After more than a year of delays, opening arguments finally began Tuesday in a trial where three Burbank residents are waging a legal battle to block Walmart from opening adjacent to the Empire Center.
Attorney Gideon Kracov, who is representing plaintiffs Shanna Ingalsbee, Katherine Olson and Yvette Ziraldo, said he expects the trial — being conducted without a jury — will last through Wednesday.
The three women filed the suit in May 2012, claiming city officials erred in granting building permits to Walmart because they did not adequately address traffic and parking impacts to the surrounding area.
Kracov, who also represents United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local 770, argued on Tuesday that the planned 35,000-square-foot grocery store inside the Walmart is prohibited in the proposed location, which was a Great Indoors store.
Attorneys for the city and Walmart gave opening statements on Tuesday, and will give their full arguments on Wednesday. City officials have said in the past that a grocery store within a big-box store is permitted.
The lawsuit requests that construction of the store be halted until another environmental impact review is conducted. It also seeks improvements at two intersections near the Empire Center be completed as stipulated in a city ordinance passed in 2000.
Kracov said the city was wrong to issue building permits to Walmart ministerially, not requiring a separate approval because the building is already zoned properly. He also said city officials still need to prove a Walmart would meet state environmental standards.
"We believe the city must go back and create a record that supports its decision," Kracov said. "This is a question of public transparency."
A court-ordered injunction issued last August stopped construction on the site and suspended the building permits until the suit is resolved.
The store was originally slated to open in mid-2013.
Walmart and the city have maintained that the permits are valid because the new retailer, as a big-box store, matches the use already permitted for the location.
Rollin B. Chippey II, an attorney representing Walmart, countered that if the building permits were issued ministerially, then state environmental standards do not apply.
Furthermore, Chippey said the city had interpreted its ordinances to allow a phased-in implementation of the street improvements outlined in the ordinance. The case is filed under California environmental law and was moved earlier this year to Los Angeles County Superior Court in Santa Monica to be heard by a judge qualified to rule on cases tied to the California Environmental Quality Act.