We reported on 12/26/01 that the battle to stop Home Depot from invading Agoura Hills, California was coming to a head. On the March 5th ballot, the big box battle finally was decided. Residents were fighting to stop developer Dan Sellek (brother of celebrity Tom) from building a 139,000 s.f. Home Depot near Ladyface Mountain, one of the most well known landmarks in the area. Residents organized into the Citizens for Responsible Growth (CRG) and created the effort to pass Measure H, which limits the size of big box stores to 60,000 s.f. As of early March, Home Depot had contributed at least $75,000 to the anti-Measure H forces, who called themselves the Taxpayers Opposing Special Treatment. When the dust settled after the election, Home Depot lost by 120 votes. City officials claim that the March 5th vote was one of the largest election day turnouts in this city of 21,000 people. Out of 12,280 registered voters in the city, 4,622, or 37 % voted on Measure H. 2,371, or 51.3%. voted to impose the cap on retail stores, and 2,251, or 48.7% voted against a cap. Selleck is not prohibited from building a retail project, but no single building can exceed 60,000 s.f. So the ordinance prevents a certain development prototype from being built, but still allows stores larger than a football field. CRG, like other citizens’ groups, claimed that their opponent had the money, but they had the troops to organize a grassroots campaign. CRG, with the help of local businesses, spent $173,000 on the campaign. Some press reports suggest that CRG actually spent more money than the developer. Home Depot and Dan Selleck reportedly spent $121,500. Given the enormous pressure California communities are under to raise revenues, and given the ability of these companies to raise big money for elections, its remarkable that a citizen’s group can prevail against such odds. A key component in the Agoura Hills victory was a well disciplined citizens’ group, and the outfront participation by local merchants who would have withered had the Home Depot been constructed. Citizens are beginning to perceive that the much touted economic benefits of big box retail is mostly voodoo economics.
Agoura Hills now joins a long list of communities that have passed a cap on the size of retail buildings. To review other communities that have enacted or voted in retail caps, search this Newsflash data base by the word “cap”.