Home Depot is pulling all the strings in El Cajon, California. On June 6, 2006, Sprawl-Busters reported the controversial death of a Home Depot project in El Cajon. We reported that citizens fighting Home Depot in El Cajon had hammered the home improvement store. Opponents received the following email: “Dear Neighbors and Friends: In case you have not yet heard….LAFCO, the Local Agency Formation Commission, has voted to REJECT the Home Depot project on East Main. The vote was 5-3 this morning and this is a BIG VICTORY. So unless Home Depot files a lawsuit, the project is dead.” The city of El Cajon did file a lawsuit, and that case is still in the courts. But now, a year and a half later, Home Depot is trying to end run the courts and come back from the grave. The San Diego Union Tribune reports this week that city officials in El Cajon are trying to battle against county officials in an attempt to annex the land Home Depot wants into El Cajon. City officials have asked state Assemblyman Joel Anderson, a Republican from La Mesa, California, to file legislation that would make it easier for cities to annex land from a county. If it were to become law, Home Depot would be able to build on the 14 acres it owns on East Main Street, just outside of the city limits of El Cajon. The lawsuit will settle whether the land belongs in the city or the county. The county has zoned the Home Depot property residential, but the city has zoned it commercial. “I think (the bill is) going to be introduced,” Anderson told the Union Tribune. “I just don’t know who’s going to do it and what the final language would be.” The bill has to be filed within the next couple of weeks. The county sees the legislation as just another end-run by the city, which is trying to force this big box store on unhappy local residents. “This is just the latest in a long line of questionable tactics designed to jam through an inappropriate project that the residents don’t want, and it’s wrong,” said county Supervisor Dianne Jacob. But El Cajon’s city manager said, “This property should have been annexed a long time ago.” The City Council approved the project in 2005, but in 2006, the San Diego Local Agency Formation Commission, or LAFCO, which controls annexations and boundaries, turned down the annexation. Even though Home Depot’s land is located in the county, it’s within El Cajon’s “sphere of influence,” an area that describes where a city can grow. LAFCO has to approve the rezoning, or the Home Depot project cannot happen. When LAFCO voted no, El Cajon sued the county. A court decision is expected this spring.
LAFCO had to rule whether the land the city wanted to annex was “substantially surrounded” by the city. The land is bordered by El Cajon on three sides, but by Route 8 on the fourth. It juts out like an island from the city. The city argued that the parcel is only accessible through the city. But LAFCO is also allowed to examine the impacts the project would have on the community’s character, and on its public services, such as police and fire protection. It is transparent that the city is trying to change long-standing established law to benefit a private developer. “There would be no local input into the decision-making process,” staff for LAFCO told the newspaper. When LAFCO turned down the annexation, one commissioner opined that Home Depot would create “severe adverse impacts” to the surrounding neighborhoods. The county, the Lakeside Fire Protection District and East County planning groups also opposed annexation. The Tribune reported that residents “broke into applause” when the vote to kill annexation was made. Readers are urged to email State Assemblyman Joel Anderson, at: [email protected],with the following message: “I urge you not to file legislation that makes it easier for cities like El Cajon to annex land. The legislation El Cajon wants you to file is the worst kind of special interest bill. Everyone realizes that the sudden interest El Cajon has in changing the law is that they were unhappy with LAFCO’s decision in the Home Depot case. This Home Depot plan was very divisive, because the residents bought homes relying on the fact that the county land was zoned residential. To change it now to suit one developer will harm many homeowners. This is not the way to make zoning decisions — to help one developer over the wishes of El Cajon residents. Please tell city officials to keep this a local issue, and not try to use the Assembly to change the rules in the middle of a case.” For earlier stories, search Newsflash by “El Cajon.”