California Healthy Communities Network (CHCN) – an unincorporated association of environmental, faith-based, civil rights and labor organizations – filed a petition with the California Supreme Court Jan. 4 challenging an appellate court ruling that OK’d a 2010 decision by the Antioch City Council to approve the expansion without a design review that included environmental issues.
In the petition filed by attorney Mark Wolfe on behalf of the CHCN, the organization asks the state Supreme Court to review the city’s decision to use a similar case in San Diego to conclude that its own design review procedures do not require preparation of a full environmental impact report. The petition also questions whether the city can suddenly change the way its Design Review Ordinance is applied to projects requiring environmental impact reports.
“The reversal of the eight-year track record of the city interpreting the scope of discretion afforded the city under its Design Review Ordinance reinforces the city’s broad discretion to condition and require applicants, such as Walmart, to prepare an environmental impact report,” Wolfe wrote in the petition. The court has at least 60 days to decide if it will try the case.
Antioch City Attorney Lynn Tracy Nerland reiterated Tuesday that the city did the right thing when it approved the expansion in 2010. “The appellate court found the city’s actions regarding the design review approval for the expansion of the existing Walmart store to be legal and appropriate,” she said. “The city will wait to see if the California Supreme Court decides to review this decision of the appellate court.”
The 2010 proposal approved the store’s expansion from 141,498 square feet to 175,073, most of it dedicated to a grocery area. If expanded, the store will add 85 employees to its staff of 300.
The petition is the latest development in a contentious debate between the city and CHCN that began in 2005, shortly after Walmart sought to expand its store by 73,000 square feet and turn it into a 24-hour establishment.
Antioch’s Design Review Board approved the environmental impact reports of the expansion twice in 2007, but both times the decisions were overturned by the City Council after CHCN appealed.
However, after a similar case was settled in San Diego, the council decided in 2010 that the proposed expansion was consistent with a development plan that had already been reviewed under the California Environmental Quality Act prior to the store opening in 1998, and was subject only to a design review that did not include environmental issues.
After filing a lawsuit in 2010, CHCN obtained a favorable ruling in Contra Costa Superior Court, which granted the city the power to address environmental issues as part of its design review process. That decision stopped the expansion in 2011 until the state Court of Appeals allowed the expansion to continue in November.
Despite the petition to stop the expansion, Walmart is proceeding with its plans while reviewing its legal options. According to spokesperson Delia Garcia, “We plan to move forward with the upgrade in order to provide our customers with the one-stop shopping convenience they are looking for.”