Hilo Wal-Mart gets OK
The Hawaii County Council unanimously rejects a bill to outlaw so-called "superstores"
HILO » Wal-Mart
is free to proceed with plans to build one of its Supercenters in Hilo after two attempts by Hawaii County Council members to derail it failed.
Even the author of one of the measures, Hilo Councilman Stacy Higa, ended up voting against his own bill. It was defeated 9-0 on Wednesday.
The measure would have outlawed so-called "superstores," defined as any business exceeding 90,000 gross square feet, offering for sale more than 25,000 different products and with more than 20,000 square feet devoted to the sale of food items.
Wal-Mart Supercenters include groceries and offer up to 200,000 items.
In explaining his vote, Higa said he was swayed by public testimony that favored customer choice.
"I chose to side with the heart and let people stretch their dollars as far as possible," he said following Wednesday's council meeting.
Consumers should be allowed to chose where they shop, Hamakua Councilman Dominic Yagong said.
"I don't think government should tell you where to spend that disposable income," he said.
Puna Councilwoman Emily Naeole said the measure would hurt poor people who depend on the company's low prices.
"I go to Wal-Mart, and that's how I can shop for presents for my grandchildren," she said.
South Kona Councilwoman Brenda Ford didn't believe the definition of Higa's bill was "sufficient" to ban superstores, because a company could get around it by intentionally falling shy of only one of three conditions.
"I think it's an unenforceable bill," she said. "If we want to ban superstores, we should do that."
Before the bill went down in defeat, the council voted 6-3 in opposition to an amended version that would have limited the ban to state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands property.
The amendment was introduced by North Kona Councilman Angel Pilago after a number of Native Hawaiians testified that they opposed Wal-Mart's plan to build the supercenter on Hawaiian Home Lands property behind the company's existing store in Hilo.
County Corporation Counsel Lincoln Ashida opposed the amended version.
"The proposed amendment ... although well intended, runs afoul of equal protection of law concerns, and would likely be vulnerable to legal challenge," Ashida wrote to the council.