Caruso suit: City “disappointed”

It took a month longer than expected but Arcadia was served on Wednesday with a copy of a lawsuit filed last week against the City by Caruso Affiliated’s Santa Anita Associates.

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.

Promenade Grand Opening on May 7 at Westfield Santa Anita

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.

Comments

  1. I am most disappointed that politics and bureaucracy get in the way from truly progressive things happening in our city. In my opinion, Caruso should have already been approved, built and opened his outdoor shopping complex by now (in addition to the numerous school renovations, community theatre and synching the traffic lights he was offering!). This would have provided money to the city and prevented the historic Race Track from declaring bankruptcy. Westfield should have more integrity. If they are also selling good products – and the renovations over the last years have made the mall a truly impressive place to shop and dine, then they should not be so concerned that competition will drive sales down – but overall sales will be up if more people are encouraged to come to the area.
    I hope the city doesn’t continue to be at the losing end of this mall battle for years to come. That would ultimately be the big shame in all of this.
    Thank you for the article and shedding light on this important issue that has many facets indeed.
    - loyal Arcadian

  2. Kudos to Caruso! He should have sued the City long ago. Put to a city wide vote we approved the Caruso project. Unfortunately Westfield threw a temper tantrum and has tied this up in court. The Westfield mall is a hap hazzard design and unnattractive! If you have ever been to any of Caruso’s projects you will find class, elegance and a pleasurable place to be. Shame on this Cities council for caving in!! Mr. Amundson & Mr. Kovacic – I appreciate your strength to stand on principal!

  3. Bruce McCallum says:

    I completely agree with Kathy’s comments – she could not have said it better. It’s time to get the Caruso project sgtarted.

  4. MARIA PASOS says:

    We did not need More! It was just great the way it was. We who live nearby Baldwin Ave cannot even drive north due to traffic congestion. The street is always backed up South of Huntington Drive. The supposedly new parking at Westfield is terrible despite the added parking. I don’t go to the mall any more; I go to another city. It is sad the Arcadia has gotten greedy for money.

    Resident of Arcadia

  5. Charlene Martinez says:

    Hooray for Caruso!! The new promenade is a tacty add on to the mall and should have been built over by the restaurants–and use the existing closed restaurant and/or the closed Robinson May site.

  6. Charlene Martinez says:

    oops, tacky

  7. The residents of Arcadia should be disappointed for having such a dysfunctional City Council.

    Caruso is only playing by the game book developed by Westfield and apparently endorsed by City Council members.

    Arcadia needs the Shops at Santa Anita. It will benefit the city and school district, especially during a time that funds are sorely needed.

    Westfield has become an eyesore and traffic nightmare. Where was the City Council when that planning (or lack of) was performed?

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