Citizens in Eureka, California, recently attended the third in a series of public meetings aimed at drafting an ordinance that would require big box development proposals to pass a comprehensive economic impact review before being allowed to build.
“We’re trying to create a livable, walkable city,” said City Councilor Chris Kerrigan, who introduced the ordinance in April. “We’ve spent millions and more than a decade trying to turn our downtown around. We need to protect that investment.”
The City Council asked the Planning Commission to review the proposal and offer recommendations. The commission organized the forums to gather feedback on what impacts should be studied and what criteria should be used for approving large retail development projects. The forums have been well-attended and residents generally support the idea.
As currently structured, the ordinance would apply to any proposed stores over 40,000 square feet—which would include retailers such as Wal-Mart, Target, Home Depot, and Office Max—and any existing large stores planning expansions of 20 percent or more.
The ordinance would require these developments to undergo an economic impact analysis. Depending on public feedback, the analysis might include such things as the impact on local employment and wage levels; tax revenue and public costs; surrounding land values; existing business districts; and storefront vacancy rates. The measure would also require an environmental impact review in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act.
Officials from Humboldt County and the nearby community of Arcata have also attended the forums and expressed a commitment to working together to address big box retail. Humboldt County has a population of about 130,000. Eureka is its largest city with 30,000 people.
Humboldt County currently requires a special permit for big box retail and plans to expand its policy early next year to address environmental and community impacts. County officials want to steer any new retail development to existing commercial centers and avoid additional sprawl in outlying areas. Arcata already requires a review of stores larger than 30,000 square feet.
Two years ago, Wal-Mart spent $700,000 on a ballot referendum to allow it to build in Eureka. Voters rejected the store by a 2-to-1 margin. They also voted out a pro-Wal-Mart City Councilor and elected 22-year-old Chris Kerrigan, who ran on a sustainable development platform.
- Examples of Economic Impact Review ordinances