Avis Ridley-Thomas, Home Depot, and the Art of Manipulation!
Garbage in, Garbage Out.
It's been awhile since I've posted an update on the continuing Home Depot battle in Sunland-Tujunga. Not that it's all been quiet on the North Valley Front, rather so much has been happening, so rapidly, that the complexity and dynamics of the situation have required more time than I can devote to reporting the story. As Zuma Dogg might say, 'The Shady Never Sleep'!
So for this update, I've chosen one very disturbing piece of the story, and her name is Avis Ridley-Thomas (ART). ART runs the Dispute Resolution Program (DRP), part of the City Attorney's office.
Now bear with me for a bit of background. In November 2007, Home Depot filed a lawsuit against the City Council for revoking their tenant improvements building permit. Back in March of this year , the Home Depot agreed to suspend their lawsuit and file a Project Permit application to build their store per the local Specific Plan, a City Ordinance. After Home Depot suspended their lawsuit, the Order to Stay Litigation Stipulation included a directive that meetings be held between Home Depot and Sunland-Tujunga community leaders in order to facilitate discussion of the issue. The DRP was asked to oversee these discussions, and this is where the problems began.
On April 26, a meeting sponsored by the DRP was held in which 250+ residents attended and a consensus was reached by S-T stakeholders that Home Depot did not belong in that former Kmart location, was in violation of our Community Plan, and must undergo a full Environmental Impact Review (EIR) so that everyone would better understand the impacts their proposed store would have on the Sunland-Tujunga neighborhood. On a side note, Home Depot could voluntarily undergo an EIR (as many developers are known to do), but has repeatedly refused.
What did ART and the DRP make of this overwhelming unified consensus?
They decided that there was a dispute in the community, and they were going to solve it (huh?). ART promised an open and transparent process and then immediately scheduled a closed door meeting with selected participants, many of which were not S-T community leaders, nor even residents of the area (invited guests included Brendan Huffman from VICA and others no one had heard of). The purpose of this meeting was to schedule another meeting and to lay down the ground rules.
On October 16th, a 3rd meeting was held at L.A. City Hall, with invited participants and again behind closed doors. There were also 8 police officers on hand to search the attendees, and presumably preserve order in case of trouble.
At this meeting, a motion was made to suspend the DRP process until City Planning had made a determination as to whether Home Depot's application for CEQA exemption would be granted or not. A CEQA exemption would mean that Home Depot would not have to undergo any environmental review, and no mitigation of their impacts would be required. A majority voted that indeed these DRP talks were premature, and as City Planning was the lead agency (not the DRP) then why not wait until the lead agency could provide some guidance as to what the group should be discussing.
Are you with me so far?
So the majority of the participants voted to suspend the talks, until an appropriate time in the future. The DRP representatives went out of their way to ensure that the language calling for a suspension was correct, and assured everyone that what the community wanted was vitally important. Everyone shook hands, and called it a night.
But Avis Ridley-Thomas, who was not present at this meeting, would have none of this. A few days later, in response to an email re-capping the events of the October 16th meeting, she issued this statement:
"The Dispute Resolution Program has been contacted by a member of the Sunland-Tujunga community to facilitate and/or mediate further sessions to resolve the matter involving the Home Depot.
As in every other matter where we are contacted by a member of the community, we are proceeeding forthwith.
The process will be voluntary and confidential unless and until the parties deem otherwise."
As you can probably surmise, the community is outraged!
In one brief statement, ART dismisses the democratic process, the votes of the majority, and plows ahead with her mission. She will put together another group, one likely more sympathetic to Home Depot, regardless to whether they represent the sentiments of the Sunland-Tujunga community or not, until she gets the consensus she is seeking (or has been ordered to?).
Yes, the Shady Never Sleep, and it appears that Avis Ridley-Thomas and the DRP are over-reaching their legal boundaries, and creating more problems than ever existed before the DRP became involved.