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A lesson in empowerment: Sunland-Tujunga vs. Home Depot

When you get off the 210 Freeway at Sunland Boulevard, you leave the grit and noise of the rest of L.A. and enter what seems like an old California town of well-kept modest homes and small businesses set between mountains .

It could be 1968 as easily as today.

But the peace and quiet of this community of less than 60,000 has been disrupted by a four-year battle against City Hall and the corporate America Goliath, Home Depot.

On Saturday, that battle came to a turning point with the city sending out a team of mediators to look for an opening that would get Home Depot to drop its lawsuit and get its project greenlighted to transform a closed Kmart store into another home improvement megastore .

More than 300 residents showed up for the Day of Dialogue, and were quickly split into 30 or so small groups, sort of like when the cops separate a group of suspects so they can’t collaborate on their story.

The residents didn’t need to collaborate. They knew their story cold after fighting what they see as the beginning of the end of everything they love about their community, a rustic place where people sometimes ride their horses down Foothill Boulevard and neighbors look after each other.

The back story is that the city approved Home Depot’s request for permits without informing the community or bringing the people into the process, without even takiing a look at what the store would do to the character of the community or to local merchants. The bureaucrats just took the work of the lobbyists and corporate execs like they do every day as they go about trashing the neighborhoods of L.A. and the quality of life of its residents.

But Sunland-Tujunga organized and fought back while Home Depot played hardball, packing meetings with hirelings, blitzing the mainstream meda which is so dependent on Home Depot for advertising revenue, even accusing the residents of racism for not wanting dozens of day laborers hanging around their neighborhood.

The roar of the community, magnified by Home Depot’s arrogant tactics, forced the City Council to nix the development unless the company did an extensive environmental impact report that would take years and in the end would show it was the wrong business in the wrong place anyway.

So the corporate giant sued and the City Attorney’s Office, which has such a poor record of defending the public interest in litigation, sought the mediation effort.

I sat at Table 27 with six local residents, a representative of Home Deport and a volunteer facilitator. Oddly, at the outset of the entire event, media representatives were asked to identify themselves but bloggers like myself were accepted on equal footing with my former colleague, Daily News reporter Rick Coca. And the facilitator questioned at length the appropriateness of my joining in at Table 27.

Truth be told, the event came four years too late. If City Hall gave a damn about the neighborhoods, every development project with any significant impact on the quality of life would start with community information meetings and this kind of mediation event if there was much of a controversy. 

Regina Clark set the tone for my group by setting out a long series of problems and making it clear Home Depot could never win even if the store got built.

“Most people in this community would never shop in another Home Depot no matter what happens,” she said.

The company representative offered no objection to that or any other statements during the next 90 minutes or so, making sure everyone understood listening to the community’s concerns was the mission.

The group’s list of objections was long: It will destroy the small-town character of the community; small merchants, especially hardware stores and home repair services, would be put out of business; noise; traffic congestion; dozens of 18-wheel trucks on the street; a school less than 500 feet away; day laborers; violation of the community plan; the start of  overdevelopment and high density. Similar lists of issues that came up at every other table.

So what do these people want?

A town center with a Target or other general merchandise store, with a meeting hall, and places to stroll, lots of little shops — why it sounded like a scaled-down version of every Rick Caruso project like the Grove or Calabasas Commons.

I couldn’t help but wonder why the city wasn’t working to achieve that for Sunland and every other neigbhorhood in the city. Isn’t that why we have a government at all? Shouldn’t City Hall be working with every community to create gathering places and economic health? Isn’t government supposed to deliver what we the people want, not what’s good for the politicians, bureaucrats, developers and influence peddlers?

After four years of consciousness-raising experience, the people in my group had a good grasp on what’s wrong with L.A.

Kathy Kennedy said, “We’re not getting heard, all we get is lip service.”

“We don’t trust the city,” said Dan Smith. “No matter what we do somehow or another this thing is going to go through.

