http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/4143316/ LOS ANGELES - This city is on the verge of telling the nation's largest retailer to get lost. In a show of hostility toward a company promising to bring hundreds of jobs and rock-bottom consumer prices to poor, blighted neighborhoods, the Los Angeles City Council this month may ban Wal-Mart from opening its popular "supercenters," sprawling new stores that sell discount groceries along with many other bargain goods. No other city so big has ever taken on the retailer, which has been facing growing resistance in smaller communities around the country to both the size and the business tactics of its rapidly expanding chain of more than 2,900 stores. And, unlike other places in conflict with Wal-Mart and other "big box" national retailers, Los Angeles is hardly trying to save its small-town charms. With nearly 4 million people and roads choked with traffic, it has none. Rather, city leaders here say they fear the arrival of the retailer's biggest stores would drive down local wages, as rival businesses struggle to survive; wipe out more jobs than they create; and leave more residents without health insurance -- and with no choice but to use public hospitals and clinics that are already overrun by demand. "They're a goliath, but we're a goliath, too -- and we want to send them a message," said Eric Garcetti, the Los Angeles councilman proposing the restrictions against the retailer, which appear to have strong council support. "We don't believe their business model is good for the kind of economic development that we want in the places where we need it most. And we want people to realize that the 10 cents they may save on a jar of pickles could mean paying another $5 in taxes for all the extra visits to local emergency rooms." In recent years, Wal-Mart has encountered similar objections in communities from Atlanta to Albuquerque. But its plan to bring dozens of supercenters -- which are twice as large as its traditional stores -- for the first time to California is provoking a particularly strong backlash. The company, which is furious with the measures that some cities are crafting to block its expansion, is aggressively fighting back. Demand for low prices In December, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors became the latest among several local governments in the San Francisco Bay Area to approve an ordinance banning the kind of giant stores that Wal-Mart is eager to open around the state. Last week, the company filed a lawsuit against the county that seeks to overturn the ban. Wal-Mart also is taking the battle to the ballot this spring. In the Los Angeles suburb of Inglewood and in Contra Costa County near San Francisco, two places where local leaders also have sought recently to stop its supercenters from opening, the company has succeeded in getting measures on the ballot that, if approved by voters, would clear the way for its expansion plans. They are confident of victory. Peter Kanelos, a Wal-Mart spokesman in California, said opposition to the company in the state is quite vocal but small, and that most consumers are clamoring for the kind of discount prices they will find at supercenters. He noted that in 2002 voters in the border town of Calexico easily overturned a measure their leaders had passed to block Wal-Mart and similar retailers from doing business. "The reality is that this is not some huge grass-roots uprising," he said. "Most communities in the state do not believe that government should be restricting the shopping choices of their residents." California lawmakers passed a bill five years ago that set strict limits on the size of stores retailers could open, but then-Gov. Gray Davis (D) vetoed it, calling the proposed measure "anti-competition" and "anti-consumer." Mom-and-pop stores For many years, Wal-Mart has operated scores of its traditional stores in California, including Los Angeles, without conflicts. But the prospect of the new mega-stores, many of which spread across 25 acres and employ nearly 600 people, is stirring emotional debate over local issues as diverse as road congestion and the plight of mom and pop stores. The first such store in the state is scheduled to open this spring in Southern California's Riverside County. Wal-Mart's looming entry into the grocery business in the region is one of the issues at the heart of a paralyzing four-month strike by 75,000 supermarket workers here. Fearful of the retailer's ability to offer customers unbeatable prices, grocers that have long dominated the local market are demanding that the United Food and Commercial Workers make wage and benefit concessions or risk losing their jobs to the powerful new competition. But that contention, along with many others in the fight over Wal-Mart's supercenters, is in dispute. A study commissioned last year by the city of Los Angeles concluded that the arrival of such mega-stores would result in net loss of jobs and force other employers to lower wages. It recommended approving restrictions on big-box retailers. Another report issued last week by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. reached the opposite conclusion. That study, which Wal-Mart financed, said the arrival of mega-stores selling groceries could save households in Southern California an average of nearly $600 a year and that consumers' ability to pump that money into other parts of the regional economy would help create far more jobs than would be lost from smaller businesses that could not compete with retailing giants. "If you spend $1.8 billion you used to spend on groceries on something else, it tends to create some jobs," said Gregory Freeman, the director of policy consulting for the economic group. He also suggested that population growth in California is expanding the marketplace in ways that allow both traditional grocers and superstores to coexist. But some local officials have denounced the study as biased because Wal-Mart funded it. Open to compromise Garcetti's proposed measure is similar to those that some local governments in California have passed recently to ban mega-stores. It would forbid any store whose stock includes grocery items from exceeding 100,000 square feet -- a step plainly designed to block Wal-Mart from opening its supercenters. Still, Garcetti said that he is open to compromise with the retailer. "It's their choice on whether they want this to be a fight, or a discussion," he said. "But they haven't shown a willingness to engage in conversation over their business model." Kanelos, the Wal-Mart spokesman, said the public vote in nearby Inglewood soon will show officials in Los Angeles that the company is simply giving consumers what they want. He said it collected twice the number of voter signatures it needed to get a measure on the ballot that would allow it to open a supercenter there. In Inglewood, local activists are bracing for an intense campaign. Madeline Janis-Aparicio, a co-founder of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, which opposes Wal-Mart's expansion plans in the area, said the retailer already had sent residents two mailings on the issue. "We don't need the kinds of jobs their stores bring -- it won't advance us economically," she said. "But I don't know if we can get that message out. Our side just doesn't have the money they have."