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L.A. city official hands new victory to Chinatown Wal-Mart

December 27, 2012 | 12:18 pm

Chinatown Wal-Mart
A high-level official in the Los Angeles Planning Department has handed a key victory to Wal-Mart, rejecting a request to throw out building permits for a hotly contested grocery store in Chinatown.

In a 24-page report, Associate Zoning Administrator Maya Zaitzevsky found that the Department of Building and Safety did not err or abuse its discretion when it gave Wal-Mart permission to upgrade an existing retail space at the corner of Cesar Chavez and Grand avenues.

The decision, issued Dec. 20, was praised Thursday by Wal-Mart spokesman Steven Restivo, who said it would send "a clear message to those who seek to block economic development only to serve their own special interests." Restivo said it was the third unsuccessful attempt by Wal-Mart foes to keep the store from opening.

"We look forward to soon opening our doors and providing the community what they have wanted all along: a new choice for their grocery shopping needs," he said in a statement.

The Chinatown market and pharmacy, which will be roughly one-fifth the size of a typical Wal-Mart discount store, is scheduled to open by the end of March. The project has been challenged by the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance and by the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, an organization that has criticized Wal-Mart's handling of employee wages and benefits.

Both groups have accused city officials of rushing the permitting process to give Wal-Mart its approvals before a vote by the City Council on a plan to ban large retail chains from opening in Chinatown. Activists have warned the store will have a negative effect on the environment and hurt small businesses in the area.

Gideon Kracov, attorney for the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, was reviewing Zaitzevsky's decision but said his client would likely file an appeal to the Central Area Planning Commission, a five-member panel whose members are appointed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Wal-Mart is slated to open inside Grand Plaza, a six-story apartment building with stores on the ground floor. Opponents have argued that Wal-Mart's building permits should be invalidated because Grand Plaza's developer did not complete key environmental measures required by the city when the 302-unit building was approved two decades ago.

Wal-Mart foes accused Grand Plaza's developer of failing to prohibit parking on streets that run alongside the building, including Cesar Chavez, according to the city's report. Opponents also said an additional right-turn lane had not been installed at Grand and Cesar Chavez, as required by the city.

In her report, Zaitzevsky said changes to street parking are handled not by the landlord but by the city's Department of Transportation, which added meters to the area in 1993 and 2011. She said transportation officials ultimately concluded that an extra turn lane was "not acceptable" because a bus stop was already on the same corner.

Zaitzevsky also rejected requests by Wal-Mart opponents to cross-examine five city officials about the decision to issue permits for the 33,000-square-foot store. That process is not required under the City Charter, the city's governing document, she wrote.

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-- David Zahniser at Los Angeles City Hall

twitter.com/DavidZahniser

Photo: Wal-Mart plans to open a grocery store and pharmacy in this multi–story apartment building at the northwest corner of Cesar Chavez and Grand avenues. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

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