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Wal-Mart's Chinatown plan draws critics, defenders to City Hall

August 14, 2012 |  5:47 pm

Wal-Mart officials at news conference
Wal-Mart’s plan to bring a grocery to Chinatown got a testy airing Tuesday as speakers on both sides of the issue squared off in a crowded hearing room at Los Angeles City Hall.

Community activists urged the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Committee to move forward with a one-year ban on large national chain stores in the historic district. The halt would give community and city leaders time to consider making the ban permanent, speakers told committee members.

“Are we going to wait until all the Home Depots and Wal-Marts move in and change everything?” said King Chung, 63, whose mother for years had a shop in Chinatown. “Of course not. We want it now, not when things are a lot worse.”

Business groups chided the city for targeting a retailer that is politically unpopular with unions. Labor leaders have long complained that the discounter pays low wages and opposes employee efforts to organize. Both sides have said the current fight was instigated by Wal-Mart’s March announcement that it would bring a 33,000-square-foot grocery to a retail space that has been vacant for years.

Doug Arseneault of the Valley Industry and Commerce Assn. said the measure would be “telling large retailers that Los Angeles is not interested, that our city is closed for business.” Yeghig Keshishian, spokesman for the Central City Assn., called it a “dangerous precedent.”

Councilman Ed Reyes, who chairs the committee, put off calling for a decision until next week. He didn’t explain why, but a deputy said more time was needed to insert “technical” language into the proposed ordinance.

The city has pursued a ban on chain stores larger than 20,000 square feet since late March. The motion by Reyes, who represents Chinatown, came a day after Wal-Mart obtained city permission to build the store at the intersection of Cesar Chavez and Grand avenues.

Council approval wasn’t needed because the space was already zoned for a grocery store. Labor and community members opposed to the Wal-Mart store appeared to outnumber business representatives at Tuesday’s hearing.

Sissy Trinh, of the Southeast Asian Community Alliance, told committee members that the retailer’s arrival could put 30 Chinatown bakeries, pharmacies and mom-and-pop grocers at risk. “Is this really going to help Chinatown?”


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-- Catherine Saillant at Los Angeles City Hall

Photo: Wal-Mart officials held a news conference in June at the site of the retailer’s new neighborhood market in Chinatown, which is under construction. They had a traditional Chinese lion dance to ward off bad luck from the location at Grand Plaza. Credit: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times