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Home Depot faced twin pinchers: community and economy

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The most remarkable thing to me about Home Depot's sudden pull-out from its Sunland Tujunga site is that the activists accomplished it without suing the City. The threat of debilitating lawsuit has long been the great Damoclean sword hanging over developer's heads, so effective at potentially tying developer's hands that even former Planning Commission President Jane Addison Usher suggested to neighborhood groups last spring that they might consider the path when observing developers skirting CEQA-triggered Environmental Impact Reports.

The fact is, however, the lively Sunland Tujunga community group was able to trigger an EIR, corporate tie-ups, and media glare even without an attorney or a lawsuit. That may be an indication to future slow-growth proponents that City Council's history over the past six months of classifying controversial developments as "ministerial" to skirt appropriate environmental review is on shaky ground.

One Councilman told me yesterday, however, that the developers he talks to are simply finding the current economic climate too tough to get enthused about pushing any hard-to-win development battles.

Whether the economic climate or community activism is more responsible for Home Depot's retreat from Sunland Tujunga is disputable; certainly the project would have gone forward without the community activism at earlier times, when the economy was better. But the fact that the community is very pleased to have fought City Hall and won is not disputable, and nor is the fact that this kind of setback for a big-box developer represents a new kind of moment for community activists, one likely to reverberate far beyond Sunland Tujunga.