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2007-11-11
Los Angeles,CA. Home Depot Sues City Official For Bias

Still smarting over a defeat at the hands of the Los Angeles City Council, Home Depot filed a lawsuit on Friday against one Councilwoman they accuse of handling their proposal in a biased manner. The world's largest home improvement chain store charges that City Councilwoman Wendy Greuel improperly worked with her constituents in the neighborhood of Sunland-Tujunga to prevent Home Depot from opening. Sprawl-Busters reported on August 16, 2007 that Councilor Greuel, who represents Sunland, invoked a Council rule that allowed her to challenge the Los Angeles Planning Commission's vote in support of Home Depot, and refer the matter to the full City Council for the final vote. The issue that came before the City Council was whether or not the renovations Home Depot planned to make to an empty Kmart building were so extensive that the home improvement store needed to conduct environmental studies to mitigate the project's impact on the community. The Council voted 12 to 1 to force Home Depot to file a full environmental review of their project -- a move that set the timetable back for as long as two years. Two days ago, Home Depot filed a lawsuit charging that Greuel voted to require an environmental review months after she had helped neighborhood groups challenge the project's original building permit. The city's Department of Building and Safety granted the Home Depot permit in July 2006, but the City Council sided a year later with a city zoning administrator who determined that the project needed to go through an environmental review by filing either an environmental impact report or a shorter document, known as a mitigated negative declaration. "The councilwoman's office aided and assisted the opponents to the project . . . and at the same time sat as the judge on whether the project can go forward or not," said a Home Depot official. "She should not have been both." Home Depot claims that two of Greuel's colleagues on the City Council advised his company last summer to sue if it did not get the permit. Though he would not identify those council members, he said their advice was given before the council voted to review the project at Greuel's request. Greuel responded to the lawsuit, telling the L.A. Times it was "absurd," and that her effort to represent her constituents should not be misconstrued as a predisposition against Home Depot. The councilwoman said her focus was ensuring that Home Depot complied with the city's planning and zoning laws. "Is Home Depot and their lawyer suggesting that if a council member supports or opposes a project before it comes to the council, that there is a bias in that?" Greuel asked. "Because that literally cuts the legs off of our ability to make public policy."

What you can do: The citizen's group, the Sunland-Tujunga Alliance, said they were disappointed with Home Depot's tactics. "It is unfortunate that Home Depot continues to pursue their own interests, rather than a real resolution and partnership with the local community," a spokesperson told The Times. Home Depot says that because its project involved the renovation of an existing building, it needed only an over-the-counter permit. Neighborhood groups in Sunland-Tujunga waged a visible and prolonged campaign against Home Depot, charging that the corporation was trying to end-run the city's environmental review process. The Alliance argued that the property Home Depot wanted was on Foothill Boulevard, where zoning and planning matters are governed by a specific plan, which includes stricter land-use regulations. Home Depot's lawsuit also charges that opponents of the project were funded by Do-It Center, a direct competitor to Home Depot. Home Depot's lawsuit says the vote requiring that they conduct an environmental review will result in "unsightly vacant and deteriorating buildings [which] will continue to plague the city because businesses will be too afraid to invest." That sounds pretty much like the scenario for Sunland-Tujunga if Home Depot had been approved. The big box chains seems to have the attitude that if you can't get what you want by regulation, try it by litigation. Instead of selling hammers and nails, Home Depot hopes to get what it wants by putting a City Councilor through a legal buzzsaw. For earlier stories on Sunland-Tujunga, search Newsflash by "Los Angeles."










 
 
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