Burbank Walmart

The Great Indoors at the Empire Center in Burbank. Walmart has eyed the empty building to set up a new store. (Tim Berger / Staff Photographer / July 5, 2011)

Three local residents have filed a lawsuit against the city to stop a Walmart from opening in Burbank, alleging the city illegally cleared the way to issue building permits to the world's largest retailer without adequately investigating the store's environmental impact.

After months of public outcry that included protests and opposition voiced at City Council meetings, Shanna Ingalsbee, Katherine Olson and Yvette Ziraldo filed the lawsuit Friday through their attorney, Gideon Kracov, who also represents United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local 770.

The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, alleges that the city has yet to make street improvements that were required before building permits could be issued for any new businesses in, or adjacent to, the Empire Center, according to a resolution approved by the City Council in June 2000.

Specifically, two left-turn lanes on the southbound approach at the intersection of Buena Vista Street and Victory Boulevard have yet to be constructed. City officials said more right-of-way needs to be acquired for the project.

In addition, at the intersection of Buena Vista and Empire Avenue, a third left-turn lane on the westbound approach, as well as westbound and southbound right-turn lanes, have not been constructed, according to the lawsuit.

“The need and requirement to implement these measures is ongoing, and certainly applies to any new building permits for the Walmart, which will create unstudied and new significant traffic impacts of its own,” the lawsuit states.

City officials said they plan to make the traffic improvements in the future, but the amount of traffic at those intersections hasn't risen to the level where they need to be done now.

In the past, City Council members have asked if there was any money left in a $10-million fund paid by the Empire Center's developer for traffic improvements.

Community Development Director Greg Herrmann said on Tuesday that about half the money was used to reconfigure the “Five Points” intersection near the Empire Center. That project was required before Costco could open in 2001, Herrmann added.

The rest of the funds were pooled with other fees collected from various developments in the city and used on traffic projects that were needed at the time, Herrmann said.

The lawsuit also calls for a new environmental impact report studying the area around the Empire Center.

But Herrmann has said in the past that since a Walmart is considered a big-box store, which is allowed in the location, another study isn't needed.

A traffic engineer and urban planner, both retained by Kracov, submitted comments to the city prior to the permits to Walmart, according to the lawsuit.

Both experts stated that when the original environmental impact report was drafted, it looked at the Empire Center with a Great Indoors in the 142,000-square-foot building, not a Walmart.

A mega-retailer will generate much more traffic than a furniture store, the traffic engineer concluded, so another review should be conducted.

Walmart spokeswoman Rachel Wall said the legal action represents the interests of a minority in the community.

“This lawsuit is another attempt by a small number of individuals associated with special interest groups that want to stall access to affordable prices and economic opportunities, including new jobs and additional tax revenue,” Wall said in a statement.

“We know the community of Burbank wants and needs this project, as demonstrated by the hundreds of residents who turned out for the open house last fall, the countless number of supportive letters to the editor, and ongoing dialogue with residents excited about the new job opportunities,” she added. “We will continue to work with the community and look forward to serving customers soon.”