There are issues and controversies Burbank folks can’t stop talking about. The proposed and long-stalled Walmart superstore at the old Great Indoors location on North Victory Place at the Empire Center is one of those hot debates. Right now, B-town is buzzing about the September 4th ruling by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Allan J. Goodman.
It’s a tentative decision, but still has shaken up city hall. At the Tuesday, September 10 city council meeting, Burbank City Attorney summed up the ruling this way: “… the city lost and Walmart lost on every issue raised.” That means, the judge sided with three concerned Burbank citizens, Katherine Olson, Shanna Ingalsbee, and Yvette Ziraldo who filed a lawsuit in the spring of 2012, with the assistance of lawyer Gideon Kracow, to block the opening of that Walmart. Albano explained the 36 page ruling this way. On the issue of traffic, the city attorney says “… court found … we shouldn’t have put off doing those improvements… we should have done them… ” In terms of Walmart’s plan to include a grocery store in its Burbank store, Albano says the court ruled … “since there was a grocery store involved … it needed to have its own environmental review… we didn’t do that.” When I spoke with Albano by phone the day after the ruling came out she told me “we were disappointed with the decision” and are “still evaluating” the ruling.
Apparently the judge’s decision will not be discussed by the city council until after it becomes final. Albano suggested that will not happen for “a couple of weeks” giving Walmart and the city a chance to submit comments on the ruling to the judge. However, Albano characterized this as “a court process” and stated: “It’s not going to change what the judge ruled, but it will change possibly the bases in all the language.” The bottom line of the ruling, the judge ordered the building permits issued by the city to Walmart for the store at the Empire Center to be rescinded. Walmart cannot go forward with the store project, without those permits.
Once the judge’s ruling becomes final, Albano says “legal oppositions” will be discussed in closed session with the city council. She estimated that could happen as early as September 24, but most likely will occur at the October 8, 2013 city council meeting.
Walmart’s reaction is expressed in this statement I received from the company: “We’re reviewing the tentative ruling and evaluating all available legal options. 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. We decided to open a store here because we know local residents want good employment opportunities, including hundreds of jobs for the construction industry, a convenient place for one-stop shopping, and a new business to bolster the local economy.” – Rachel Wall, senior manager of community affairs, Walmart.
For the world’s largest retailer this is probably a minor glitch or setback. For the Burbank City Council and city staffers involved in the Walmart project it’s an embarrassing smackdown and something they’re going to have to explain.
At the February 21, 2012 city council meeting, there were many very vocal opponents who spoke passionately and emotionally about why they believed the Walmart project should not go forward. There were many complaints about traffic problems and the lack of an updated environmental impact report and not just from the three Burbank residents who filed this lawsuit. In what appeared to some to be a suspiciously quickie vote, the council majority decided 4-to-1 to grant building permits to Walmart. Emily Gabel-Luddy,was the lone dissenter. Dr. David Gordon, Gary Bric, Jess Talamantes and then councilman Dave Golonski were the “yes” votes. Clearly, the council majority should have asked some tougher questions of staff and given more consideration to the opposing voices from the community. Now what? Well, we will just have to wait and see what the city council decides to do.