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Thursday, Sep 04 2014 03:56 PM

City requests postponement for Walmart Sept. 5 status conference

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The city of Tehachapi has asked for postponement of a Sept. 5 status conference related to the proposed Walmart.

The conference, scheduled for Sept. 5 at 3 p.m. in Bakersfield, was initially set by the judge handling the case after Tehachapi First had asked for more information regarding the environmental impact report.

No ruling would have been made at the Sept. 5 court date.

At the July 11 case management conference, Tehachapi First's attorney, Mark Wolfe, requested specific information from the city and from Walmart.

Judge Kenneth Twisselman granted the request, with all parties to reconvene on Sept. 5 after Tehachapi First's attorney had looked over the information he requested.

City officials said the requested postponement has to do with the volume of information.

David James, Tehachapi's community development manager, said all parties agreed that the Sept. 5 date might have been too soon.

"Sept. 5 was insight probably a little too ambitious," James said on Sept. 3. He said more time is needed to sift through all the data to meet Tehachapi First's request.

A case management conference, if the information meets all parties satisfaction, can determine when an actual court hearing can be requested for the judge to sign off on the revised environmental impact report.

A Wal-Mart, Inc. spokesperson confirmed James comment on Sept. 4.

“The City has advised that more time is needed to fulfill the request for information and all parties have jointly agreed to request the case management conference be rescheduled," said Wal-mart spokesperson Delia Garcia in an email statement.

James said a new court date has not been set. The Sept. 5 date listed on the court calendar remains the next date for a status conference.

The information requested by Tehachapi First's lawyer on July 11 would be added to the administrative record, which includes the revised environmental impact report, comments on the report, and all other relevant data.

According to City Manager Greg Garrett, the information requested includes inter-department emails  with city staff and communications with consultants regarding the planned Walmart project.

"We want to make sure that the information Tehachapi First has requested is complete," Garrett said. "It takes time to gather the information."

Garrett added that the requests are typically to set a date and then ask for a postponement if there information is still being gathered.

However, Garrett remained critical of the request, noting that it was only made recently and delayed approval of the environmental impact report.

Had Tehachapi First attorneys asked for it at an earlier date, Garrett said, the city would have included it in the administrative record. However, it will meet the request, if not at the previously agreed time.

"Like everything the city does, we want to make sure is everything is done appropriately," Garrett said.

However, Wolfe, the attorney representing Tehachapi First, disagreed.

"We ourselves are frankly curious why it's taking so long to assemble what shouldn't be all that many internal emails and memos," Wolfe said by email on Sept. 4. Wolfe confirmed his request for information from the July 11 status conference, calling the resubmitted record incomplete.

"I would simply observe that the City Council re-approved the Project on January 27, 2014, and waited until July before going back to court for sign-off," Wolfe said. "When they did so, they presented a supplemental administrative record that both they and Walmart acknowledged was incomplete. The City, not Tehachapi First, is now asking the Court to delay things further."

Twisselman ruled in 2012 that some information was inadequate, namely water availability, traffic-generated noise and a component of the traffic plan itself. Twisselman told the city to revisit those elements, setting off a long procedure. The city has since revised the original environmental impact report.

The first environmental impact report had been approved in May 2011 by the City Council. Tehachapi First filed a lawsuit soon after, claiming it inefficiently detailed traffic concerns, air pollution and noise problems.

The planning commission approved the document in Dec. 2013 in a 3-2 vote, and the decision was appealed to the city council. The council denied the appeal in January, upheld the revised environmental impact report and sent it in on to the court as part of the administrative record.


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