Developer Rick Caruso wants to build one of his signature lifestyle centers, but first he has to take on a big mall owner right next door.

Sounds like his long and brutal fight with Glendale Galleria owner as he was gearing up to build his Americana at Brand in Glendale?

Yes, but this time it's Santa Anita Park, where Caruso Affiliated Holdings Inc. is locked in a years-long battle with Westfield Group to build his latest project, Shops at Santa Anita.

Last year, the Sydney, Australia, company, which owns an adjacent Arcadia mall, won a round in the battle when a judge ruled parts of Caruso's environmental report on Shops needed to be redone.

So the billionaire developer has struck back.

Santa Anita Associates LLC, the legal entity developing Shops, filed a lawsuit Aug. 20 in Los Angeles Superior Court. It alleged the city of Arcadia erred in allowing Westfield to open more restaurants at its Westfield Santa Anita mall without its own environmental impact report.

The lawsuit might raise a few eyebrows considering Westfield wants to open restaurants in what is just 13,000 square feet of vacant shop space in a recently opened addition. By contrast, the Shops at Santa Anita is planned for more than 800,000 square feet.

"Let's cut through it this is another classic example of a developer versus developer using the (California Environmental Quality Act) as a hammer," said Larry Kosmont, an L.A. economic development consultant. "This is not what CEQA was intended for."

However, Caruso is the guy who doggedly fought General Growth Properties for years before winning $48 million in damages for unfair business practices and finally getting Americana at Brand built across the street from General Growth's Glendale Galleria. He isn't giving an inch this time either.

"Any third-grader knows a restaurant has different impacts than retail space," said Caruso, who is mostly known as the developer of the very successful Grove in the Fairfax District. "All we are saying is play by the same rules that everybody else plays by and follow the law."

Katy Dickey, a Westfield spokeswoman, declined comment, saying the company does not discuss ongoing legal matters.

However, Arcadia City Attorney Stephen P. Deitsch said that the restaurant expansion approval process was perfectly legal.

"We felt no additional environmental review was required or reasonable under the facts," he said.

Long-running battle

The troubles with the Arcadia project started almost as soon as Caruso first publicly spoke of the idea in an April 2004 article in the Business Journal to build a mixed-use project on the horse track's parking lot.


For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.