Another court challenge will put to the test the environmental studies which formed the basis for the 2011 approval of a 26-acre shopping center with a Walmart Supercenter proposed as the anchor tenant.
Attorney Brett Jolley, representing a group calling themselves Citizens for Ceres, is scheduled to be in a Fifth District Court of Appeals courtroom in Fresno at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 22. The group is challenging a Stanislaus County Superior Court judge's ruling issued in November 2014 that decided that the proposed Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center project has met stringent environmental reviews.
City Manager Toby Wells said the court can take up to 60 days to make a decision in the Citizens of Ceres v. City of Ceres case. Wells said if the city prevails - and he believes it will - then the only option for Jolley is to appeal to the California State Supreme Court. He said the window to file is relatively short and it's doubtful the court would ever hear the case since it accepts only a slim percentage of cases, meaning Walmart decision would stand and the center could finally be constructed.
When asked to comment about her group's intention, "Citizens" group leader Sheri Jacobson sent this statement to the Courier: "Citizens for Ceres appreciates the Appellate Court reviewing our case, and look forward to our challenges to the EIR being addressed. There are two upcoming appeals requiring our attention: one filed by our group and one filed by Walmart.
"Primarily, Citizens for Ceres has laid out to the Appellate Court why we believe the Supercenter project approvals should be overturned. Since Walmart and the city of Ceres have chosen to present oral arguments to the Fresno Court -- instead of allowing the court to rule on the case without oral arguments -- all parties will be in court this summer regarding this issue.
"Secondly, Walmart has appealed the Superior Court's February 2015 order - which rejected Walmart's attempt to recover almost $50,000 from our group for alleged costs incurred as part of the litigation. Yes, the world's largest retailer is still trying to quiet the voices of the public dissent by forcing further, unreasonable economic burdens on any challenger.
"We patiently await the outcome of these two appeals. At the conclusion of the appeal, Citizens for Ceres will determine how to proceed further as a group."
Wells charged that the Citizens group has only been about delaying the project since it hired Jolley, a known hired gun against Walmart projects in California. It's been nine years since the project was first proposed to construct 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. After two-and-a-half years of studies to weigh impacts to local streets, water, air quality and economic impacts the City Council approved the application in 2011. Jacobson has maintained that the project EIR is "legally defective" and "should not have been certified by the city of Ceres." Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Roger Beauchesne ruled in 2014 that there is "substantial evidence" that the city and Walmart followed CEQA law. Jolley unsuccessfully argued that the shopping center would have negative adverse impacts on air quality and impact on the county landfill and asserted that urban decay and blight will likely occur at the existing Walmart store site when it closes for the Supercenter opening. Walmart has said it is committed to filling the existing store building at Hatch and Mitchell with another use. In his ruling, Beauchesne agreed with the EIR in its fore-cast 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.
Wells said Jolley appears to be only interested in delaying Walmart projects throughout California with no hope of halting construction. An internet search shows that Jolley and the law firm of Herum Crabtree & Brown have crafted boilerplate groups such as the Crescent Heritage Coalition, Lodi First, the Friends of Madeira, American Canyon Community United for Responsible Growth, Citizens Against Poor Planning, in addition to the Citizens for Ceres for the purpose of fighting Walmart expansions in communities that include Sonora, Clovis, Milpitas, Chico, American Canyon, Lodi, Selma, Anderson, Apple Valley, Menifee, Antioch, and Citrus Heights.