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Ordinance blocking big retailers in Chinatown fails

Walmart is building a "neighborhood market" on the ground floor of this building at Cesar Chavez and Grand avenues on the outskirts of Chinatown.
Walmart is building a "neighborhood market" on the ground floor of this building at Cesar Chavez and Grand avenues on the outskirts of Chinatown. Kylie Reynolds

A proposal to ban major retailers from opening in the Chinatown area failed Tuesday on a vote of the Los Angeles City Council.

The emergency ordinance fell one short vote of the 12 needed to pass. The measure will be back on the agenda Wednesday for a second vote, though it is unlikely any of the dissenters — council members Jan Perry, Bernard Parks, Mitch Englander and Joe Buscaino — will change sides. 

The ordinance was proposed last spring when it was announced that Walmart would open a neighborhood market on Cesar Chavez at Grand Avenue in a vacant building that was constructed more than 20 years ago to be a grocery store.

Walmart received its final permit before the emergency ordinance was introduced, but the permit has been challenged by a Chinatown resident. A decision on whether the permit is valid is expected in the next 30-60 days. If the city council passes the ban, and the Walmart permit is determined to be invalid, then the store would not be allowed to open. Walmart anticipates finishing construction in December. 

Councilman Ed Reyes represents the Chinatown area and chairs the council's Planning and Land Use Management Committee. He asked his colleagues to support the ordinance, noting the Walmart location is across the street from a major high school and freeway on-ramps.

“I am fighting for safer streets. I am fighting for jobs,” Reyes said. “This is a job-friendly request."

Labor supporters urged the council to keep Walmart out of the neighborhood, arguing that the low-wage jobs are harmful to employees. However, Councilman Bernard Parks, who represents parts of South Los Angeles, said any job is better than none. He also noted that low-income areas often lack access to grocery stores.

“We are being held hostage over philosophical views and, particularly, this age-old discussion about high benefits, high wages," said Parks, adding that more generous companies don't often locate in working-class communities.

The control ordinance would have blocked retailers with standardized merchandise or facades from opening stores larger than 20,000 square feet in the area bounded by the Harbor Freeway, Cesar Chavez Avenue, Alameda Street and Cottage Home Street.

There is also ongoing litigation to block the Walmart from opening, based on environmental concerns. A court hearing is set for next month. 

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