Thousands of people protested a Walmart that's being built in Chinatown, saying the chain store would bring low-paying jobs and destroy the character of the historic Los Angeles neighborhood. Others in Chinatown said they'd welcome the store. Michelle Valles reports from Chinatown for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on June 30, 2012.
Thousands marched through Chinatown Saturday to protest plans for a Walmart to open in the historic Los Angeles neighborhood.
The event included lion dancers, bicyclists and a rally under Chinatown's dragon gates, headlined by Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello.
Many said they came to the Los Angeles State Historic Park event to protest against the proposed store, while others said they came to decry what they said were Walmart's low wages and union-busting attempts. One speaker called Walmart "the 1-percent's mothership."
"This historic neighborhood will be utterly gutted if Walmart comes here," Morello told the Associated Press.
Others said they were worried that the retail giant will drive smaller stores in Chinatown out of business.
"We hope that Walmart will hear us loud and clear and stop the construction and get out of Chinatown," said King Cheung, an organizer with the Chinatown Coalition for Equitable Development. "So that we in Chinatown, the stakeholders, can talk about what is best for Chinatown."
Sarah Tseng said her nonprofit had collected signatures for 80 local small businesses in opposition to the planned store. She said the majority of Chinatown residents oppose it, but are "afraid to say so publicly."
But George Yu, president of the Chinatown Improvement District, said that "99 percent of opposition is from outside of Chinatown."
Wal-Mart began construction this week with plans to open the store next year.
Opponents, including the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, had planned a march that they said would be the largest anti-Walmart event in U.S. history.
They had predicted a turnout of 10,000 at the "March Against Low Wage Jobs," though it seemed the crowd was well smaller than that.
The planned store would be a "Neighborhood Market" of 33,000 square feet – about a fifth the size of a typical Walmart Supercenter.
"We think our downtown Walmart neighborhood market will be part of the solution for residents who want more affordable grocery options close to home," company spokesman Steven Restivo said last month.
He noted the store is planned for an apartment building's street-level retail space that has been vacant for nearly two decades and was previously zoned for a grocery store.
He said Walmart officials selected the location after determining the Chinatown neighborhood was among those underserved when it comes to providing fresh food.
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. announced plans for the Chinatown store in February, taking local elected officials and labor groups by surprise.
In March, the Arkansas-based chain earned construction permits for the store, a day before the LA City Council voted to create a moratorium intended to prevent Walmart from moving in.
Labor officials and others have appealed to prevent the city from issuing a certificate of occupancy for the store.
The Chinatown Chamber of Commerce supports the project, saying it will bring scores of permanent jobs to the area and might also drive traffic to surrounding businesses. A group that organized in part to fight the store, the Chinatown Coalition for Equitable Development, opposes it.
County Federation of Labor spokeswoman Caroline O'Connor said the jobs Walmart will bring will be low-paying and won't offer health insurance. She also disputed the company's contention that a smaller Wal-Mart won't have a negative impact on the community.
"It's the same old Wal-Mart, same low wages, same workers relying on public assistance to get health insurance,'' she said.