Citing street improvements more than a dozen years overdue and a flawed environmental impact report, a judge said Wednesday that Burbank officials must rescind building permits issued to Walmart to open a store in the Empire Center.
"The city has proceeded in a manner not authorized by law, failed to conduct any environmental assessment when the facts and circumstances clearly require at least an initial inquiry," Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Allan J. Goodman stated in his tentative ruling.
Regarding the street improvements, Goodman ruled that "the city has violated its obligations to complete the [traffic] mitigation measures for the specified roadways by the time of completion" of the Empire Center, which opened in 2001.
An injunction issued by another judge that had prevented Walmart from starting work on its proposed new store was lifted in June. However, Walmart officials said they didn't want to start renovation of the building, a former Great Indoors store, until the outcome of the trial.
The lawsuit was filed by three Burbank residents — Shanna Ingalsbee, Katherine Olson and Yvette Ziraldo — in an effort to block the opening of the store until street improvements outlined in an ordinance approved by the Burbank City Council were completed and another environmental impact review is conducted.
Their attorney, Gideon Kracov, said via email on Wednesday afternoon that the ruling was a victory for the citizens of Burbank and the integrity of its neighborhoods.
"This decision shows that giant corporations like Walmart need to play by the rules, just like every other resident and business in Burbank," said Krakov, who also represents United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 770. "My clients feel Walmart used its money and influence to circumvent the rules that protect the community. Thankfully, the court has held Walmart to account."
Kracov said the ruling is extensive and carefully thought-out, and he expects it to be finalized soon after some procedural matters are resolved.
The ruling also recognizes that a grocery store — which Walmart had planned to include in the Empire Center location — is not permitted by the zoning of the property unless directly approved by the city manager and director of community development — something that did not happen.
Walmart spokesperson Rachel Wall said via email that the company is evaluating its legal options and that it believes Burbank acted appropriately.
"We believe the vacant, former Great Indoors store is suited for Walmart and the permits were granted properly by the city of Burbank — like the more than 1,300 similar permits granted for this shopping center over the last 13 years," she said.
Burbank City Attorney Amy Albano said she had little to say about the tentative ruling.
"We're still mulling it over, so to speak," she said, adding that procedurally, it still has to be finalized.
"Ultimately, the City Council is going to have to consider this, about what options, and what we should do next," she said.
Albano said she doesn't believe the ruling will impact other retailers in the Empire Center.
"The decision itself is limited to Walmart, at this point," she said.
This is an update from an earlier posted version.