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City preparing for Supercenter suit
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City staff members are assembling documents to take to court in defense of the city's recent approval of the Walmart Supercenter and the Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center.

"It is a heck of a stack of paper," commented City Attorney Mike Lyions.

Lyions is not the attorney who will be fighting a challenge mounted by a group calling themselves Citizens for Ceres. The law firm of Meyers, Nave, Riback, Silver & Wilson (Meyers Nave) will defend the city because of its expertise in land use litigation. The bill for the law firm will be paid by Walmart, noted Lyions.

Citizens for Ceres are challenging the approval of Mitchell Ranch issued by the Ceres Planning Commission and Ceres City Council. Walmart wants to build the shopping center at the northwest corner of Mitchell and Service roads and vacate the existing Walmart at Hatch and Mitchell. Citizens have filed suit in Stanislaus County Superior Court challenging the city's ability to approve the project, primarily arguing that the scope of environmental review was lacking.

"The city's very confident that its environmental impact report is sufficient and covered everything it needed to cover," said Lyions.

Specifically, the lawsuit faults the EIR for not adequately addressing any potential urban decay resulting for the new center. Proponents of the center long argued that the EIR has addressed those concerns and noted that the term blight is different than one used in redevelopment agencies.

Lyions said he is helping to collect all of the records, including copies of staff reports and typescripts and minutes of public hearings, and should be done by Friday. Once that's completed the opposition could ask the judge to augment the record by adding additional documents. Both parties may then agree to set a time to file briefs which can be by agreement or through a judge.

"We're kind of looking at hopefuly garnering a Superior Court decision on the matter in July or August," said Lyions. "It could go a little faster."

If the city wins, said Lyions, the opposition could appeal the decision to an appellate court.

"The odds are the opponents, Citizens of Ceres, whoever they might be, would appeal it to the Appellate Court."

"Generally, if they're successful it's curable," he added. He clarified saying a judge or court could make the city take additional environmental review to solidify the basis of the decision.

Lyions estimated that it could take until the summer of 2013 before an Appellate Court could hear the case.

Nothing is stopping Walmart, meanwhile, from taking out building permits and start construction on the center, said Lyions. It's unlikely they would, he added, saying there is a risk of a court order to stop.

"It's a risk most stores cannot make."