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    Referendum Launched To Force Council Repeal, Or Public Vote, On Newly Enacted Council Big Box Ban

    (Oct. 16, 2006) -- CA's fifth largest city has become the latest high-visibility battleground over certain "big box" retail outlets.

    An entity calling itself "Long Beach Consumers for Choice, sponsored by WalMart Stores, Inc." has sent a mailing (letters arrived from ELB to Bixby Knolls) supporting a referendum/petition signature gathering drive to force a Council repeal, or a citywide vote, on the ordinance adopted Sept. 19 by a 7-2 Council vote (DeLong & Lerch dissenting) prohibiting 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).

    The proponent(s) of the referendum [specifics pending] is/are invoking provisions of the state Elections Code...which provides in pertinent part:

    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. ...After the petition has been filed as herein provided, the elections official shall examine the petition and certify the results in the same manner as are county petitions...

    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.

    LB voter registration as of June 7, 2006 was 196, by our rough reckoning approximately 19,644 valid voter signatures would be required to trigger the Election Code's ultimatum for Council repeal...or a public vote on the issue.

    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.

    The envelope that arrived in LB mailboxes today from "Long Beach Consumers for Choice" has a color photo next to the addressee's name...and in reddish letters, "Should politicians choose where you shop?"

    Inside, a letter co-signed by LB Area Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Randy Gordon and the LB Chamber's VP Public Policy/Gov't Relations Brandon Kline states in pertinent part:

    Dear Neighbor:

    Despite the fact that Long beach already has zoning laws to regulate businesses, some members of the City Council recently voted to ban large retailers from selling groceries in Long Beach.

    This misguided new law isn't about controlling growth -- it's about playing politics and limiting consumer choice.

    We believe the City Council's new law is bad public policy for several reasons. For one thing, its restrictions are really aimed at a very specific class of retailers -- mainly Wal-Mart Supercenters and Super Targets...

    ...We think it is wrong for local elected officials to enact laws that limit competition and increase costs to consumers.

    The City Council's new law is also wrong because it ignores your rights as a consumer to choose where you want to shop. A petition effort is underway to put this issue to a public vote, the easiest way for you to help is to sign and return the enclosed petition...Your signature simply means that you and fellow voters will decide where you can or cannot shop, not the City Council.

    Enclosed with the letter is a formal Referendum petition (with signature spaces for five signers) along with a postage paid return envelope to "Long Beach Consumers for Choice" at an ELB rental mailbox.

    Reaction is pending as we post. Developing.

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