A nearly four-hour meeting of the Tehachapi City Council on Monday night, March 28, ended without a vote on the controversial Walmart project.
Supporters of the development – who frequently waved bright blue fans provided by Walmart during the hearing – were disappointed. Opponents left unhappy, too, and the Tehachapi businessman who paid to file the appeal which brought the matter to the city council was ejected from the meeting after he refused to observe a two-minute comment limit.
On Jan. 31 the Tehachapi Planning Commission, by a 4-1 vote, approved the proposed project which would include a 165,000 sq. ft. Walmart Supercenter as well as future development of three additional commercial spaces near the corner of Tucker Road and Tehachapi Blvd.
Opponents have argued that the big box would negatively impact existing businesses including a SaveMart, Albertson’s and K-Mart as well as numerous individually owned retail outlets.
Henry Schaeffer, who paid the city $1,561 to appeal the planning commission’s decision and advance the matter to the council, was among the first speakers and objected to the two-minute limit put on speakers.
Schaeffer, who is a leader of the newly-formed group, Tehachapi First, said he expected to have the same opportunity to present his concerns about the project as Walmart was given.
The gym at Tehachapi High School was packed with close to 700 people who listened to city staff and consultant presentations about the project, including two from representatives of Walmart, for more than an hour before the council hearing was opened to public testimony.
“You have two minutes, Henry,” Mayor Ed Grimes said and when Schaeffer objected and continued his comments, Tehachapi Police officers escorted him from the room without incident.
While testimony during the Jan. 31 planning commission hearing seemed to be predominantly from opponents, Walmart supporters took their turn at the microphone Monday night, many simply saying, “I want Walmart.”
Others were more specific, citing what they believe to be benefits of increased shopping opportunity with lower prices and greater choices than currently available in Tehachapi.
Although Walmart has said the project will bring up to 300 jobs to Tehachapi, opponents counter that those jobs will be replacements for lost jobs as other businesses close.
SIn his appeal application, Schaeffer cited what he sees as deficiencies in Walmart's EIR, noting that it "is inadequate and deficient and will result in significant unmitigated impacts." During Monday night's meeting he said he planned to provide the council with greater detail about his environmental concerns.
However, at the close of the public hearing just before 10 p.m., City Attorney Tom Schroeter, advised the council not to deliberate or vote on the matter because of documents received at City Hall during the afternoon before the meeting.
The letter, from Briggs Law Corporation of San Diego, said the firm represents an organization called CREED-21, and “urged” the council to uphold the appeal and deny the project.
CREED-21 is also known as Citizens for Responsible Equitable Environmental Development. The San Diego-based organization has been involved with litigation over Walmart projects throughout the state. Documents enclosed with the letter to the city described concerns related to environmental impacts including greenhouse gas emissions.
Schroeter advised the council to have its consultants evaluate the material submitted by Briggs Law Corporation and to continue its meeting to a future date, which has not been determined.