The suit seeks to force the City Council to set aside its approval of a request by Westfield Santa Anita - noted in the suit as “the real party of interest” - to add three more restaurants (13,500 square feet) to the new Promenade expansion of the mall than previously approved without further study of the environmental impact. The suit counters the City’s argument that the changes meet the standards for a categorical exemption by the California Environmental Quality Act.
The lawsuit will bring an indefinite delay to Westfield’s hopes of adding the restaurants to fill empty space, including 10,000 square-feet of space previously designated for restaurants, at its new Promenade expansion during a difficult economic environment.
Attorneys for Caruso, which has seen its own 800,000-plus square-foot Shops at Santa Anita development delayed for years by ongoing lawsuits and appeals against the City from Westfield and its Arcadia First! group over concerns about environmental impact, repeatedly told Councilmen and City staff in writing and in public hearings at Council meetings earlier this summer that approval of Westfield’s request would result in certain litigation.
That has now happened.
Nonetheless, the Council voted 3-2 last month to approve the request, with Mayor Pro Tem Peter Amundson and Councilman Gary Kovacic opposing. Kovacic suggested there was enough question about the legalities concerning environmental law that it would be worth at least taking the steps of studying the potential impact to see what, if any, level of further reporting needed to be done to be in legal compliance. Amundson said he was uncomfortable with Westfield’s “piecemeal” approach to revising their plans.
The suit cites “significant sewage, solid waste, population, land use, traffic, and parking impacts” that would be generated by the “Restaurant Expansion.”
The suit goes on to say that “Despite this evidence (previously presented to the City), and the obvious logic that if installing restaurants were not a change in use there would be no need for permission, the City erroneously determined that the Restaurant Expansion was entitled to a Class 1 exemption.”
That determination of exemption, acording to the suit, was “an abuse of discretion, a failure to proceed in the manner required by law, a failure to support their decision with adequate findings, and a failure to make a decision that is supported by substantial evidence in the record,” according to the lawsuit.
Arcadia Development Services Director Jason Kruckeberg said Thursday that while the lawsuit was expected, the City was ”disappointed” but not surprised. “The city believes the appropriate environmental was done for the restaurant expansion,” he said.
Now in the unusual positon of defending itself in a lawsuit brought by Westfield about a Caruso development, and defending itself against a lawsuit brought by Caruso about a Westfield expansion, Kruckeberg could only say, “We’ll see where it goes.”
Caruso Affiliated declined comment following the filing of the suit.
Arcadia taxpayers are not on the hook for any of the legal expenses in either lawsuit, with Caruso covering the City’s costs on the first one and Westfield obligated to do the same in protecting the city against the most recent litigation by Caruso.
Just before last month’s vote, Councilman Bob Harbicht said he was giving his vote of approval begrudgingly and only after he lambasted Westfield for their “disgusting” behavior in regards to their lawsuit against Caruso that has held the City, the School District, and local residents hostage for several years already.
The other two votes of approval Tuesday came from Councilman Roger Chandler and Mayor John Wuo, neither of whom is up for re-election next year. Wuo is termed out and will be leaving the Council.
Although there has been little show of interest from local residents in this latest skirmish – not even by the residents who support the concerns of Arcadia First! about the environmental impact of The Shops at Santa Anita - former school board president and Chamber of Commerce board member Mary Dougherty detailed numerous environmental concerns last month in a blog here at ArcadiasBest.com.