Added Jeff Buzard: “Democracy is just a buzzword anymore. All they’re saying is, ‘Let’s give them a voice so we can say we did before we get our way,’”

Almost in unison the group in the end asked the same question: “Why are we even doing this?”

A good question. Nothing came up that wasn’t well known to them, to Home Depot and to their elected representative, Councilwoman Wendy Greuel, who will receive the full report of what each of the group found important. Killing the project outright  or requiring a full EIR were at the top of the list.

Greuel supports the community in this fight, the same way every council member in the city will support the community if they face large numbers of people organized, informed and ready to fight for themselves.

It’s unthinkable that Home Depot won’t see the light and back down on this project before people everywhere start questioning whether supersized stores and corporate America aren’t causing more harm than good.

And it’s unthinkable that Greuel and her colleagues will back down because the people in this community have shown that people power works. Similar struggles to theirs are going on all over the city as the mayor and council do their best to remove all community input and give developers the go-ahead to do whatever they want, wherever they want.

And that’s why the battle of Sunland-Tujunga is so important. The community won. It won because it empowered itself by banding together and raising the stakes for the politicians..

So if you want to save your community and the character of your neighborhood, look, listen and learn from the people of Sunland-Tujunga. Perhaps someday this will be seen as an historic event, the moment when City Hall first learned that the government belongs to the people and exists to serve them.

 

PRESS RELEASE: THE HOME DEPOT PARTICIPATES IN PUBLIC DIALOGUE IN SUNLAND-TUJUNGA

 
 

Home Depot logo- smaller 

 

THE HOME DEPOT PARTICIPATES IN PUBLIC DIALOGUE IN SUNLAND-TUJUNGA

Company Officials Listen to Community Opinions About Proposed New Store

 

LOS ANGELES, CA (April 26, 2008) – The Home Depot® today issued the following statement regarding the company’s participation in the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Mediation Group voluntary public dialogue at Mt. Gleason Middle School in the Sunland-Tujunga area of Los Angeles.

 

“Today we were able to listen to and interact directly with members of the Sunland-Tujunga community,” said Jeff Nichols, Director of Real Estate, Western Division for The Home Depot.  “We believe it is important that all parties involved in this neighborhood hear from differing perspectives and opinions and today’s meeting was an important step toward accomplishing this goal.  On behalf of The Home Depot, I would like to thank the City Attorney’s Mediation Group for facilitating this forum for community dialogue.  I would additionally like to thank the committed residents of Sunland-Tujunga for the frank and helpful opinions expressed here today.”

 

As background, The Home Depot acquired the site at 8040 Foothill Blvd. from Kmart in 2004 as part of a multi-store transaction.  The Home Depot applied for and received remodeling permits in July of 2006, which were later revoked by the Los Angeles City Council.  The Home Depot sued the City of Los Angeles on November 9, 2007, asking the California Superior Court (Court of Los Angeles, Central District) to reinstate the incorrectly revoked permits.  On March 4, 2008 a stipulation to a stay of litigation was agreed to by The Home Depot and the Los Angeles City Attorney, allowing the two parties to work toward finding solutions other than litigation.  On April 22, 2008, The Home Depot submitted a new project permit compliance review application to the City of Los Angeles as part of the stipulation to the stay of litigation.

 

As a separate component of the stipulation, the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Mediation Group was charged with facilitating discussions between The Home Depot and Sunland-Tujunga community stakeholders. 

 

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17 Responses to A lesson in empowerment: Sunland-Tujunga vs. Home Depot

  1. anonymous says:

    Who paid for this silly dog and pony show? How much did it cost?

