be suspended and the legislative body shall reconsider the ordinance.

    ...If the legislative body does not entirely repeal the ordinance against which the petition is filed, the legislative body shall submit the ordinance to the voters, either at the next regular municipal election occurring not less than 88 days after the order of the legislative body, or at a special election called for the purpose, not less than 88 days after the order of the legislative body. The ordinance shall not become effective until a majority of the voters voting on the ordinance vote in favor of it. If the legislative body repeals the ordinance or submits the ordinance to the voters, and a majority of the voters voting on the ordinance do not vote in favor of it, the ordinance shall not again be enacted by the legislative body for a period of one year after the date of its repeal by the legislative body or disapproval by the voters.

    The Sept. 19 "big box" ordinance was enacted by the Council after it began a process of reviewing the impacts of "superstore" activity on city infrastructure and retail activity. In June, per Council directive, the Planning Commission held a public hearing on the matter. In July, the Planning Commission unanimously recommended that the Council adopt the prohibition...and at the Sept. 19 Council meeting, staff advanced the ordinance with a definition that effectively targets big box operations that sell food.

    In a memo accompanying the ordinance, city staff wrote in part:

    Staff researched ordinances from various jurisdictions (including the City of Los Angeles; Alameda County; City of Oakland; Fort Collins, CO; Madison , WI; Moscow, ID; County of Pasco, FL; and Maryland Dept. of Planning) as well as a study commissioned by the Los Angeles County Community Development Department and a study commissioned by the Governor's Office of Planning and Research. Both research studies support the recommendation to prohibit these types of uses based on the economic impacts of superstore retail establishments.

    Mayor Bob Foster invited Council and public comment...but there was virtually none. Councilman Lerch moved to hold the item over until October 10 so he could study it. Councilman O'Donnel made a substitute motion to approve the item...which under standard parliamentary procedure was voted first...and it carried.

    LB currently has two Wal-Marts (one in ELB (Towne Center) and another downtown) but they don't have major grocery operations so their operations don't fit within the prohibitions of the ordinance.

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