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L.A. Planners Back Proposed Restrictions on Large Retailers

Panel urges council to limit the stores' ability to build superstores, setting the stage for a standoff between the city and Wal-Mart.

June 25, 2004|Jessica Garrison | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Planning Commission on Thursday approved a proposal to limit the ability of Wal-Mart -- and other large retailers -- to build mammoth superstores in many parts of the city.

But the commission made several changes to the proposal, among them asking that the ordinance include membership clubs such as Costco and Sam's Club.

The plan, which requires companies to show that their projects would not harm jobs, wages or businesses in the surrounding areas, could be voted on by the City Council later this summer.

That sets the stage for a standoff between the city and the world's largest company. Wal-Mart has tenaciously fought attempts to keep its stores out of other cities, filing lawsuits or asking voters to throw out local restrictions on the retailer. Often, Wal-Mart has won, although the company suffered a defeat at the polls in Inglewood earlier this year when it tried to push a measure that would have allowed construction of a store without the usual traffic studies or public hearings.

Wal-Mart spokesman Peter Kanelos said he was pleased the commission had included other types of businesses in the ordinance, but that the company would "defend the shopping choices of our customers and the job opportunities of our associates."

But city officials said they believe regulating the stores is important to preserve the quality of life in neighborhoods. Many elected officials and their allies in organized labor say the nonunion Wal-Mart stores depress wages, destroy surrounding businesses and worsen traffic.

"I think it's great," said Councilman Eric Garcetti, who has pushed for the plan with council colleague Ed Reyes. "Communities have a fundamental right to weigh in on the economic impacts of big projects in their neighborhoods."

More than a year ago, Garcetti and Reyes proposed prohibiting in many areas of the city stores of more than 100,000 square feet that devote more than 10% of inventory to nontaxable food items.

Last month, however, Reyes and Garcetti modified their plan to require companies to prepare the reports on the stores' impact on the community. That is the plan the commission approved, and it has received approval from Mayor James K. Hahn.

"I'm disappointed," said Brendan Huffman, director of public policy for the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce. Huffman said he was concerned that L.A. would lose millions in sales-tax dollars if large stores decide to locate outside the city limits because of the restrictions.

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