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Council targets large stores

October 13, 2007|David Zahniser | Times Staff Writer

Acknowledging the effect of the presence of day laborers, the Los Angeles City Council voted Friday to draft an ordinance that would more heavily scrutinize hardware giants such as Home Depot and Lowe's.

On an 11-0 vote, the council agreed to prepare a law that would force hardware stores of more than 100,000 square feet to secure a conditional-use permit -- a hurdle typically required of liquor stores and other high- intensity businesses.

The move was initiated by Councilman Bernard C. Parks, who has complained for years about the problems caused by day laborers who gather outside a Home Depot near Slauson and Western avenues in his district -- such as alcohol consumption and public urination.

"Almost the day it came in, we had a day labor issue that has now spread from one street to three streets," he said.

The council's proposal would allow each new store to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis -- a move applauded by Home Depot representatives, who have resisted efforts by the city to impose a flat fee to pay for the effects of its business on neighborhoods.

Friday's vote comes two months after the council voted to require Home Depot to prepare an environmental impact report for a proposed store in the San Fernando Valley -- a project that drew opposition from hundreds of residents and a frenzy of advocacy by more than a dozen lobbyists.

The council could vote on the hardware superstore law in two months, just as Home Depot launches plans to build a dozen stores across the city.

Under the proposed law, Home Depot no longer would be able to get an over-the-counter building permit for any new store, as it sought to do in Sunland-Tujunga.

"It does add another layer of review on the project," said city planner Thomas Rothman.

Still undecided, however, is whether the company might pay a fee to offset the effects of its business on surrounding neighborhoods. Home Depot has submitted a counterproposal that would allow the company to pay for the construction of day labor centers but leave the city to fund their operation.

Under that arrangement, Home Depot would lease a day labor site to a nonprofit group at a cost of $1 per year; the nonprofit group would be paid, in turn, using some of the sales tax revenue that would be generated by the new store.

Still, some council members voiced doubts about using sales tax revenue that would normally go into city coffers to fund the day labor site.

Home Depot officials countered that similar arrangements have been reached with other large developers in downtown Los Angeles. "We want to be treated like other firms that have brought a tremendous amount of taxes and a tremendous amount of employment," said Home Depot spokeswoman Kathryn Gallagher.

The average Home Depot store generates roughly $1 million in taxes annually for the city, company representatives say.

Because Home Depot has the potential to deliver millions more in revenue to the city's budget, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has been working behind the scenes to ensure that any new law is not punitive to the chain. The mayor assigned his attorney, Thomas Saenz, to make sure that the final law is something that will allow Home Depot to continue its expansion plans.

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david.zahniser@latimes.com

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