Ventura voters will likely decide whether Wal-Mart should be allowed in town – if the world’s largest retailer doesn’t open shop before voters get a chance to weigh in.

The Stop Wal-Mart Ventura Coalition on Thursday submitted nearly 13,000 signatures supporting the addition of an initiative to the ballot aimed at blocking Wal-Mart or any large grocery store from opening within city boundaries.

The group needs 5,936 valid signatures, or 10 percent of registered voters, to earn a spot on the November 2009 ballot. The county Elections Division has 30 working days to verify the signatures.

A more costly special election will be required if roughly 8,900 signatures are found valid, but the coalition doesn’t believe it has that many, because people who sign petitions often are not registered to vote or don’t live within city limits.

The initiative would ban any new store larger than 90,000 square feet that sells groceries. Big grocers also could face special conditions if they want to move into an existing vacant store. The measure also forbids “piece-mealing” – moving into an existing store and then expanding.

“The sheer number of signatures should make it clear to the city and to Wal-Mart itself that Venturans don’t want Wal-Mart here,” said coalition member Nan Waltman, chairwoman of the citizens group Livable Ventura.

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