Activists Best Home Depot in Sunland-Tujunga

They were dancin' in the streets Tuesday night in Sunland-Tujunga. -- triumphant in a five-year battle to keep Home Depot from opening a store they felt would destroy the "old western" character of their semi-rural community.

The  home improvement chain store quietly filed a motion on New Year's Eve to drop its lawsuit against the city, then on Tuesday closed down the website it set up for outreach to Sunland-Tujunga residents and then confirmed to local activists late Tueeday night that they were giving up the fight and selling the former K-Mart site.

"We Win!" shouts the headline on the "No Home Depot" website.

Email messages from Joe Barrett, one of the movement's leaders, said: "The news we have waited for for so long! Home Depot pulling out of Sunland-Tujunga!!! ... We are still shaking from the news, updates when we settle down and stop celebrating!"

"Tonight, the lights were out at the old K-Mart building, the security guard asleep in his car under the portico," commented Dr. David DeMulle, editor of the Foothill Paper.

"How soon will the Home Depot people remove the lonely, unlit, "Home Depot Coming Soon" sign. Fare thee well Home Depot-Your money and lies did not save the day for you." 

It is a rare victory for community activists who long complained that City Hall is indifferent to their concerns -- or worse, sells them out to moneyed interests.

Home Depot spent millions of dollars in a sometimes heavy-handed campaign to defeat community opponents.

But the effort backfired and energized people like Barrett, Abby Diamond, Nina Royal and many others to fight back. They worked the community in meetings, staged rallies, packed pubic meetings and used the Internet as a weapon, keeping people informed of each development in the long drama. Along the way, the "No Home Depot" campaign became a model for community activism in the city.

The company got its building permit from the city originally before anyone knew about it. As word spread, concerns grew over the proximity of a school to the site where large amounts of toxic chemicals would be stored, the large trucks that would clog the one main road through Sunland-Tujunga and the impact on local hardware stores and other businesses.

But the deeper issue was it didn't serve any community interest of the residents of Sunland-Tujunga and that was something city officials routinely ignore when making development decisions.

In the face of growing and persistent community opposition, the City Council eventually decided to pull the building permit, which prompted Home Depot to sue.

As part of a temporary halt to the suit, the city agreed to intervene with the City Attorney's mediation service and that proved to be a disaster, with the mediator openly siding with the company.

Last month, Home Depot reinstated its lawsuit, which makes its decision to give up all the more surprising.

The question now is what will happen to the site. Activists have long sought a community center and are certain to push for that as part of any project that is put in place of the Home Depot store.

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