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Supercenter foes should be limited
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In September 2009, the Merced City Council approved plans for a 1.1 million-square-foot Walmart distribution center on 230 acres near Kibby Road and Childs Avenue in southeast Merced which promises to provide 1,200 jobs.

The vote came four years after Walmart announced it wanted to site the center in Merced County, where unemployment hovers around 20 percent.

Now three years after that vote there still is no distribution center to show for years of planning, studying and money spending. And because the warehouse hasn't materialized, neither have the 1,200 jobs in the jobs-starved county.

Care to venture a guess where that project is? Tied up in court - that's where.

Sound familiar? It should. That's also where the Ceres Walmart Supercenter is - tied up in court.

This is the game played by anti-Walmart forces, fueled by money of labor unions and competitors who feel threatened by Walmart.

Ceres city officials who predict that the Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center project should be cleared through the legal channels in two years might want to consider what's happening in Merced and see that this could be a much longer wait.

Let's review.

Within 30 days of its 6-1 approval by the Merced City Council, an opposition group filed a protest. The City Council, by a 7-0 vote, voted to deny the appeal filed by a group calling themselves Merced Alliance for Responsible Growth (MARG) regarding Planning Commission action on the project. Despite the fact that the project was beat to death with an environmental fine-toothed comb for years, the opponents attacked the EIR as lacking.

That's exactly what is happened in Ceres. Currently the group of Citizens for Ceres (lawyer Brett Jolley orchestrating local residents), has the case in Stanislaus County Superior Court. Jolley is dragging his feet about the content of the administrative record, which City Attorney Michael Lyions calls "major delay tactic."

It should be noted that MARG is a union-hired attorney wearing the same hand puppet as Jolley. Former Merced Mayor Bill Spriggs said the opposition is a small group, noting "If this was an Amazon distribution center, it would probably go (as) quickly as Patterson."

Small group. Sound familiar? Just as in Merced, there was no major groundswell of oppostion against Walmart in Ceres. In fact, the opposite is true. Supporters for the Ceres Supercenter came out in droves. The company says it gathered 10,000 signatures on petitions urging the city to approve the project.

Ceres city leaders know that ultimately the judge in Modesto will decide that indeed the EIR does hold water and the project may proceed.

Then can Walmart build its Supercenter and shopping center at the corner of Mitchell and Service roads? If the Merced case is a representative example, don't count on it. In March 2011, Merced County Judge William Burby ruled that the city of Merced complied with all of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requirements when it approved the proposed Wal-Mart Distribution Center. Thomas Libby - who makes his living by sticking it to Walmart's side - appealed the matter to the Fifth District Court of Appeals in Fresno where - surprise, surprise - it remains tied up in delay tactics today.

The Merced Walmart project is now a political football in this election year. Deputy Sheriff Jim Pacheco is running radio ads on KYOS which attack incumbent Supervisor John Pedrozo as failing to support the Walmart warehouse. Pacheco sees a correlation between developing industry and generating more taxes for law enforcement.

According to a Wall Street Journal article, the opposition against Walmart in California is mostly funded by grocery chains and grocery unions and their workers who feel threatened by free enterprise. As in Ceres, the Merced oppostion grasped at straws, such as making wild and far-flung jumps assumptions to instill public fear about the project. For example, the distribution center would bring in trucks, which means truckers which means prostitutes hanging around trucks which means used condoms scattered about town. They insinuated that 600 truck trips a day would cloud the Valley with enough smog to forever block out the sun. (I wonder if they know 200,000 trips a day go up Highway 99 already). We heard similar fear tactics in Ceres, including that a 24-hour Supercenter in Ceres would be a crime magnet (as if a small 7-Eleven store isn't).

It's disheartening to know that Walmart plays by the rules and jumps through the hoops yet a legal thug could delay things for years. If Sacramento wants to be business friendly - it seems quite the opposite - it needs to pass legislation that puts a definite time period on challenges that projects don't meet CEQA. For example, if the opposition can't present its case in six months to a judge, the case should be dead and the project proceed. Holding any corporation - and its faithful customers - hostage to delay tactic after the matter has been studied ad nauseum and voted on by elected officials is just wrong and anti free enterprise.

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