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Tuesday, Jan 28 2014 04:02 PM

Walmart timeline uncertain following City Council approval

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Audience members supporting — and opposed to — the proposed Walmart Supercenter flashed competing signs during the City Council meeting held on Monday, Jan. 27. Most of those present seemed to favor the project; it was approved by the council on a 5-0 vote. Tehachapi News photo

Members of the Tehachapi City Council listen to testimony during a public hearing held regarding the proposed Walmart Supercenter on Monday, Jan. 27. From left are members Ed Grimes, Susan Wiggins, Mayor Phil Smith, Kim Nixon and Mary Lou Zamudio. The council voted 5-0 to approve the project and related environmental review. Tehachapi News photo

A battle over the proposed Walmart Supercenter that has waged for more than three years may soon be put to rest, now that the Tehachapi City Council has voted unanimously to certify the project's final Environmental Impact Report.

In a 5-0 vote on Monday, Jan. 27, the City Council took action to deny an appeal filed last year by local group, Tehachapi First, in response to the Tehachapi Planning Commission's approval of the project's final EIR and architectural design and site plan last month.

In doing so, the council's vote certified the report, which will be sent back for the approval of a Kern County Superior Court Judge.

The council also approved a "statement of overriding considerations" in connection with traffic related to Walmart, essentially stating that while impacts cannot be fully mitigated, the value of the development to the city is such that these can be considered acceptable.

According to City Manager Greg Garrett, it will take at least two to three months before the project information is compiled and sent back to the court for the final stamp of approval. If it is approved by a judge, Walmart would finally be given the green light to break ground.

The council meeting in the Tehachapi High School cafeteria drew more than 250 residents, some who gathered to rally support for the project, and others who said they staunchly oppose the supermarket entirely.

Although Mayor Phil Smith had asked residents to narrow the focus of their comments to the topics of water, traffic, and noise, many ― like resident Deborah Taylor-Jackson ― lamented that they are tired of driving to and from areas like Bakersfield and Lancaster to purchase goods.

"I feel we don't have a choice," Taylor-Jackson said to the board. "I, for one, with my family, drive off of the mountain every month to buy my groceries... I would be very glad to spend my money here in Tehachapi and provide the city with the revenue."

In the last three years, the project has been brought twice before the Tehachapi Planning Commission and twice before the City Council.

Tehachapi First, the local organization that grew out of opposition to the project, filed a lawsuit against the city in 2011. Later on when the case was brought before Judge Kenneth Twisselman, he ordered the city to revisit and make amendments to the EIR in three areas: water, traffic, and noise.

Members of Tehachapi First, who have been represented by San Francisco-based attorney Mark Wolfe, have maintained that they believe the final draft of the EIR still remains insufficient in addressing these three issues.

Henry Schaeffer ― local businessman and a member of Tehachapi First ― said he is concerned that increased traffic along Tucker Road could cause trouble in the future for residents traveling to the hospital being built in Capital Hills. Schaeffer is a member of the Board of Directors of Tehachapi Valley Healthcare District.

People with residences next to the proposed Walmart site (near the southeast corner of Tucker Road and Tehachapi Boulevard) will be negatively impacted as well, Schaeffer said. "I think you need to address the location."

City staff and consultants, who have worked in conjunction with CalTrans and the county to mitigate traffic primarily on Tucker Road and Tehachapi Boulevard, have argued otherwise.

A raised median will be constructed along Tucker Road, extending from the intersection at Tehachapi Boulevard to the intersection at Valley Boulevard.

Walmart will also foot the bill for two light signals, one to be placed near the Tehachapi Junction shopping center on Tehachapi Boulevard, and the other on Tucker Road.

According to Senior Manager of Communications for Walmart, Rachel Wall, a construction timeline has not yet been set.

"We are excited to be moving forward with our new Supercenter in Tehachapi," Wall said via email.

"Area residents have demonstrated overwhelming support for the project, which will provide savings and convenience to our customers who've had to travel to Bakersfield or Lancaster to shop at our stores. The planning for this store is ongoing and we hope to be able to share our next steps in the coming months."

Previously a Walmart spokesperson estimated construction time as two years post-approval.

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