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LA city planning committee approves temporary ban on retail giants in Chinatown

By Hayley Fox
Published: Thursday, August 23, 2012, at 10:59AM
Michael Katz / KPCC

The new Walmart is slated for the ground floor of this building on Grand and Cesar Chavez Avenues.

This week, a L.A. city planning committee passed a temporary ban on large retail chains moving into the Chinatown area -- but even if approved by the city council, the effort comes too late to halt development of the Walmart planned for the outskirts of this Downtown district.

KPCC reports that the ban was introduced by Councilman Ed Reyes in reaction to Walmart's new "Neighborhood Store" slotted for the bottom floor of a residential building on Cesar Chavez Avenue; but the retail giant secured building permits for the location prior to the proposal, so it will not be affected by the possible ban.

“Permits have been issued for a formula retail use larger than 20,000 square feet in Chinatown, and additional permits could be approved for similar uses,” said Reyes, according to KPCC. “If the city does not act, these large formula retail uses will endanger the viability of Chinatown’s small businesses and threaten the unique and historic character of the neighborhood.”

The Planning Department defines Chinatown as the area bordered by the 110 to the west, Sunset Boulevard/Cesar Chavez Ave to the south, Main and Alameda streets to the east and Cottage Home Street to the north. The proposed ban would prevent future retail stores, 20,000-square-feet or larger, from opening within this area.

The proposal comes on the heels of vehement reactions from Downtown residents to their new Walmart neighbor. People protesting the retail giant say the 33,000-square-foot store will negatively impact the small businesses in the area, as well as the local culture.

“Growing up here, it’s very much like a close family because all the kids go to school together, and so we go to all the same shops, same supermarkets,” Chinatown resident Tanira Chau, 18, told Blogdowntown at a protest this summer. “If Walmart’s here, it’s like ‘Let’s just go to Walmart and get something’ … it’s bringing our culture down.”

Walmart's "Neighborhood Markets" are streamlined versions of the massive stores, selling mostly groceries and pharmaceuticals. While some say their extremely competitive pricing would undercut other local businesses, many area residents welcome the availability of produce and food items.

Jimmy Lam, who lives in the Orsini apartment complex down the street from the proposed Walmart, said he'd welcome the additional market option.

"That would be good," Lam told Blogdowntown this month. about the new Walmart. "I would be able to walk [instead of] having to drive to the store."

The ban on chain retailers was passed with a 2 to 1 vote on Tuesday by the Planning and Land Use Management committee, and will move next to vote before the full L.A. City Council.

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