Sunday, February 01, 2004

Capitalism & Law: More California Corruption

On the heels of the California AG's political persecution of grocers, Los Angeles officials are tripping over themselves to deny consumers access to low-cost groceries:
In February, the Los Angeles City Council is expected to vote on an ordinance that would keep Wal-Mart from opening Supercenters within city limits. Labor interests are working hard to ban these nonunion outlets, which compete with traditional grocery stores. Yet unions will come to regret such limits.

A city ordinance can keep Wal-Mart from opening in Los Angeles, but it will not stop residents from shopping at Wal-Mart. If kept from locating in Los Angeles, Wal-Mart will consider locations in neighboring areas on the edges of the city. As Los Angeles residents shift their spending to Wal-Mart, city tax revenues will be reduced.

Oakland has banned the huge stores, and just last week the West Covina City Council rejected a land sale that would have resulted in a Wal-Mart in their city. In the April 6 Inglewood election, voters will decide whether their City Council's ban will stand.

In Los Angeles, existing community plans and the difficulty in finding large lots make it hard for Wal-Mart to find suitable locations for its Supercenters. The Los Angeles proposal introduced by Councilman Eric Garcetti and drawn up with City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo would prohibit the construction of Supercenters in areas designated for redevelopment and revitalization.

There is tremendous irony in this. Los Angeles, which for years has begged regional supermarkets to locate in areas such as South Central, would ban superstores in the very areas that need them the most. According to an aide to Garcetti, the concern is that a superstore would put existing retail economic development investments at risk. So, in a most bizarre turn of events, the economic development bureaucracy opposes economic development.

If the ordinance passes in February, as expected, it will deprive poor neighborhoods of convenient, low-price shopping and entry-level jobs. Poor communities would remain saddled with ineffective revitalization efforts rather than the market-driven redevelopment that would follow the opening of a Wal-Mart.
Where the hell is Bill Lockyer on this issue? If consumers have a "right" to lower prices—as Bill Lockyer claims in his antitrust lawsuit against the strike-affected grocers—than why does Los Angeles have the right to ban Wal-Mart?

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