One month after Walmart announced that it would bring a store to Chinatown in downtown Los Angeles, one City Council member has stepped in to stop it.
City Councilman Ed Reyes has introduced a motion to ban chain retail stores from setting up shop in Chinatown. The motion, which the council will vote on Friday, creates a temporary ordinance to bar the city from granting building permits to "formula retail" stores. A business qualifies as formula retail if it maintains two or more of the following standardized characteristics: merchandise, façade, décor and color scheme, uniform apparel, signage or trademark.
The motion can be seen below.
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Reyes, who represents the historic neighborhood, says the measure, which Councilman Eric Garcetti has joined, is not meant to specifically target the proposed Chinatown Walmart Neighborhood Mart, which would be one fifth the size of its superstores, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Instead, he writes in the motion, "there is a need to protect Chinatown's historically significant resources. Without the appropriate land use regulatory controls in place, there could be a decrease in the diversity of merchandise available to residents, visitors, and tourists."
However, the measure is a controversial one. Opponents say the proposal will prevent nearly all chain stores, including Trader Joe’s, Starbucks, Fresh and Easy, banks and restaurants, from coming into the area.
Nicki Ung, executive director of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Los Angeles, said, “I think it’s pretty clear that it’s targeting Walmart, but it would also affect any other chain store that wants to come into the area. This would eventually hinder the growth in our community,” LA Downtown News reports.
In response, Reyes has said that the ordinance is in the early stage and will be adjusted to prevent unintended consequences.
Regarding Reyes's motion, Walmart spokesman Steven Restivo told HuffPost, “Given the widespread support from the Chinatown community for new grocery stores, it’s clear that this action has nothing to do with the needs of the district and everything to do with serving outside special interests." Asked about Walmart's next steps, Restivo responded, "We will continue to engage with the surrounding community as we build even more support for our store and the jobs, economic development opportunities and more affordable grocery options it will deliver.”
One of the most vocal opponents of the Chinatown Walmart has been labor-oriented organization Los Angeles Alliance For A New Economy (LAANE). LAANE deputy director James Elmendorf (see ATVN video above) told HuffPost that the group fully supports Reyes's motion and hopes it will give the city time to develop a permanent policy that would require chain stores to go through an approval process to determine their impact on the neighborhood.
Asked about LAANE's involvement in the council measure, Elemendorf said, "Along with several organizations, residents and small businesses in Chinatown, we have advocated for the approach the council member is taking."
Business groups including the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and Chinatown Business Improvement District have come out against Reyes's proposal and are planning a press conference Thursday to express support for the Walmart, the LA Business Journal reports.
Meanwhile, LAANE, Congresswoman Judy Chu, Assemblyman Mike Eng and Chinatown business owners will stage a press conference on City Hall steps Friday at 10am to encourage City Council to vote for Reyes's measure.
UPDATE: The Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved Councilman Ed Reyes's motion to ban chain retail stores from Chinatown in a 13-0 vote Friday.
Although the ban would have applied to the recently announced Walmart Neighborhood Mart coming to Chinatown, the vote occurred after a representative from the city's building and safety department told the council that Walmart had obtained the building permits it needed to begin construction.
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