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Key L.A. panel recommends against big-box ban in Chinatown

July 12, 2012 |  5:09 pm

L.A.'s Planning Commission recommends against a ban on big-box stores
A key city panel voted Thursday to oppose a plan to ban large chain stores in Los Angeles' Chinatown, despite pressure from labor-allied groups who are fighting Wal-Mart’s effort to expand in the area.
On a 5-2 vote, the Los Angeles City Planning Commission adopted a recommendation opposing the ban from the City Planning Department, which found it would not conform to city policies. The Planning Department also said the ban was not needed because there has not been a proliferation of new chain stores in the area.

After the vote, activists who support the ban erupted in boos and cries of “shame on you.”

The ban was proposed in March by Councilmen Ed Reyes and Eric Garcetti after Wal-Mart announced plans to put a 33,000-square-feet grocery store on the ground floor of an apartment building at Cesar Chavez and Grand avenues. Labor groups opposed the plan, citing Wal-Mart's low-end wage scale and nonunionized workforce. So did some local community groups.

But Wal-Mart won building permits, albeit the day before the council instructed the Planning Department to draw up for their consideration an interim control ordinance temporarily banning retail stores larger than 20,000 square feet.

Opponents have filed a complaint to block the Wal-Mart permits. Aiha Nguyen, a policy analyst with the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, which opposes the store, said city officials are planning a hearing on the complaint for sometime in mid-August.

If the city upholds the complaint and Wal-Mart is forced to reapply for building permits, the proposed ban, if approved, would block the chain's chances of building in Chinatown.

The proposed ban now goes to the City Council. According to Kevin Keller in the Planning Department, the passage of an interim control ordinance requires 12 yes votes from the 15-member panel, more than the usual 8.

A spokesman for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said the mayor does not support the ban.


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-- Kate Linthicum at Los Angeles City Hall


Photo: Myca Tran, 23, rallies with others against a Wal-Mart grocery in Chinatown in June. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times