The country's failing economy led to some joyous responses among Sunland-Tujunga residents this week as what's touted as the world's largest home improvement store, Home Depot, dropped a lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles, thus ending a five-year battle to open a store in this community.
Home Depot filed a motion Dec. 31 to drop the lawsuit. This, after spending what's reported to have been millions of dollars in the campaign to defeat community activists who didn't want the chain store moving into the vacant property previously occupied by Kmart.
“There's a lot of people with smiles on their faces today. This is a big burden off our shoulders and we're all breathing a big sigh of relief,” said Joe Barrett, one of the community members leading the “No to Home Depot” crusade.
Barrett and a host of Sunland-Tujunga residents spent much of the past five years protesting the possibility of Home Depot moving into their community due to the anticipated extra truck traffic, extended hours of operation and other issues, which would have come with the day-to-day operation of the industrial store.
The property is next to the main pedestrian walkway for the local elementary school, which would have made things difficult for parents dropping off children, as well as kids walking to and from school during the hours Home Depot was expected to be having large trucks delivering — up to 18 truck loads per day — lumber, brick masonry and other bulk supplies, Barrett said.
“Home Depot would have opened up at 5:30 a.m. and at the same time we're all going to work and taking kids to school [the area] would be congested with truck traffic; and, kids and trucks don't mix,” Barrett said Thursday in a telephone interview as he and friends sat down to lunch at Chipotle Grill in the new La Cañada Town Center.
Barrett said he and other “No to Home Depot” proponents brought an architect to the Town Center in order for the architect to get an idea of what some residents would like to see built on the Sunland-Tujunga property.
“It would be great to have something like this [on the property],” Barrett said, adding that residents currently drive or take buses to Burbank or other cities to shop, as Sunland-Tujunga has no convenient shopping area.
“That's tax dollars being spent in Burbank or elsewhere that could remain in our community,” Barrett said.
The area's “community plan” calls for the property Home Depot currently has leased to be used for “vibrant shopping retail that meets the need of the neighborhood,” he added.
Barrett found out about Home Depot dropping its lawsuit this week when he was checking a website Home Depot previously set up to keep residents informed of progress on the project.
“I went to the site and they were gone,” Barrett said, adding that he next checked the Los Angeles Superior Court's website and found the lawsuit was being dismissed.
“That's when it hit me, this is it — it's over,” Barrett said.
In a statement released Wednesday, Jeff Nichols, Home Depot's western region real estate director, confirmed that the company no longer plans to pursue its proposed store in Sunland-Tujunga.
Nichols cited the steps the city was requiring for Home Depot to move forward, “coupled with the current economic landscape,” as reasons that “it simply no longer makes sense for [Home Depot] to pursue this project.”
Nichols went on to say that in the coming weeks and months Home Depot will begin marketing the site to parties potentially interested in subleasing for the remainder of the company's commitment.
Although the war with Home Depot may be over, Barrett said he's not ready to settle for just any other retail company to move in there. “Personally, I hate Wal-mart,” Barrett said of any possibility that mega store might consider leasing the property. “That would put us between a rock and a hard place, we wouldn't want to be hypocritical,” he said, adding, “But, for now we'll just reach out to other corporations that we'd like to see come in and hope they see the potential here.”