Chinatown Walmart Wins Building Permits As LA City Council Readies Chain Store Ban

The Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved Councilman Ed Reyes's motion to ban chain retail stores from Chinatown on Friday.

The ban appears too late to stop the recently announced Walmart Neighborhood Mart coming to Chinatown. The 13-0 vote came after a city building and safety department representative told the council that Walmart had obtained building permits to begin construction. Reyes, who represents the historic Chinatown neighborhood, said on the floor that he learned about the permits Thursday evening.

Reyes spokesman Tony Perez told the Huffington Post he doesn't think the ban will apply to the Walmart. Councilman Paul Krekorian's spokesman expressed the same thought.

“Now that our Walmart Neighborhood Market has received all necessary approvals, we look forward to serving downtown customers soon," Walmart spokesperson Steven Restivo told HuffPost. "We appreciate all the community support to date and will continue to engage with residents and businesses in the area to talk about the jobs, economic development opportunities and new grocery options our store will deliver.”

Aiha Nguyen, senior policy analyst for the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, which has led the effort to block Walmart from Chinatown, said, "It is an outrage that they managed to pull a number of permits at 5 p.m. last night. It just demonstrates how Walmart works, with a number of resources behind them. This demonstrates their lack of respect for the community. What's worse, if they open this store, they can open others across LA."

Nguyen said the fight isn't over. "As evident from the unanimous City Council vote, we have their support," she said. "There will absolutely be appeals coming."

The final motion included an amendment from Krekorian requesting further public comment and economic analysis. The vote instructs City Attorney Carmen Trutanich to draft an ordinance banning retail chains. The ordinance will face further economic analysis and public input and will then return to council for a final vote. Krekorian said there would be "abundant additional opportunity" to mold the final ordinance.

The motion, without the newly added amendment, can be seen below.

Perez told HuffPost that the ordinance has value, even if it doesn't stop Walmart. "It brought up issues that we needed to deal with. One, that the CRA [Community Redevelopment Agency], which used to assist with this, is gone. And two, that Chinatown's heritage needs to be protected."

Perez said Reyes still has concerns about traffic that Walmart will bring, particularly for the school across the street.

Proponents and opponents of the chain store ban made impassioned comments before the vote. They included Chinatown community leaders, Chinese business owners, residents and others.

Walmart opponents said the retailer will hurt local busineses, lower wages and compromise Chinatown's cultural character. A man who said he represented the Business Improvement District and the Historic & Cultural Neighborhood Council warned that if the historic character of Chinatown is not restored, the neighborhood will fall by the wayside as did the city's first Chinatown in the 1910s.

Krekorian called Chinatown a "special treasure" and shared how much it meant to him to take his son to the same Chinatown attractions he remembers visiting as a child. He also expressed his concern that LA does not attract enough retailers.

Opponents of Reyes' motion argued that the Chinatown area is a "food desert" that needs more grocers and that the local economy will benefit from Walmart and other retailers' investment in the community. A man who said he was the chair of the senior center in the proposed Walmart location said he spoke on behalf of the center's residents in saying that they support the proposed Walmart.

A representative from the Chamber of Commerce vehemently opposed the ban for rejecting all "formula retail" stores, not just Walmart.

Council members Jan Perry and Tony Cardenas were absent for the vote.