The difficulty in legislating the “unique character” of Venice was underscored when the Los Angeles City Planning Department held a community meeting to discuss a proposal to ban or restrict chain stores in at least part of that neighborhood on Wednesday, February 20.
The meeting was the outgrowth of efforts by the group Venice Unchained that led to a motion by Councilmember Bill Rosendahl in February 2007 directing the Planning Department to prepare an ordinance regulating “formula retail stores” on Abbot Kinney Boulevard and Ocean Front Walk. But at least some of the nearly 40 people at the meeting wanted to extend the regulation to all of Venice west of 7th Street, the first block west of Lincoln Boulevard.
Although Los Angeles does not have a definition of “formula retail stores,” the Planning Department’s working definition “includes retail stores, restaurants, hotels, and other establishments that are required by contract to adopt standardized services, methods of operation, décor, uniforms, architecture, or other features virtually identical to businesses located in other communities.”
Many cities from Maine to Washington state have passed ordinances banning or regulating chain stores, including California cities from Arcata to Coronado.
While the three Planning Department representatives tried to focus the discussion at Wednesday evening’s meeting on specific impacts of chain stores on the community, such as traffic, parking, or the appearance of signage, most of the Venice residents made it clear that it was the very idea of chain stores in their community that they found objectionable. Similarly, while City Planning Assistant Christine Mahfouz tried to get the residents to write their thoughts on easels labeled “issues,” “goals,” and “strengths/opportunities,” the Venetians were more interested in an open discussion of the “unique character” of their community.
Many residents voiced particular concern that an ordinance be adopted without undue delay or that an interim moratorium on chain stores be put in place. The Planning Department promised to study and research the views expressed at the community meeting and to schedule further meetings with merchants and with developers as well as with residents.