  2. TeddyH says:

    In my opinion this month is only the beginning of taking back the San Fernando Valley for, of and by the people as promised in the
    Declaration of Independence. The first issue was Las Lomas project. the second Jamiel’s Law and now Sun Valley!
    What did Dr. MLK say? He said, “We shall overcome”

  3. ellen vukovich says:

    Here’s my prediction – a full-scale EIR will be ordered as a compromise. What’s another year to Home Depo? By this time, Wendy Greuel will probably be our next Laura Chick – City Controller. That means the new Council Member will declare that there is nothing he/she can do to “stop” the project because Home Depo has worked with the community and mitigated its impacts to an “insufficient” level as per the EIR. And, the last thing this City will jeopardize is its working relationship (read that as collecting more sales taxes, etc.) from Home Depo when facing its record bugetary shortfalls coupled with losing a multi-million dollar lawsuit.
    My suggestion is that all residents of Council District 2 unite and find a candidate for Wendy’s seat that will do their bidding. That’s the only solution to all of the “Home Depos.”

  4. Anonymous says:

    I could not agree more with the last poster. The biggest problem Sunland-Tujunga residents face is finding someone who can raise a million or two to get a city council position. So far, Tamar Galatzan-lame school board member is the only person who wants that job and wants it bad.
    To make matters worse, her husband is Brendan Huffman, president of VICA.
    I see a few problems here. VICA is pro business of any kind at any cost and a big fuck you to the residents. VICA has money. Tamar needs money. VICA will give the money to her. Wendy helped her get the job that she didn’t really want .. you know .. she is using it as a place holder ..(name recognition) until Wendy leaves. Wendy has been there long enough to know the people who contribute the money. The person with the most money wins.
    I don’t envy the folks of Sunland-Tujunga right now. They should be searching high and low for a real candidate. They can’t trust Wendy, the mayor or the candidate that wants the seat so badly.

  5. MLB says:

    What i found very interesting about our table, #23, was that from the onset it was addressed as though it was already decided the Home Depot was coming in and what would it take to make N2HD not upset anymore. Any statements by the residents of “Home Depot doesnt belong here’ were basically ignored and said not to be addressing the issue and weren’t put on the paper. One man who said he was part of the neighborhood council for Lake View Terrace kept pushing ‘mitigation’ and that we would have to accept that Home Depot was coming in. “Standing our ground” would have us lose everything and we needed to compromise. Now I know that the idea was that people with all ideas were suppose to come together to speak, but when the residents of Sunland at the table kept saying ‘make them do a full EIR” “doesnt meet the specific plan” all we were met with by the mediator was “it doesnt address the issue – what other concerns do you have about Home Depot being there?”
    As far as I’m concerned, it was a complete waste of my time.
    By the way, one woman, who barely spoke English, came to our table late and then wrote down all the contact information from the NO2HOMEDEPOT contact information sheet and placed it in her purse. When one of the women asked her why she was there, she showed a letter that was sent to her by Rocky D (City Attorney)’s office urging her to attend
    Was I the only one who did not receive a personal invite by the City Attorney?

  6. spiffy says:

    My mother and I disagree on this Home Depot plan. She’s all for it, pointing out that the area needs jobs. I understand the side of the protesters. They would prefer something family oriented on that site, a place for them to take their kids, a safe place for the teens to hang out.
    Part of our problem as a society, is that we consume too much. Why Sunland/Tujunga “needs” another hardware/lumber store I will never understand. Is there really that much home renovation happening in S/T? Do citizens really have that much disposable income as their equity falls?
    Wouldn’t it be better to have maybe a duplex or a triplex movie theater? A pizza joint for kids? Maybe a skating rink and comic book store?
    There is a great video online called “The Story of Stuff.” I won’t post a link, but do a search for it and it’ll come up, then take 20 minutes of your life and watch it. We have all been sucked into this Consumerism is King mentality.
    Why not give the families something to do in Sunland/Tujunga instead of just one more place to use their credit cards on STUFF?

  7. Anonymous says:

    Oh Spiffy, you are being too logical. What? Are you new to the City of Los Angeles and the way they do business? Welcome to the world of big businesses getting their way just because they want it and they have money to donate to campaigns.
    The biggest travesty of all is that there are several other small hardware stores. Men and women who wanted to own their own business and be their own boss, but the City of Los Angeles’ Planning Department and Councilperson decided that they had had their own businesses long enough and it was time for the big box store to take over.

