Ceres, CA. Citizens File Lawsuit To Halt Wal-Mart Superstore
In July of 2007 -- more than 4 years ago -- Wal-Mart unveiled a 208,000 s.f. superstore proposal from the south side of town near Highway 99 in the city of Ceres, California. The new Wal-Mart project would also be located on Mitchell Road -- less than two miles from an existing Wal-Mart, in an area the developer is calling "Mitchell Ranch Center." The giant retailer suggested at first that it would renovate its existing store -- but that ruse didn't last long. The company later announced that its existing store would be shut down, leaving the city with a large store to fill.
This city of roughly 42,245 people already has 4 Wal-Mart's within 20 miles to choose from, including the 124,000 s.f. Wal-Mart store #1983 located on Mitchell Road in Ceres. Almost as soon as the store was announced, local residents began organizing to stop it. When the city finally approved the plans in September of 2011, the story was not over.
On October 12, 2011, a citizens group in the city of Ceres filed a lawsuit in Stanislaus County Superior. The litigation, filed by the lawfirm Herum Crabtree of Stockton, California, seeks to restrain the city and Wal-Mart from doing any further work on the superstore. The lawsuit challenges Ceres' approval of the Mitchell Ranch Center project. Citizens for Ceres is a grassroots group comprised of voters, taxpayers, property owners, merchants, and residents in and around Ceres. The lawfirm's attorney handling the case is Brett Jolley. The lawsuit asks the court to invalidate the project approvals including the environmental impact report (EIR).
On September 12, 2011, the Ceres City Council voted to approve the project. Citizens for Ceres had until October 13, 2011 to challenge the Mitchell Ranch Center decision. According to Citizens for Ceres, many residents opposing this project are Wal-Mart shoppers, but they felt they should not allow Wal-Mart "to disrespect our community any longer by ignoring the significant deficiencies in the EIR and the negative impacts this specific project will bring to our community." The group said it is not against Wal-Mart per se, and has no issues with Wal-Mart continuing to operate its existing discount store already operating in Ceres. "But we do object to Wal-Mart's plans to relocate to the proposed new location at great cost to our community," the group said in a press release.
Citizens for Ceres charges that the community had ongoing concerns regarding the supercenter proposal -- but those concerns were ignored capriciously by Wal-Mart and the City. Citizens for Ceres' appeal letter to the City Council was signed by nearly 100 members. "Citizens for Ceres has strong ethical and legal convictions that the deficiencies in the EIR are significant, and that the Environmental Impact Report for the Mitchell Ranch Center is legally defective and should not have been certified by the City," said group spokeswoman Sherri Jacobson. "Our only remedy is this litigation," Jacobson said. "We believe we have a strong case to overturn the project and believe Wal-Mart should be made to follow the law on any future development."
On April 4, 2011, the Ceres Planning Commission held a hearing at which Citizens for Ceres spoke against the project. At the close of that public hearing, the Planning Commission voted 3-1 to certify the environmental impact review, and approve the project. One of the conditions included in the approval was that Wal-Mart had to submit a reuse plan for its current building before opening the new site.
The lawsuit charges that the city ignored existing blight and decay in the city, and therefore could not adequately measure the extent of urban blight that would be caused by this project. The citizens introduced a report by a consultant, Retail Strategies, that information omitted from the EIR made its conclusions legally inadequate. The citizens argue that the City's decision "was not supported by substantial evidence" in the record.
What you can do: After the lawsuit decision was announced, Wal-Mart was quoted in the local newspaper as saying: "On behalf of our customers and over 10,000 Ceres area supporters, we are disappointed to hear that an appeal was filed. We appreciate the support of the Planning-Commission, and look forward to communicating the benefits of a new Ceres Wal-Mart store and shopping center to the City Council, including creating more than 200 new jobs and generating additional tax revenues for vital city services."
Unfortunately, a larger Wal-Mart store does not mean more jobs, or more tax revenue for Ceres. Here is how Wal-Marth works: One job created, minus one job destroyed elsewhere= one job. The net impact of a Wal-Mart is often job loss.
Wal-Mart also has to figure out a way to make the locals believe that they will not wind up with a huge empty store on their hands -- what the media calls a 'ghost box.' The empty store will remain a symbol of the empty process the city went through to approve a project that adds no value to Ceres economically, and steals most of its sales from existing merchants. Until the old store is torn down, it will remind voters of Ceres why they need new leadership on the City Council.