Experts analyze Burbank Walmart freeze

The recent court ruling that put a freeze on efforts to bring a Walmart to town until Burbank officials solve traffic issues around the Empire Center is unlikely to cause problems for other nearby businesses.

Jonathan Zasloff, a professor of law at UCLA and an expert in land use and environmental law, said the ruling, brought under the California Environmental Quality Act, wouldn't apply retroactively to already operational businesses. 

Though still classified as a tentative ruling, both city officials and plaintiffs say this is a formality and the final decision, set to handed down in the coming weeks, is not expected to change. 

“As far as I know, there isn't a provision of CEQA that mandates if mitigation isn't done, the city has to pull [permits],” said Zasloff. “If you're talking about other stores in a particular shopping center that already have their permits, then you may not be on CEQA land.”

The proposed Walmart would be part of the larger Empire Center development, moving into the former Great Indoors space on Victory Place. Other businesses in the center include a Target, a Costco, a Best Buy and a Lowe's Home Improvement.

Zasloff said that any impact on permitted businesses would come from the city's specific zoning for them, which the ruling does not change.

“This is a huge issue in CEQA because there isn't really a way under the CEQA statute to then say, ‘Oh, you didn't do the mitigation you were supposed to do, so we're going to pull the permit,'” he said.

Instead, Zasloff said, if businesses are currently up to code, the city zoning code itself would have to be changed to change that status.

For her part, City Attorney Amy Albano said the tentative ruling was going to likely affect only the planned Walmart, not other businesses in the center. 

“I don't think litigation could be brought against them or us at this point,” she said. “They are in existence, you can't undo what's already been there.”

At the heart of the lawsuit filed by Burbank residents Shanna Ingalsbee, Katherine Olson and Yvette Ziraldo were uncompleted street improvements outlined in an ordinance approved by the Burbank City Council 13 years ago.

The ordinance also recommended a plan for monitoring the impacts of those mitigations.

Gideon Kracov, the plaintiff's attorney in the suit, said that the city had to either add those mitigation measures or convincingly show with a traffic study that they were not needed.

“They have to go back, study the traffic, figure out if these intersection improvements are needed, or find other ways to address the traffic issues,” he said.

Albano said the council would have the option, under CEQA, to show those measures are unnecessary and thus remove them, but that nothing was being decided yet.

“[The council] would have to decide are we going to do those [mitigation measures], or do we have evidence that they're not necessary,” she said. “We have the time to make those decisions.”


Follow Daniel Siegal on Google+ and on Twitter: @Daniel_Siegal.


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