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L.A. Council to take up big-box ban targeting Chinatown Wal-Mart

October 23, 2012 | 11:21 am

Photo: Myca Tran, 23, shows her opposition to a WalMart in China Town at rally and march on June 3. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

The Los Angeles City Council is poised to vote Tuesday on a temporary ban that would prevent large chain stores from opening in the city’s Chinatown district.

The ordinance relies on a state law that allows local governments to temporarily restrict certain land use for 45 days, which can be extended up to two years, while officials study the likely consequences  further. Because of this, the measure will require 12 of 15 council votes to pass, instead of the usual eight. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has said he does not support the law.

The proposal comes after months of protracted controversy, spurred by Wal-Mart Inc.’s efforts to open a grocery store in the neighborhood. Labor unions and community groups chafed at the discount retailer’s plans for a 33,000-square-foot store on the ground floor of an apartment building at Cesar Chavez and Grand avenues. Organized labor has historically been critical of Wal-Mart's use of nonunion workers.

They have pushed for the temporary ban and sought to block Wal-Mart from obtaining building permits, arguing that the presence of the big-box retailer would endanger local businesses and the unique culture of the area.

Last time, the activists were too late. On the eve of a council vote to move the ban forward, Wal-Mart obtained the necessary building permits, which didn’t require council approval because the company was modifying an existing retail space. Even if the measure comes to a vote it is not expected to affect Wal-Mart’s Chinatown store -– construction is well underway and a hiring center to staff the store opened two weeks ago.

The city attorney’s office says the ban might come into play if Wal-Mart needed additional building permits, or if their original permits were invalidated by a lawsuit, scheduled to be heard Nov. 13.

If passed, the measure could even boost Wal-Mart’s business in Chinatown, making it more difficult for competitors to open stores there.

Developers built the space with a grocery store in mind, but it has sat empty since its completion two decades ago. Wal-Mart officials say the store will fill a void in the community, which has only one supermarket in the area.

“We’re not only going to revitalize an empty storefront, but we’re providing a new option for employment and affordable groceries,” Wal-Mart spokesman Steven Restivo said Monday. The store is expected to hire 65 employees before opening early next year, and the company has already accepted more than 1,900 applications in-person and online, said Restivo.

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-- Christine Mai-Duc at Los Angeles City Hall

Photo: Myca Tran, 23, shows her opposition to a Wal-Mart in Chinatown at a rally and march on June 3. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

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