Lawyer threatens to sue over Walmart

An attorney for a local commercial and food workers union is now representing two Burbank residents who oppose plans for a new Walmart. He is threatening legal action if the city doesn’t address their concerns.

The addition of Gideon Kracov, who represents United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local 770, into the fray brings some legal muscle to a table crowded by residents who don’t want a Walmart in the city, and city officials who say there’s little they can do under zoning law to prevent it.

Last week, Kracov went before Council asking that several of his questions about the project be addressed as an agenda item.

The City Council on Tuesday is scheduled to take up the matter at a public meeting, where residents in the past have railed against plans to build a Walmart adjacent to the Empire Center.

Kracov, whose residential clients include local Walmart opponents Kate Nixa and Shanna Ingalsbee, said that if the city doesn’t address their concerns, he may take legal action.

“Litigation is certainly one of the options,” he said.

Kracov is arguing that a grocery operation is not permitted in the area where the Walmart is slated to open in the former site of a Great Indoors store.

Target, which is part of the Empire Center, sells groceries, but it’s in an area where that use is permitted.

Kracov cited the Burbank Municipal Code, in which a grocery is defined as “a retail use providing a range of merchandise and specialized departments … that is in excess of 10,000 square feet.”

Walmart intends to have about 31,000 square feet of grocery space in the 142,757-square-foot building, according to plans filed with the city.

But Community Development Director Greg Herrmann countered that Walmart is considered a “big box” store, and it’s understood that such a business will sell groceries.

What is not allowed in the area is a store, such as Ralphs or Vons, where its sole revenue source is groceries, Herrmann said.

He also said the municipal code’s definition of a grocery changed in 2008 to include the square-footage benchmark. The original development agreement for the Empire Center was signed many years before the revision, therefore the 10,000-square-foot criteria doesn’t apply.

Kracov also pointed out that roadway improvements — outlined in a resolution approved by the City Council in June 2000 — that were supposed to have been completed around the Empire Center was built, never were finished.

Herrmann said some of the traffic projects listed in the document have been completed, some are in the process or others are impacted by insufficient right-of-way or are out of the city’s jurisdiction.

Herrmann said the city doesn‘t want to make changes to address future traffic problems when they will adversely affect an existing business or home that may have to be demolished through purchase or eminent domain.

Kracov said a Walmart will generate more traffic than a Great Indoors store and called for another Environmental Impact Report. But Herrmann said that since a Walmart is still considered a big-box store, another study isn’t needed.


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