Warehouse retail stores may soon be expanding into Stockton once again following the City Council’s decision to repeal an ordinance that had previously kept many large retailers out for nearly two decades.
In August 2007, Council passed an ordinance banning superstores larger than 100,000 square feet with 10% or more floor space dedicated to nontaxable items such as groceries in an attempt to protect “existing neighborhood-serving shopping centers” centrally located in the community from being overtaken by “discount superstores.”
Dubbed the “Big Box Ordinance,” the original legislation came about as a direct response to public opposition at the time to Walmart building a new store in South Stockton, The Record previously reported in 2015 when the ordinance was brought back before City Council for discussion.
However, the ordinance stayed on the city’s books until last week, when the Council unanimously voted Tuesday to repeal the ban at its first regular meeting of the year.
“Stockton is open for business,” Councilmember Kimberly Warmsley, a proponent of bringing the ordinance back before Council, told Stocktonia Friday.
A conversation about food insecurity and injustices that she was having with the rest of Council at a meeting in September naturally brought up the ban, Warmsley said. The District 6 councilmember represents the most southern areas of the city, where many communities often experience economic hardship.
According to a presentation made to Council last Tuesday, the city’s General Plan in 2018 directed staff to explore and examine the ordinance’s usefulness. Michael McDowell, Stockton assistant director of community development, told Stocktonia that the City Council Legislation/Environmental Committee also last year directed staff to open the door back up once again for large warehouse retail stores.
The new ordinance first went to the city’s Planning Commission, which voted unanimously in December to recommend the ban’s repeal, sending it back to City Council for a final vote last week.
Though Council passed the commission’s recommendation, it amended city staff recommendations to reject keeping the ban in place for Stockton’s downtown corridor, dismissing the notion that parking would present a barrier as other cities have found their way around such issues by building parking directly beneath retailers.
Councilmembers and staff have also noted that there is no immediate interest from any of the previously barred retailers to start building as of yet. The move to get rid of the ban is just meant to serve as an open for the possibility, while any big-box store that wants to build in Stockton will still have to go through the regular permitting and approval process.
“We don’t want like five Rite Aids on one block or area. We just want to have potential, see what’s out there,” Warmsley said. “We know that small businesses are the heart of Stockton. And so we will work closely to ensure that we’re preserving the integrity of small business all the time.”
From an economic standpoint, repealing the ban on large warehouse stores could eventually provide benefits for the city in the form of both jobs and sales tax dollars, McDowel said. He noted that the retail industry as a whole has changed, including the rise of mail-order groceries, and if Stockton shoppers go to Manteca, Lathrop or elsewhere to buy goods then the city loses that revenue.
“What I’ve heard from the folks in south Stockton is that’s where the choices, alternatives for shopping are,” McDowell said.
Warmsley, who grew up in south Stockton, says her district has not had the same retail growth opportunities seen in other areas of the city.
“Unfortunately, south Stockton has its unique challenges, and food deserts and food insecurities are all intersectional with a lack of retail development,” she said.
But repealing the city’s Big Box Ordinance doesn’t just provide opportunities in her district, Warmsley says. It gives the whole of Stockton the opportunity to be competitive with other developments in sister cities.
“The council all approved and all agreed that we want to provide this opportunity for retail to come knock, knock on our doors,” Warmsley said.” And we want to make sure that there’s business equity and development on all areas in Stockton. Regardless to what part of Stockton we’re talking about, every aspect of Stockton should get the same opportunity to thrive with retail development.”