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City Panels Back Plan to Hinder Wal-Mart Stores

Firm would have to fund economic impact studies before opening new outlets. Full council will consider the proposal.

August 05, 2004|Jessica Garrison | Times Staff Writer

Two Los Angeles City Council committees Wednesday unanimously approved a proposal to make it harder for Wal-Mart to open mammoth superstores in the city.

If the full City Council approves the ordinance next week, Wal-Mart and other large retailers will have to pay for an economic analysis to show if a proposed store will eliminate jobs, depress wages or harm businesses in nearby neighborhoods.

City officials would then consider the report's conclusions in deciding whether to permit construction of a superstore.

"We seek to be involved here with the impact on neighborhoods and the avoidance of blight," Councilman Eric Garcetti told a hearing packed with people wearing T-shirts that said, "Neighborhoods Deserve a Voice."

The vote marks another milestone in the faceoff between the world's largest company and some governments in California and their allies in organized labor.

After the vote, Councilman Ed Reyes said he would not be surprised if Wal-Mart filed a lawsuit.

But Wal-Mart spokesman Peter Kanelos said the company would "wait and see" what the full council did before making any decisions.

He said city officials had amended their proposal more than once.

Since nonunion Wal-Mart announced plans a few years ago to build 40 Supercenters in California -- 200,000-square-foot stores with groceries as well as the discount retailer's usual clothing and household goods -- some communities and labor groups have opposed them.

Wal-Mart officials say that they are trying to give consumers what they want: low prices, jobs for young people and sales tax revenue for cash-strapped cities.

Garcetti and Reyes introduced a proposal more than two years ago to ban Supercenters in most areas of the city.

Earlier this year, they modified that proposal, dropping the outright ban and instead requiring companies to show that a superstore would not harm communities.

Elsewhere in California, Wal-Mart has fought bans by filing lawsuits or persuading voters to repeal government prohibitions on the centers.

In Inglewood earlier this year, voters rebuffed a Wal-Mart-sponsored measure that would have allowed the company to erect a store there without the usual planning studies or public hearings.

Los Angeles officials have watched those battles closely as they have crafted their own proposal.

Some officials have braced for Wal-Mart to sue or resort to the ballot box.

But those officials have said such regulation is necessary to protect the quality of life and good-paying jobs for city residents.

Los Angeles officials praised the vote, as did labor officials.

"Do we want to live in a city where cheap goods are valued over vibrant neighborhoods?" asked Rick Icaza, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents supermarket employees. "The people of Los Angeles deserve better."

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