In a defeat for local labor unions and a victory for big-box retailers, the L.A. City Planning Commission last week unanimously rejected an ordinance introduced last fall by former City Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg that would have banned big-box retailers from siting some new stores in the city.

The 8-0 vote essentially kills the ordinance, which would have banned big-box stores larger than 150,000 square feet that also have at least 11,000 square feet dedicated for food or groceries.

Union members pushed for the ordinance as a way to prevent non-union big-box retailers like Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Kmart Corp. from going head-to-head against unionized food chains like Ralphs Grocery Co. Such competition, they said, would drive down wages across the board.

Big-box retailers vehemently opposed the measure on the grounds that the city would be overstepping its bounds by attempting to regulate what they sell. They had threatened to sue the city if the ordinance passed.

The proposal still goes to the City Council next month, but it faces a steep uphill battle there. The Planning Commission vote means that 10 council members must approve the Goldberg ordinance instead of a simple majority of eight. With the vacancy left by Goldberg's departure (she's now in the state Assembly) and Council President John Ferraro out due to a long illness, just four abstentions or nay votes would be enough to kill the ordinance.

"I didn't think the city had the right to dictate what big-box stores sell or how they should be allowed to compete against grocery stores," said city Planning Commissioner Chester Widom, who is also a principal with the architectural firm of Widom, Wein, Cohen, O'Leary, Terasawa.

But the big-box retailers are not totally off the hook. The Planning Commission ordered city staff to draw up design guidelines for future big-box stores. Those guidelines, which are now in draft form, would address frequent neighborhood concerns about traffic and visual blight. They are due to come before the commission late next month.

"The city really only has jurisdiction over land use and visual-blight issues," Widom said. "That's where we need to focus our efforts, on minimizing any negative traffic or visual-blight impacts these stores might generate."

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.