In what lawyers involved said was the first published opinion on the issue, a three-judge panel in 2nd Appellate District clarified which businesses are allowed to receive municipal relocation incentives.

The case, arising from a fight between the cities of Carson and La Mirada, clarified the definition of a "big-box retailer" included in a 1999 state statute under which local agencies are prohibited from providing financial assistance to get an automobile dealership or "big box retailer" to relocate.

The case involves office supply firm Corporate Express, which was looking to consolidate its Carson sales and distribution center into a new, 250,000-square-foot facility. The distribution center was estimated to generate $187 million in taxable sales for 2001 at the time Corporate Express was negotiating with La Mirada for its new facility. La Mirada offered the company a financial aid package worth $18 million in sales tax rebates over 15 years, court papers say.

The city of Carson sued, claiming the distribution center fell under the definition of a big-box retailer in the statute.

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge rejected the claim, saying that Corporate Express, which does not sell to the general public or have cash registers on site, did not have the "very large parking lots" nor cater to "auto-borne shoppers" that define big box retailers, court papers say. It also does not have large signs or an area where products are displayed, the trial court judge noted.

But the appellate court reversed that decision, writing in its Dec. 30 decision that "The trial court used enterprises such as Costco, Sam's Club, Homebase, and other giant retail chains as the model for its definition of big-box retailer." But the intent of the statute was to prevent competition between cities for businesses that generate large amounts of sales tax, the panel says.

Doug Evertz, a partner at Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth PC who represents La Mirada, said he plans to file a petition for review to the California Supreme Court.

"Corporate Express views itself as a distribution site, not a location where you can drive up and buy something or order something," he said. "We'll ask the court to view whether Corporate Express is the definition of a big-box retailer, and to find the trial court's ruling is correct."

Arbitration Additions

Two arbitration and mediation groups have brought in new executives. JAMS hired Brian Parmelee from his post as general manager of the Four Seasons Resort Aviara and named him vice president of its Southwest region. He will be responsible for strategic planning, day-to-day management, recruiting and business development for the region including Southern California and Texas. And Alternative Resolution Centers, or ARC, has hired retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Richard Hubbell.

Formerly the supervising judge of the probate department, Hubbell joined soon after the organization opened a downtown office.

Staff reporter Amanda Bronstad can be reached at (323) 549-5225, ext. 225, or at .

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