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Home Depot sues L.A. over store in Sunland-Tujunga

Times Staff Writer

Hardware giant Home Depot filed a lawsuit Friday against the city of Los Angeles, saying Councilwoman Wendy Greuel improperly worked with her constituents to block the chain from opening a store in Sunland-Tujunga.

Home Depot’s complaint, filed by the law firm of Latham & Watkins, accuses Greuel of handling the project in a biased manner by voting to require an environmental review months after she had helped neighborhood groups challenge the project’s original building permit.

“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 Jeff Nichols, who heads the company’s real estate division for its Western region. “She should not have been both.”

Nichols said 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 called the lawsuit “absurd,” saying 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 complies with the city’s planning and zoning laws.

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“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.”

The office of City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo had no comment. But Abby Diamond, a spokeswoman for the community group known as the Sunland-Tujunga Alliance, voiced disappointment.

“It is unfortunate that Home Depot continues to pursue their own interests, rather than a real resolution and partnership with the local community,” she said.

The council voted in August to revoke a building permit that allowed Home Depot to open a store in a former Kmart building on Foothill Boulevard.

Although the city’s Department of Building and Safety granted the permit in July 2006, the council sided a year later with a zoning administrator who concluded that the project needed to go through a lengthier environmental review by filing either an environmental impact report or a shorter document, known as a mitigated negative declaration.

The Atlanta-based company contended 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 massive campaign against the company, saying Home Depot was trying to circumvent the city’s environmental review process.

Neighborhood activists had argued that Home Depot faced a higher bar because its property was on Foothill Boulevard, where zoning and planning matters are governed by a so-called specific plan, which establishes stricter land-use regulations.

Home Depot’s lawsuit also stated that the council should have recognized that opponents of the project were funded by Do-It Center, a direct competitor.

The lawsuit also said that the vote will have a citywide effect on the business climate, warning that “unsightly vacant and deteriorating buildings will continue to plague the city because businesses will be too afraid to invest.”

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david.zahniser@latimes.com


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