A key Los Angeles panel voted Thursday to oppose a plan to ban large chain stores in 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 against the ban written by officials in the city's Planning Department. Planners determined that a ban would not conform to city policies and could hurt the neighborhood's economy. They also said a ban was not needed because there has not been a proliferation of new chain stores in the area.
After the vote, activists who had come to support the ban erupted in boos and cries of "shame on you!"
The proposed measure would keep retail stores larger than 20,000 square feet from getting permits to build in Chinatown for one year. Although the ban would affect all large projects, people on both sides of the issue acknowledge that it is aimed at one store in particular: Wal-Mart.
The ban was proposed in March by Councilmen Ed Reyes and Eric Garcetti after Wal-Mart announced plans to put a 33,000-square-foot grocery store on the ground floor of an apartment building at Cesar Chavez and Grand avenues. Labor groups, which complain about Wal-Mart's non-unionized workforce, have led opposition to the project. Some local community groups have also objected.
But Wal-Mart successfully won building permits, albeit the day before the council instructed the Planning Department to draw up for its consideration an interim control ordinance temporarily banning large retail stores.
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 a hearing on the complaint will take place 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 from building in Chinatown.
A spokesman for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said the mayor does not support the ban, which will now be heard by 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 eight.