Chico, CA. After A Decade of Delay, Judge Clears Way For Wal-Mart Expansion
Eleven years after losing a City Council vote to expand their superstore in Chico, California, Wal-Mart got some help from a judge, who cleared the expansion project despite continuing opposition from local residents.
Chico is the largest city in Butte County, California. It has more than 86,000 residents. There is already one Wal-Mart in Chico on Forrest Avenue. For about a year, a group of residents calling themselves Chico Advocates for a Responsible Economy (CARE) has been attempting to legally block their City Council’s approval of a Wal-Mart expansion on Forest Ave, that would add nearly 56,000 s.f. to the existing Wal-Mart, which is 134,302 s.f.
According to the Oroville Mercury Register newspaper, CARE argued to the court that Wal-Mart’s environmental impact report (EIR) was not complete, because the company did not consider “urban decay.” This line of argument has been used in several California communities, with mixed results. The group maintained that expanding the grocery component to the Chico Wal-Mart would have a negative impact on existing grocers, and would lead to abandoned properties, and urban blight.
Judge Stephen Benson ruled last week that there is no legal precedent for determining that a store closure creates an environmental impact under CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act.“The question is not whether a project would cause a store to close, but whether a store closure would lead to a physical impact on the environment,” the judge wrote. He also noted that Chico has had empty stores in the past that were replaced by other retailers, therefore preventing urban decay.
Opponents said the judge needed to consider a 2006 EIR that was done on this same Wal-Mart expansion, which listed a number of environmental impacts, and which resulted in the city turning down the Wal-Mart expansion.
The judge ruled that project benefits would outweigh the traffic impact on the freeway. CARE also argued that increased congestion on Highway 99 would violate the city’s General Plan to keep “level of service” on the roadway acceptable. “The City’s interpretation of its own General Plan is presumed correct and entitled to great weight,” the judge wrote.
CARE was represented by Attorney by Brett Jolley, who has made as reputation in California as the anti-Wal-Mart attorney who challenges environmental impact reports.
What you can do: To read the article from the Oroville Mercury Registry, go here:
When there is a dispute over expert witness facts in a case, judges will often side with local officials, giving them the benefit of the doubt. Citizen activism helped to delay this unnecessary expansion by more than a decade.