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Deadline delayed in Supercenter
Mitchell Ranch Center on the verge of reality?
Mitchell Ranch
A map of how Mitchell Ranch is to develop at Mitchell and Service roads. - photo by Contributed to the Courier

A typo found in court documents has pushed back the deadline another month for any possible last appeal of the Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center.

A group calling themselves "Citizens for Ceres" now has a new drop-dead deadline of Nov. 14 to attempt to get the California State Supreme to take up another appeal if they so choose to continue the fight.

In 2011 the Ceres City Council approved the 26-acre shopping center with an anchor tenant of the Walmart Supercenter. City approval was immediately thrown into court by "Citizens" which has thus far lost each of its appeals. The group contends that the exhaustive environmental review process leading up to approval has not met the law but no judges have bought into their argument. The Fifth District Court of Appeals in Fresno ruled on Sept. 12 against an appeal lodged by "Citizens" after the Stanislaus County Superior Court rejected their 2014 legal challenge of the shopping center.

City officials say that "Citizens for Ceres" is merely a boilerplate group, organized by attorney Brett Jolley who has fought Walmart projects in numerous other California cities, in fighting the large retailer.

The group's only remaining avenue to stop the project is the California State Supreme Court. The highest court in California, however, only agrees to hear a small percentage of petitions, said City Attorney Tom Hallinan. If the Supreme Court denies the petition for review, the Court of Appeal disposition governs the case and further appeal in a California state court is precluded.

Originally Citizens had 30 days to decide if they plan to drag out the fight. But Ceres City Manager Toby Wells said the court made a mistake in issuing its ruling which has caught by the city's legal team. Correcting the typo forced the court to issue a revised ruling on Oct. 4, extending the window for an appeal to the highest court for another month.

The Fifth District Court of Appeals heard two cases - Citizens' appeal of the lower court ruling; and the matter of who pays for the cost of producing the administrative review required in the Citizens' case held in Modesto. The Superior Court ruled that Walmart should eat the $41,000 in costs but Walmart appealed the decision with the Court of Appeals saying Citizens should pay. The language of the ruling was vague.

"When they wrote the decision they just basically said the respondents are awarded costs," explained Wells. "Well, there's too separate case here so they didn't clarify the difference between the two cases when they wrote decisions. You could have interpreted that though Citizens lost on the cost issue they got money, so our attorney said ‘we need that fixed.'"

Now that Citizens is close to running out the clock, city officials are anticipating the construction of a 26-acre shopping center that would resemble Monte Vista Crossings in Turlock at Ceres' southern gateway. City of Ceres Community Development Director Tom Westbrook said he's doubtful if Walmart has already designed the shopping center due to the extensive delays caused by Citizens.
Architectural designs could take a month or two with construction permits issued within six months. Construction could take nine to 12 months with the store and parts of the center opening in the early part of 2018.

The project would fill a large vacant parcel west of Mitchell Road near Highway 99, between Service Road and Don Pedro Road.

The Walmart Supercenter building itself is large - 185,668 square feet - but the center also includes:

• Major retailer #2 - 28,000 square feet;

• Major retailer #3 - 13,500 square feet;

• Major retailer #4 - 14,000 square feet;

• Shop #1 - 12,200 square feet;

• Shop #2 - 11,700 square feet;

• Shop #3 - 7,000 square feet;

• Shop #4 - 8,500 square feet;

• Retail pad A - 3,250 square feet;

• Restaurant pad A - 3,250 square feet;

• Restaurant pad B - 3,000 square feet;

• Restaurant pad C - 4,000 square feet.

Grand total = 299,830 square feet.

City officials believe the center could attract restaurants offered elsewhere, such as Chili's, Applebee's or Red Robbin. On Feb. 14, 2012 Ronald Caselli of Applebee's corporate headquarters in San Jose offered support of Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center in a letter to the city. "In addition to our support, we would also like to express interest in opening an Applebee's Family Restaurant at the same location, and feel like Walmart, we also could make positive contributions to the local community," wrote Caselli.

Applebee's is interested in the site because of its visibility to Highway 99. The chain declined an offer to come to a city owned site at Mitchell and Fowler years ago because it was not readily visible from Highway 99.

The economic analyst in the EIR, Bay Area Economics (BAE) concluded that the center, at build-out, would result in sales tax revenue of $34 million annually, an increase of about $327,000 extra each year to the city of Ceres.

Jacobson and members of her group have fought the project since its inception, beginning with claims that the development of the vacant lot would rob wildlife of its habitat and protesting removal of a dilapidated building on the site. She and members of her group have lodged protests over planned store hours, architectural renderings, impacts on traffic, crime and air quality, plans to re-tenanting of the old store and claims that the new center would cause economic blight citywide. City officials say the group has tried to throw every objection imaginable in an attempt to stop Walmart and believe that the "Citizens" group is a front for Jolley and the law firm of Herum Crabtree & Brown. They note that Jolley has operated behind boilerplate groups similar to the one in Ceres, such as the Crescent Heritage Coalition, Lodi First, the Friends of Madeira, American Canyon Community United for Responsible Growth, Citizens Against Poor Planning for the purpose of fighting Walmart projects. Jolley has fought the corporation's projects in Merced, Sonora, Clovis, Milpitas, Chico, American Canyon, Lodi, Selma, Anderson, Apple Valley, Menifee, Antioch, and Citrus Heights.