Rohnert Park, CA. Judge Hands Wal-Mart Opponents A Significant Project Delay
On June 9, 2011 a Superior Count judge ruled in favor of opponents of the Rohnert Park, California Wal-Mart Supercenter. Anti-Wal-Mart activists filed a lawsuit that claimed approval of the project by the City violated the California Environmental Quality Act. For the project to proceed the Environmental Impact Report must be revised, further studies must be conducted in regards to mitigation of noise and traffic, and the planning commission and city council must recertify the EIR. This will mean a lengthy delay.
In a statement to the press, a coalition of environmental and living wage groups said that a Superior Court Judge has ordered the City of Rohnert Park to vacate its approval of the controversial Wal-Mart Store supercenter expansion and remanded the project over to the City for additional environmental review. The Judge agreed that sections of the project's environmental impact report dealing with traffic mitigation and noise were deficient and must be reanalyzed and resubmitted to the City for approval.
The Rohnert Park Planning Commission turned down the Wal-Mart expansion project on a 4-0 vote in April 2010; but on an appeal by Wal-Mart to the City Council in July 2010, the Commission's vote was reversed, and the giant retailer won approval on a 4-1 vote.
Sprawl-Busters reported on May 1, 2011 that one City Councilor who voted for the Wal-Mart expansion had called opponents "un-American." Wal-Mart's plan was to expand its existing discount store in Rohnert Park by 32,000 s.f. so it could add a full line grocery store.
The Santa Rosa Press Democrat newspaper said the court decision dismissed a central complaint by the plaintiffs, the Sierra Club and Sonoma County Conservation Action, that the city council did not have the authority to approve the project. All parties agreed that Wal-Mart's two year long battle is now going to drag on further. "I see it as a win along the campaign trail," said Dennis Rosatti, executive director of Sonoma County Conservation Action. "We haven't stopped it, but we've put up multiple roadblocks," said Marty Bennett, the co-chair of the Living Wage Coalition of Sonoma County. "Our contention is the Rohnert Park Planning Commission heard from the grass roots public when they rejected the EIR, but the city council overturned that very popular decision." Wal-Mart's only response to the newspaper was that the company was "currently reviewing the ruling to determine its impact."
What you can do: In his 11 page decision, the judge said that the California Environmental Quality Act "is not merely a procedural statute, but one that contains a substantive mandate that an agency not approve a project unless feasible mitigation measures are adopted."
The court said that project opponents presented 14 separate mitigation measures "to ameliorate the significant traffic-related environmental effects." The response to comments by Wal-Mart did not address a number of proposed mitigation measures, such as giving employees a subsidy for carpooling, vanpooling, a guarantee ride home for carpooling employees face with an emergency. The judge wrote, "failure to respond to a suggested mitigation measure violates CEQA."
The court also said Wal-Mart must consider measures "to reduce Wal-Mart's contribution to the increased noise levels caused by the Project." The project was sent back to the Planning Commission to address "each and every traffic mitigation measure" and "reanalyze the cumulative noise impacts" of the project.
Opponents realize that the EIR will be rewritten to address these issues, but the time needed to redo this plan could delay the project for as long as a year.
Readers are urged to contact the Living Wage Coalition of Sonoma County at
http://www.livingwagesonoma.org to receive a copy of the court decision, and to find out how you can financially help the coalition that is fighting this project.