Officials cite comment volume as the reason
With the Walmart project still hanging in the balance, city residents and officials are awaiting the next step: a vote and debate by the Planning Commission on the project and its revisited Environmental Impact Report.
But Community Development Director David James said the process hit a snag.
Due to the volume of comments on the document and officials' desire to be as thorough as possible in their responses, the Planning Commission meeting on the REIR for the proposed Walmart project has been postponed from Monday, Sept. 23, to a later date, yet to be determined.
James said the date was always "tentative," citing the need to reserve the Tehachapi High School gym well in advance, without knowing when city officials might actually be ready for the vote and debate. The gym was chosen as the venue because officials expect upwards of 700 people to attend.
James also said the REIR reviewers determined "a couple weeks ago" that the Sept. 23 date would not be enough time to prepare, and neither would the back-up date of Sept. 30.
One letter pending a response is from Tehachapi First, a group formed in opposition to the Walmart project.
Group representative Shannon Turner said they are "legally unsatisfied" with some of the data and research in the REIR.
"The judge ruled that portions of the EIR must be redone," she said. "We want the analysis to be complete and accurate. We charge it is deficient. There is omitted information and we request they comply with the court order."
In June 2012, Kern County Superior Court Judge Kenneth Twisselman ruled the City of Tehachapi had to revisit portions of the original EIR. The city released its revision on July 1.
The two biggest points of contention are the water supply and noise findings, she said.
The group's attorney, Mark Wolfe of San Francisco, released a more comprehensive statement, which Turner read.
"The new noise analysis relies on numerous assumptions for which the revised EIR provides no factual support, which is why our comments letter repeatedly requests explanation, clarification or actual data resources to collaborate the conclusions," Wolfe said, according to Turner. "The new water supply analysis, meanwhile, relies on the five-year period from 2003 through 2007 as its baseline which, on its face, is out of date. We've therefore asked them to modify it to include and consider post-2007 projects that are currently drawing ground water from the Tehachapi water basin."
James said he was unable to give a response to the comments, citing the need to consult with the city's attorney.
In a mid-August interview, James shared his confidence in the REIR.
"The courts were very specific in their statements," he said. "So we attempted, and I think we did a pretty good job, of revisiting the issues."
Once the city officials have composed responses to all the letters submitted during the 45-day comment period on the REIR, the document will be compiled to include both the letters and responses. Then the Planning Commission will hold its meeting.
James had no estimate on a time frame.
"We absolutely want to get it right," he said. "We don't want to set artificial dates but we want the responses to the community to be as flawless as they can be."
Meanwhile, Walmart is working to drum up support for the project. Many Tehachapi residents received a four-page mailer in recent days which includes postcards pledging support to be sent to a Tucker Road mail box station.