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ANAHEIM, Calif. - Mexican grocery chain Gigante is facing resistance from city officials in Anaheim, Calif., who object to a proposed store in Orange County because of zoning concerns and the fact that it is "too Hispanic for the location," The Orange County Register reports.
Gigante, a billion-dollar grocery chain popular in Mexico, opened its first U.S. store in Los Angeles in 1999 and has worked for two years to open a store at the Anaheim Plaza. But the Planning Commission in June stopped the project by turning down its liquor license.
Commissioners say there are too many liquor licenses in the area, which also has a crime rate 184 percent above the city average.
"This isn't a race issue," Commissioner John Koos told the newspaper. "If a Ralphs or Vons came to us with the same situation, based on Planning Commission practice, I would vote to deny it."
However, the newspaper reports, last fall the Planning Commission granted a liquor license to Smart & Final, which is located next door to the proposed Gigante site. Area crime rates and liquor sales were at about the same level then as they are now, Koos said.
"Our rationalization was that Smart & Final is a different kind of operation," he said. "They sell alcohol primarily in bulk and don't serve any cold. It's different from a neighborhood market. They're different types of businesses entirely."
Several months before the planning commission's denial in June, the city's redevelopment director wrote in a letter to the property management company that the store didn't meet the plaza's goals of reaching a diverse regional market.
"Our research has confirmed that Gigante is a more specialized supermarket that does not cater to the public at large," stated the Oct. 23 letter from Redevelopment Agency director Lisa Stipkovich to the property management company that supports Gigante moving in.
Planning commissioners say their denial was not based on the letter, which was not included in the staff report. And Stipkovich says that the letter is independent of the commission's action and that she never shared it with them.
Anaheim is about 50 percent Hispanic, and the census tract where Gigante is proposed is 60 percent Hispanic.
"We're not the right fit, according to the city, but Anaheim is dramatically changing," said Justo Frias, president of Gigante USA Inc., the company's U.S. arm based in Santa Ana. "It's the reality, and I think it's a good reality. Those people deserve us."
Gigante plans to appeal the commission's decision to an Aug. 20 City Council meeting.