Redondo Beach's lawsuit
Facing the loss of its Nordstrom store to neighboring Torrance, Redondo Beach has slapped the city and owners of Del Amo Fashion Center with an environmental lawsuit in an apparent effort to kill or postpone the scheduled 2015 move.
The Seattle-based retailer and Simon Property Group, the Indianapolis-based owner of Del Amo, made the joint announcement Monday.
Redondo Beach officials filed the Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit mere hours later, apparently making good on a threat made Friday to their Torrance counterparts should Nordstrom relocate, Torrance Councilman Tom Brewer said Tuesday.
Nordstrom will become the anchor of a previously announced redevelopment of the mall's north end, building its store on the west side of the 129-acre property between Fashion Way and Del Amo Circle Boulevard.
The upscale retailer - perennially mentioned by Del Amo shoppers as the store they would most like to see in the mall - intends to relocate to what will become a two-story, 138,000-square-foot store as part of a "major renovation" of the mall.
"We feel relocating gives us our best chance to deliver a more compelling shopping experience," Erik Nordstrom, president of stores, said in a statement. "We've been able to serve the South Bay for nearly 30 years and are excited about this chance to bring a better store to our loyal customers here.
Nordstrom was a major coup for Redondo Beach when the department store, which caters to an affluent clientele, opened the three-story, 161,000-square-foot location in 1985 after a redevelopment of what is now called South Bay Galleria.
Brewer said it's his understanding the Nordstrom lease at the Galleria expires in 2015.
Despite the apparent smaller size of the proposed Torrance location, the company said it will actually have an additional 7,000 square feet of retail space compared to its existing South Bay store due to efficiencies in store design realized over the years.
"The addition of Nordstrom is a key piece of our plan at Del Amo to bring the best retailers to our already impressive lineup of anchor and specialty stores, including many new luxury retailers," said David Contis, president of Simon malls.
Still, Redondo Beach is apparently unwilling to surrender without a fight for its prestigious retailer, not wanting the Galleria to lose out to its much larger, 2.3 million-square-foot rival three miles south on Hawthorne Boulevard.
The 16-page lawsuit - which doesn't mention Nordstrom by name - essentially accuses Torrance officials of trying to have things both ways when it comes to the mall's redevelopment.
Simon's press release touted the mall's "comprehensive transformational redevelopment" while the company quoted Torrance Mayor Frank Scotto as saying it amounts to "the fulfillment of our grand vision."
However, the city quietly granted administrative approval Oct. 31 of most of the mall's plan without any public discussion in a "minor modification permit" of existing entitlements made years ago. Observers at a meeting of homeowner groups Scotto hosted Monday night noted that Simon officials went out of their way to downplay the scope of the redevelopment plan after the lawsuit was filed.
A Daily Breeze article Nov. 11 detailed the redevelopment plans, angering Torrance officials who wanted them kept quiet.
Those plans include a new 1,800-space parking garage and two-level mall wing to connect with the Nordstrom store, which will result in the demolition of the northern one-story portion of the mall and an aging medical building.
The mall also will upgrade its aging facade with new landscaping and signage; work is set to begin in spring 2013 to replace the existing food court with a "garden-inspired" dining area and renovation of a portion of the north mall. That work is scheduled for completion by the end of 2013.
"They are doing what was approved back in the late '90s," Brewer said. "We think we have good grounds for having Nordstrom come to Torrance."
Redondo Beach officials don't see it that way.
They contend Torrance officials "abused their discretion" under state environmental law by "improperly determining" that the minor modification permit would "not result in new significant (environmental) impacts or "substantially increase the severity of previously identified impacts."
The lawsuit also notes the redevelopment of the northern part of the mall is merely the first phase of revamping and potentially expanding the entire mall.
Simon said in February, in one of its infrequent public comments regarding the redesign, that the reconstruction of what was once the world's largest mall will occur in stages. The company indicated an environmental analysis would be forthcoming, but was unnecessary for the initial phase.
Redondo Beach officials noted that under state law a project cannot be split up into smaller projects to avoid scrutiny and that future phases must be adequately described.
The lawsuit also alleges Torrance officials violated the Municipal Code by approving a routine over the counter permit for such a major redevelopment rather than holding a public hearing before the Planning Commission.
No public meetings have ever been held about the project, despite city and Simon officials initially saying there would be.
Torrance City Attorney John Fellows declined substantive comment on the lawsuit, as did his Redondo Beach counterpart, Michael Webb, saying the lawsuit speaks for itself.
The legal action seeks a temporary restraining order and injunction halting the project until the city conducts an adequate environmental analysis.
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