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L.A. Councilman Ed Reyes to seek ban on retail chains in Chinatown

With Wal-Mart heading to downtown Los Angeles, City Councilman Ed Reyes has introduced a motion to block new retail chains from setting up shop in Chinatown.

“My intent is to protect the character of Chinatown,” Reyes said. “I want to strive for balance that protects Chinatown and creates conditions that allow for local hiring.”

The proposal, going before council vote on Friday, proposes a temporary ordinance to bar the city from granting building, demolition and other permits to “formula retail” stores, defined as retailers that operate stores with standardized merchandise, decor, color scheme, facades, uniforms or signage.

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The proposal comes on the heels of Wal-Mart’s announcing plans to open a 33,000-square-foot grocery store at the intersection of Cesar Chavez and Grand avenues. Wal-Mart said it has secured some but not all of the building permits it needed to start work on the store this summer.

“It’s clear that this action has nothing to do with the needs of the district and everything to do with serving outside interests,” Wal-Mart spokesman Steven Restivo said of the move by Reyes. “It speaks volumes that the community was not consulted in the writing of the motion.”

Critics of the proposed ordinance say it would not only block big companies such as Wal-Mart and Starbucks but also small local chains such as tea houses and restaurants from opening new stores in the area.

Reyes said his intent was not to block Wal-Mart or any retailer, and plans to amend the proposal to prevent “unintended consequences.”

Amendments could narrow the scope of the proposal to only stores above a certain square footage, Reyes said. He also plans to strengthen public safety in the neighborhood, since new stores will bring increased car and foot traffic.

Reyes said reaction to the proposal has been mixed in the Chinatown community.

“There are people saying, ‘Thank you for protecting Chinatown, we don’t want to become another suburban mall,’ ” Reyes said. “Others are saying, ‘We need to create jobs.’”

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