Despite a request from Burbank officials, state Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp has refused to file an antitrust lawsuit to halt a merger that has forced the withdrawal of a Robinson's department store from the planned Towncenter mall, city officials said last week.
The decision, relayed to Burbank officials by Van de Kamp spokeswoman Andrea S. Ordin, dealt a blow to the city's efforts to keep plans for the 29-acre, $158-million Towncenter alive. City officials said Burbank must now battle the withdrawal and the merger without outside assistance.
"The attorney general . . . felt that it would require an inordinate amount of time and staff for what appears to be a local rather than a statewide issue," a statement released by Burbank City Atty. Douglas C. Holland on Friday said.
Robinson's was to be one of four anchor stores in the Towncenter, a city redevelopment project that has been in the planning stage since 1971. But May Co., which in June announced its intention to merge with Associated Dry Goods, parent company of Robinson's, said it would not permit a Robinson's at the mall. Robinson's expressed an interest in the Towncenter in the mid-1970s. But, by early this year, the idea apparently held less allure.
"The attorney general's office saw a great deal of merit in our theory, which bolsters our contention that May Co. has harmed the City of Burbank and the Redevelopment Agency and that the city may be able to ultimately recover for this harm," the statement continued.
Holland said the city will pursue legal action against Associated Dry Goods if a replacement store for Robinson's cannot be found.
City officials had asked Van de Kamp in September to intervene on behalf of the city to prevent the merger.
Van de Kamp sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission in October asking that agency to challenge the merger. He wrote that the merger "would produce the possibility of anti-competitive conduct" and added that such conduct "will adversely affect mall developers and, ultimately, consumers."
Burbank officials had also lobbied FTC commissioners to prevent the merger. But May Co. and Associated Dry Goods shareholders approved the merger Oct. 3 without interference from the FTC.
Holland said involvement by the FTC and Van de Kamp had always been regarded as "long shots."
City Councilwoman Mary Lou Howard said the city "was disappointed in Van de Kamp's decision, but it was not unexpected. It was something we had to pursue and we did. Our No. 1 priority now is to try and keep our shopping center."