A group of Yuma, Arizona businessmen has sued the city for selling 10+ acres of land for a 129,000 s.f.Home Depot, saying that the city had no legal right to sell the land without an auction or voter approval, and that they let the land go too cheaply. The lawsuit was brought by Imperial Hardware, Foothills Nursery, Ram Pipe & Supply, Quality Tile, and Curly’s Litehouse. The lawsuit was filed against the city of Yuma, the Yuma Area Development Foundation, and Home Depot, according to the Yuma Daily Sun. The city voted last December to transfer the title to the Yuma Area Development Foundation, which turned around and sold it to Home Depot. The project has stirred up strong opposition locally, including a threatened initiative petition that challenged the sale. A citizens group later declined to file the signature petitions that would have challenged the City Council’s January vote that rezoned the land for Home Depot. In essence, the city rezoned land for a private business, then turned around and used a non-profit “Foundation” to pass along the land to the same business. A nice deal if you can get one — but one that left existing merchants wondering why city-owned land was being rezoned and sole-sourced to one company, putting the others at a competitive disadvantage. If the land was sold for less than the city could have received, the subsidy to Home Depot is a form of corporate welfare that hurts taxpayers and existing merchants.
To rub salt into the local merchant’s wounds, one of the city’s staff, whose salary is partially paid for by local merchants’ taxes, said publicly that Yuma residents should make the lives of the businesses who filed the lawsuit “absolutely miserable”, and that the citizen’s group who were gathering signatures had had their “butts whipped”. The City Administrator who made those butt-whipping comments later apologized, and said her comments were made “in a moment of frustration.” Imagine how frustrated local business and community groups are to watch helplessly as their city officials not only rezone land that was not commercially zoned, but then proceed to pass it along to the largest home improvement chain that certainly has the funds to pay full price. The City Administrator’s comments reveal an attitude about the often imperious demeanor of local government, and an insensitivity to smaller businesses that are struggling to maintain a sense of fair competition. Without the City’s aggressive land use changes and cheap sale, Home Depot would never have been able to locate in the Redondo Center. If the store is built, the Administrator will get her wish: the lives of smaller merchants will be “absolutely miserable.”