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Mitchell Ranch may see light at end of the tunnel
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City officials have their fingers crossed.

The Fifth District Court of Appeals in Fresno has up to 60 days to render a decision on the fate of the Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center, you know, the project that's been in the works for nine years and has been fought tooth and nail by a group of people with an animus toward Walmart. In the minds of the opposition Walmart is that evil corporation that destroys small businesses and suppresses wages of peons who resort to retail to make a living by retailing cheap foreign goods.

I've personally never been a fan of Walmart but I also don't want to see their business halted because someone doesn't like them. Live and let live. This is America. Free enterprise - emphasis on "free." Survival of the fittest. But I get that many people - mostly Democrats - don't truly believe in freedom and don't generally adopt the notion of "live and let live." More like live like I say or else I will pout and whine and cry and stomp my feet.

Let's keep some things in perspective about Mitchell Ranch, first proposed before anyone heard the name of Barack Obama to give you an idea of how long this has been going on. Walmart owns the 26-acre site and plans to build a Walmart Supercenter as the anchor tenant. The Supercenter is not the whole project. While Walmart would occupy 185,668 square feet, or 61.9 percent of the center, plans call for 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 years ago Applebee's expressed interest.

There is now a sense that this protracted nightmare brought on by Citizens for Ceres - which has been clawing and scratching at the project every step of the way - may be drawing to a close. That could result in the shopping center cleared for building permits with stores opening in 2018. Not only would new shops and restaurants result, Walmart's evacuation from the corner of Mitchell and Hatch would create another new opportunity for economic development. The space could be used for a new recreational use. Walmart officials said they have re-tenanted closed stores in other communities with retailers that include Kohl's, PetCo, Orchard Supply Hardware, Pier 1 Imports, PetSmart, Sears, Lowe's, Dick's Sporting Goods, Bed Bath & Beyond, Hobby Lobby, Marshalls, Macy's, Fry's, Jo-Ann's Fabrics, BevMo!, Dillrd's, T.J. Maxx and Cost Plus World Market.

Of course, the so-called Citizens group - funny because more citizens in Ceres actually signed petitions in support of the Supercenter - believes the center will cause existing Ceres businesses district to look like an Apocalypse with zombie shoppers on the loose. The same ludicrous claims were made when Walmart first proposed their Ceres store in the early 1990s but the predicted business failures didn't occur. Even still, there is life after death and fears of the closure of Richland Market were meted out by a Dollar General. With Citizens, follow the money if you can. Nobody quite knows how this limited number of citizens can afford years of such an extensive legal fight but some smell a rat in the Save Mart Corporation which obviously feels threatened by a grocery-selling Walmart. That's the same chain
Ceres cannot remain stalled on the economic highway without getting run over. Anyone who has sat in on the City Council budget talks knows how Ceres desperately needs about $1 million more in tax revenue to keep funding police and fire operations. There's talk of police and fire layoffs to trim expenses. Unfortunately in California cities don't divvy up sales tax revenues on a per capita basis; it's all based on the point of sale. While Turlock was getting everything in order for the development of Monte Vista Crossings (home to Target), Rip Van Winkle leaders in Ceres were asleep in status quo mode and lost out.

Sales taxes aside, Ceres still finds itself sorely deficient in services. Sure, we now have a new athletic shoe store in WS on Hatch. And Togo's and Hot Rod Diner are set to open soon on Hatch Road as well. But how many Mexican restaurants, dollar stores, used car dealers, tattoo parlors and car washes can Ceres bear? Meanwhile, Ceres has zero steak houses, zero Italian restaurants, zero bakeries, zero buffet houses like Hometown Buffet or Golden Corral, zero Sizzler's, zero miniature golf, zero video arcades, zero bowling alleys, zero blood labs, zero Hallmark or stationery stores, zero book stores, zero trendy downtown eateries, and zero antique stores or antique malls. We have four McDonald's and no In-N-Outs. No Applebee's. No Chili's. There is an opportunity to correct some of these deficiencies with Mitchell Ranch.

The community is frankly tired of the endless legal wrangling.

It's time for Citizens to fade into history.

How do you feel? Let Jeff know by emailing him at