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Citizens have until Feb. 2 to appeal Walmart decision to higher court
An artistic rendering of what the Walmart Supercenter will look like if ever built.

"Citizens for Ceres" has until Feb. 2 to file an appeal of the court decision that ruled against them in their fight against the Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center and its anchor tenant of the Walmart Supercenter.

"The clock has started clicking and we look forward to the completion of that time frame," City Manager Toby Wells told the Ceres City Council at the Dec. 8 council meeting.

Last month the project got a step closer to reality after a Modesto judge ruled against the challenge against the project lodged by a group calling themselves "Citizens for Ceres."

In 2011 the Ceres City Council approved the shopping center with its Walmart Supercenter anchor tenant for 26 acres at the northwest corner of Mitchell and Service roads. However, the shopping center hasn't developed because of the group, led by Sheri Jacobson and represented by Walmart foe attorney Brett Jolley. "Citizens" fought the project on the assertion that the Environmental Impact Report, which took 2 1/2 years to craft, did not adequately follow environmental review law. Jacobson claimed that the project EIR is "legally defective" which "should not have been certified by the city of Ceres."

Jolley argued in court that the shopping center would have negative adverse impacts on air quality and impact on the county landfill and asserts that urban decay and blight will likely occur at the existing Walmart store site when it closes for the Supercenter opening. City Manager Toby Wells said the claims that the county Fink Road landfill - which has enough capacity for the next 100 years - cannot handle the shopping center's waste was "grasping at straws."

Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Roger Beauchesne last month agreed, finding that there is "substantial evidence" that the city and Walmart followed CEQA law.

In his ruling, Beauchesne agreed with the EIR in its prediction that the center will generate an estimated $327,000 in additional sales tax annually for the city and 250 more jobs. "Citizens" has maintained that there would be no benefit in jobs and tax base because the Supercenter would result in the closure of other businesses.

"Citizens" could appeal Beauchesne's decision to the 5th District Court of Appeals. If they did so, it's not likely that the appellate court would hear the matter for at least another year, said former City Attorney Mike Lyions.

"We are in the process of evaluating our options," said Jacobson in a Friday email to the Courier.

The statement echoed one she released on Nov. 7: "We are disappointed in the court's ruling. Citizens for Ceres still strongly believes the Supercenter will have negative impacts on our great community that will outweigh any positives. We are evaluating our options.

First proposed in 2007 by a different group, the shopping center would consist a 185,668-square-foot Supercenter and 10 other retail shops totaling 114,162 square feet. Specifically, the project includes three other major tenants, four smaller shops, a stand-alone retail building and two to three new eating establishments. No tenants besides Walmart have been named but Applebee's has expressed interest.

Jolley has filed similar suits in other locations in California, including Bakersfield, Clovis, Chico, Elk Grove, Crescent City and Milpitas, in an attempt to prevent the building of Supercenters.