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2007-08-16
Los Angeles, CA. Home Depot Permit Revoked By City Council

"We Won!" reads the headline on the No Home Depot in Sunland Tujunga Campaign website. "We've waited 3 years to say this and these words sound so sweet today! We never gave up, we stayed focused, we did our homework, and we just beat one of the largest corporations in the world! Today proved that a small community can come together and fight a common threat, that all the money and all the lobbyists in the world cannot bend the law for selfish gain, and that our City government does work when we take an active role and participate! Our thanks go out to the LA City Council who braved an onslaught of lobbyists in recent weeks, and today made the right decision!... Thank You Sunland-Tujunga for sticking together and standing with us in this long but oh so worth it battle!" Sprawl-Busters has been following this battle against Home Depot in the Los Angeles community of Sunland-Tujunga since May of 2006. This week, the Los Angeles City Council rejected what one newspaper called Home Depot's "high-stakes bid" to get a building permit to locate inside an empty 93,000 s.f. Kmart store in Sunland. Home Depot obtained an "over-the-counter" permit for the store in July 2006, but local opponents managed to get the permit delayed. The No Home Depot In Sunland Tujunga Campaign convinced a zoning administrator to revoke it. Home Depot then appealed the decision to the North Valley Area Planning Commission, which voted 3 to 2 to restore the permit. But City Councilor Wendy Greuel, who represents Sunland, then invoked a Council rule that allowed her to challenge the Planning Commission's vote, and refer the matter to the full City Council for the final vote. The issue that came up for a vote was whether or not the renovations made to the Kmart building were so extensive that Home Depot needed to conduct environmental studies to mitigate the project's impact on the community. The Council this week voted 12 to 1 to force Home Depot to file a full environmental review of their project -- a move that could set the timetable back for as long as two years. Although not a death blow to the project, the City Council action came in the face of an expensive and intensive lobbying campaign by the world's largest "home improvement" chain store. The delay will also significantly increase the price tag for developing the store. Greuel said that Home Depot was doing extensive construction to the old Kmart building, and needed to do a full environmental study of its impacts. Leaked memos from Home Depot's PR firm, showed the retailer had mounted an elaborate lobbying campaign to influence the City Council vote, hiring an extra wing of lobbyists to help grease the project. But the embarrassing exposure of Home Depot's efforts to lobby its way into Sunland, ended up in ruins. "Many of my colleagues said to me that they were offended by the kind of pressure and tactics that were used," Greuel said. "What we're saying is, we cannot be bought and sold."


What you can do: At the City Council vote, Home Depot did not try to flood the chamber with people wearing orange company T-shirts. Their internal PR memos said they would line up former public officials to speak, and tell stories about how Home Depot had helped the city over the years. After the vote, Home Depot was noncommittal on their next steps, and were clearly defensive over the public visibility of their normally backroom lobbying efforts. "We had a story to tell the council people, and we felt that story was important," a company spokesman told the Los Angeles Times. "We hired people that would tell that story, and there is nothing wrong, in our definition, with trying to tell that story." Home Depot said the environmental review process would delay its project by up to two years. Neighbors said they will push now for studies that show the real harm this project will do to surrounding properties and to traffic congestion. "We will push for a new traffic study, an air quality study, a noise impact study, and definitely demand that the hours of operation be put in the mitigation package," said a spokesperson for the Sunland-Tujunga Alliance. Home Depot revealed that it has spent $2 million on this project. "We spent two years following the rules, the same rules that apply everywhere else," the company's lawyer said. But Counncilor Greuel said the store would already be open if Home Depot had not worked so hard to avoid local environmental rules. For earlier stories, search Newsflash by "Sunland." For a similar story of Home Depot going into an old Kmart, search by "Miami."










 
 
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