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Valley Residents Cautious About Supercenter Law

Valley Residents Cautious About Supercenter Law By Jeff Weiss Contributing Reporter Sun Valley-area business officials and residents are cautious about the idea of big box retail supercenters being in their neighborhoods under an ordinance being drafted for consideration by the Los Angeles City Council. Under the ordinance, the 150,000 to 200,000-square-foot stores would be limited in the city almost entirely to a narrow strip of the San Fernando Valley between Sun Valley and Northridge as well as the fringes of Marina del Rey and in Century City. The plan would ban the building of the stores, several which are being built throughout the country by Wal-Mart Stores Inc., near L.A. economic revitalization zones areas targeted for federal, state or local aid to spur development. Mayor James Hahn has already come out in favor of such a proposal. However, some members of the Sun Valley chamber worry about the negative impact the huge stores might have on small businesses. “I think that although the Sun Valley community would benefit from having major employment that would come from Wal-Mart. “We must be cognizant of small businesses that support the community and the chamber,” chamber member and president of the Sun Valley Neighborhood Council Dennis O’ Sullivan said. “Generally, I think the business community will look positively upon it if it doesn’t harm small locally based shops.” Wal-Mart has been criticized for undercutting small businesses with discount prices that are difficult to match, along with the limited health care plans it offers its non-union employees. But a recent study by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. indicated that Wal-Mart supercenters would actually spur the economy, providing jobs and low cost goods to the city. “Mayor Hahn believes that such stores have their place in the suburbs where there is low density and there might not be well-established places to buy groceries, merchandise, etc. all in one place,” Yusef Robb, a spokesman for Hahn, said. “The areas that this ordinance covers have established places for people to buy all the goods they need and we want to protect those existing businesses and the jobs, revenue and character that they contribute to the city and neighborhood. As for other parts of the city, we’re totally fine with superstores going there and the ordinance permits that.” However, Sun Valley Chamber of Commerce officials were not informed that their area could possibly be put at ground zero of Wal-Mart’s initial supercenter foray into the Los Angeles market which is expected in the next few years. Free market forces? Several members of the Sun Valley Chamber expressed dismay at Wal-Mart’s refusal to allow its employees to unionize. But others decried the possibility that a free market enterprise has become so politicized. “I think it’s an interesting proposition but I’d like to know more. I don’t think anybody should rush to a decision but I don’t think that decision should be based upon campaign contributions,” Sun Valley Chamber of Commerce member Jon Eschbach said. “It should be based on the best interests of the community.” With city councilpeople lining up on opposite sides of the issue, Councilman Tony Cardenas, whose district includes the Sun Valley area, has yet to take a definitive stand on the controversial topic. A statement released by Cardenas’ office said: “We will be studying what impact this particular ordinance has on our community. I’m looking for an ordinance that balances economic development, protection of local businesses and jobs that provide a living wage.” But the Valley Industry and Commerce Association has opposed such an ordinance that limits supercenters. “Generally speaking, we believe that business is best when it is left to free market forces. The generally speaking part of that is very important. Sometimes there have to be government restrictions and controls. We think that this particular issue is best left to economic forces rather then government trying to restrict who can enter the community and do business,” said VICA Chairman Martin Cooper. “Just to legislate for economic purposes is not in the best interest of both the business and residential community in that area. People should be able to shop where they want to shop.” With the exact date for the ordinance to be presented before the City Council still indefinite, the members of the Sun Valley Chamber of Commerce said they would like to hear from residents and businesspeople in other communities in Los Angeles that contain traditional Wal-Mart stores to find out the impact they have had on the areas. “We are going to check into it further, said Marylou Steinfeld, Sun Valley Chamber president.

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