Over a year ago, newsflash described the efforts of residents in Agoura Hills, California to keep out big box sprawl (see 10/28/00 newsflash). Here’s an update from local residents: “Agoura Hills is a small community of about 22,000 people. There are approximately 12,000 registered voters. It is an upscale, attractive town approximately 20 miles northwest of Los Angeles. The populace is highly educated and boasts a high median income. Although a “freeway-based” town, it is a town nestled by beautiful mountains, the most well-known is Ladyface Mountain. It has been a city for only 20 years. The city fathers and mothers were environmentalists who sought to provide a haven away from Los Angeles and the congested San Fernando Valley. The city has strict laws regarding signage, overnight parking, garage sales and size of buildings, etc.. Many celebrities live there,including Erin Brockovich. The fight to keep out “big boxes” started in an unusual way. Citizens came to the owners of three existing hardware and lumber businesses whose livelihoods would be threatened by the possible building of a Home Depot.The owners were asked to form a committee and fund a communication campaignto alert the citizens to the danger of a giant 140,000 square foot “big box” store being planned.The owners formed the Citizens for Responsible Growth. They had no idea of the explosion of interest they would cause. Within weeks we had a town hall meeting. Over 350 people turned out. Our group now has over 500 active members. From our perspective, the City Council has slipped into bed with the Home Depot developer, Dan Selleck, the younger brother of actor, Tom Selleck. The Council has fought the committee tooth and nail every step along the way and refused to discuss the issue. The 5-member City Council sees the Home Depot as a white knight capable of contributing huge sales tax dollars that will help pay for required freeway interchange improvements. They will not discuss the possible damage to the community, the eyesore of such a building or the economic effect it will have on such a small town. They recently built a brand new City Hall and Library. The home Depot would be across and down the country road (1/4 mile away) where these two new buildings now sit nestled against the base of Ladyface Mountain.The only way to prevent the Home Depot from coming in was to get on the ballot. Our committee worked with volunteers for five months collecting signatures and just recently our petition was certified for the ballot by the County of Los Angeles as having delivered over 17% of the registered voters’ signatures. Our proposed initiative would limit the size of retail stores to 60,000 square feet. Currently, there are no stores of that size in the city. The largest, a new furniture store,is 58,000 square feet. Our existing ordinance allows the City Council to issue a conditional use permit to exceed 60,000 square feet, but our ballot question would not allow the limit to be exceeded. The City Council is committed to defeating the proposed ordinance at any cost. They began a campaign to malign the citizen’s committe board, and its 500 members. March 5th is the date for the election. Home Depot has already entered the battle, funding telephone banks, and calling each registered voter to “sample” their views. But the people who have received the phone calls tell me that they are actually “selling” people on the benefits of a Home Depot in their community. We expect they will be coming out soon with large newspaper ads, mailers, more phone surveys, local cable TV spots and a PR campaign to frighten the citizens about the ballot question.
To learn more about Home Depot behaves during a ballot question, see the article “Home Towns, Not Home Depot” on this website, and read the book “Slam Dunking Wal-Mart.” Home Depot consultants wrote an article several years ago about their successful effort to win a ballot vote in Encinitas, CA. They called it “A Home Run for Home Depot.” In Toledo, OH and Glendora, CA, Home Depot has spent as much as a quarter of a million dollars on one ballot question. This is their concept of corporate democracy: the highest bidder wins the vote. To offer your help or financial support to the residents of Agoura Hills, go to www.saveagoura.com and leave a message.