Special Sections : Walmart

Wednesday, Jun 22 2011 01:20 PM

Local group sues: Tehachapi First claims Walmart EIR violated CEQA guidelines

Tehachapi First, a local, organization which grew out of opposition to a proposed Walmart store, reported on Friday, June 17, that is has filed a lawsuit challenging  the City of Tehachapi’s May 19 approval of a 165,000 square-foot superstore on Tucker Road.

The deadline to file a legal appeal to the certification and notice of determination of the Walmart environmental impact report (EIR) expired on June 20, several hours after the deadline for this edition of the Tehachapi News.

Shannon Turner, spokesperson for Tehachapi First did not return calls before deadline Monday; however she sent a press release to the Tehachapi News late Friday afternoon.

The City Council’s approval of the controversial project came upon the heels of a failed appeal of the Tehachapi Planning Commission’s approval of the project earlier this year. That appeal was filed by local businessman Henry Schaeffer on behalf of Tehachapi First, and was answered with the council’s May 19 approval.

Kern County Superior Court clerks told the Tehachapi News that it’s possible the lawsuit had not been entered into the system as of noon on Monday, June 20.

The City of Tehachapi was not able to comment at press time as they had received neither Tehachapi First’s press release nor any notice of the lawsuit.

The city’s legal counsel, Tom Schroeter, said he received a “notice of commencement of action” Monday afternoon that was dated June 17.  Schroeter said he was advised of the notice by Walmart’s legal counsel.

The City Council’s approval of the project stipulated that Walmart must indemnify the city in cases of challenges to the Environmental Impact Report.

“Walmart’s attorney will be pursuing this,” Schroeter said, explaining that the city’s legal counsel will have 30 days to respond to a petition and will likely include a transcript of all past actions on the matter.

“The judge would have a full record, the case gets argued and both sides can present their side,” Schroeter said.

The city council’s approval of the project stipulated that Walmart must indemnify the city in case of challenges to the Environmental Impact Report (EIR).

According to Turner’s press release, the lawsuit in question stipulates that the Tehachapi City Council violated several provisions of the California Enviromental Quality Act (CEQA).

“The enviromental impact report (EIR) the city council prepared for Walmart’s megastore completely whitewashed over the serious traffic, air pollution, urban decay, and noise problems it will inflict on our community,” the press release stated.

Tehachapi First seeks to stop or rescind any permits issued to Walmart by the city, as well as mitigation of any alleged deficiencies in the EIR.

Turner continues, “We are confident that the court will agree that the city’s analysis was utterly deficient and both the city and Walmart need to do more to minimize or avoid the project’s enviromental consequences, which the evidence shows are substantial.”

The city council did not prepare the EIR, it hired an independent consulting company which took almost two years to complete the study.

Prior to receiving news of legal actions sought by Tehachapi First, Amelia Neufeld, Walmart’s Senior Manager of Public Affairs and Government Relations in Sacramento said, “If everything proceeds on schedule, “we expect to open the new store in early 2013.”

Neufeld was traveling when she was advised of Tehachapi First’s actions, and she deferred to Tiffany Moffat, Regional Director of Media Relations.

“Although we are currently reviewing the suit, I can tell you that we look forward to partnering with the community to bring a store that Tehachapi residents want and need,” Moffat said via email.

“Now more than ever, hard-working families are looking for an opportunity to save and Walmart is a part of that solution. More than 3,600 Tehachapi residents have expressed support for Walmart and the approximately 300 new jobs, increased sales tax revenues and opportunity to shop locally.”

Heather Baugh, Assistant General Counsel for CEQA said the review process to void certification of an EIR under CEQA guiddlines could take as much as two years.

“Sometimes a developer decides not to proceed,” Baugh said adding that steep legal expenses can be a determining factor.

To date, whether or not Walmart should be allowed to build in Tehachapi has been the topic of five public meetings, two of which drew more than 700 people, and one of which lasted four hours.

Collectively, more than 150 public speakers addressed the Tehachapi Planning Commission and the City Council at the meetings.

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