  8. Ron I am sorry I did not get a chance to say hello to you in Sunland-Tujunga.
    I believe that ultimately Sunland-Tujunga will be ground zero for Valley Secession: The Sequel. However, don’t count on the VICA/VEDC types who promoted (and mis-managed) it last time around. This one rests squarely on the shoulders of younger, self-taught, grassroots fighters from the hood like Kim Thompson, Abby Diamond, etc. (not saying they personally are for or against secession but they are the type of post-modern leaders that are required to make it happen).
    I’ve been saying for weeks the storm is brewing. Though I tend to lean more on the Libertarian Ayn Rand side of things and less on the NIMBY part of the equation, I sense the change and quite frankly am willing to get on board with my beloved NIMBYs if it brings about at least systemic change.
    The key error secession fighters made last time was not getting the rest of the city on board. The environment wasn’t ready for that. Now, with every community and every demographic expressing extreme displeasure with the Mayor and our Council, the timing couldn’t be better.
    Are we ready for the Third Battle of Cahuenga?

  9. Karen Zimmerman says:

    MLB on April 27, 2008 7:32 PM :
    We’ve heard from others who attended the meeting and, like you, felt bullied by people who didn’t want to consider the need for an Environmental Impact Report. They see an EIR as an inconvenience for Home Depot, not as a safeguard for residents.
    You can be sure those people don’t live near the proposed site. They likely do not live in Sunland-Tujunga at all. Their daily commute isn’t along Foothill Boulevard. They’re not concerned about the children, the ones that attend Apperson Elementary, inconveniently located less than 500 feet from the property.
    When confronted with the list of negative environental impacts which would result from a mega-warehouse at that location, they just shrug their shoulders and roll their eyes, dismissing residents’ concerns.
    After all it’s not THEIR quality of life, it’s not THEIR small community. If it was, you can be sure they would be demanding an EIR.

  10. Kim Thompson says:

    Well thank you for that vote of confidence Mayor Sam. You know me, such an idealist. I keep hoping that neighborhood councils will use the power they don’t realize they have and rise up to demand accountability. That will still happen, although it’s taking longer than I had hoped for. They just aren’t well-trained yet but they’re getting there. Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council is one for us all to be proud of. What a great community.
    You’ve actually been warning of the brewing storm for longer than a few weeks. More like a year..
    I agree with the anonymous poster who agrees with spiffy about the logic. What’s so wrong with that? Take the ST Home Depot for example. How can anyone consider it good business to push small business owners with like-businesses out? That is unfair and illogical and moves like that don’t make a city come together. It’s not community building, that’s for sure. I’ve spoken to ST about that issue so many times. All they want is a store to buy underwear and socks and instead they’re getting a Home Depot forced upon them. Why can’t someone swap property somewhere? There must be a solution buried in this discontent. Here in Granada Hills, they’ve been fighting a Kohl’s. We have a Ross, a TJ Maxx, 2 Targets and 2 Walmarts within 10 miles of us. Don’t any of those businesses own property somewhere where a Home Depot is needed and would be welcomed? Then that business can put in a store that the ST community would welcome.
    It seems so simple.

  11. Krestort says:

    Recently one of my friends started an obsession with the actor Nicholas Cage (mostly because their names are both Nicholas – sounds strange but he is strange and that isn’t the point). After asking around the rest of my friends he seems to be a very controversial figure.
    What does the forum think? do you love the all action superhero? Or do you hate the droning voice of the man who does nothing but action shooters?

  12. How many times you eat during a normal … every day life?
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    or rarely and too much?
    i usually have 3 and i’m the 2nd type of person (though it’s not that healthy)
    8 am breakfast
    3pm lunch
    9pm a snack.

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