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2009-01-07
Los Angeles,CA. Home Depot Gives Up the Fight

On November 11, 2007, Sprawl-Busters reported that Home Depot was still smarting over a defeat at the hands of the Los Angeles City Council. Home Depot filed a lawsuit in 2007 against one Councilwoman they accused of handling their proposal in a biased manner. The world's largest home improvement chain store charged that City Councilwoman Wendy Greuel improperly worked with her constituents in the Los Angeles 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. Home Depot filed its lawsuit in November of 2007, 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 claimed 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." This week, Home Depot cut the legs off its own project. The L.A. Times reports that "the long, occasionally ugly fight" with Home Depot is now over for Sunland-Tujunga. A Home Depot spokesman blamed the national economy and the city's regulations for its decision. The company told the newspaper: "The Home Depot no longer plans to pursue its proposed store in Sunland Tujunga. In conjunction with this decision, we have informed the City of Los Angeles that we are dropping our lawsuit against the City related to this project. Throughout this process, we complied with all laws and regulations in relation to the site and believe that lawsuit was just. However, given the steps the City is requiring for us to move forward, coupled with the current economic landscape, it simply no longer makes business sense for us to pursue this project."

What you can do: Home Depot opponents were thrilled to see the retailer drop the hammer. "This is a hard-fought victory," Abby Diamond, a board member with the Sunland-Tujunga Alliance, told the L.A.Times. "We've put our heart and souls into this. It's a great outcome. We just hope now that we can find a developer who will develop the site in a way that suits the community's needs." The Sunland-Tujunga Alliance, said last year that 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 hoped to get what it wanted by putting a City Councilor through a legal buzzsaw. After two years of cutting with a dull blade, Home Depot has unplugged the project. The economy may be killing Home Depot now, but it was citizen opposition that killed their plan for Sunland-Tujunga.










 
 
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