The state Supreme Court decided to not hear a petition filed by the California Healthy Communities Network (CHCN) – an unincorporated association of environmental, faith-based, civil rights and labor organizations – 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.
The court’s decision paves the way for Walmart to expand its store by about 33,000 square feet, most of it dedicated to a grocery area. The store will add 85 employees to its staff of 300, according to company spokesperson Rachel Wall. “This is a victory for our Antioch customers who want access to more affordable grocery options close to where they live or work,” she said. “The fact that the appellate decision stands sends a strong message to special-interest groups who want to decide where people should shop and work.”
In its last-ditch effort to stop the expansion, CHCN asked 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 did not require preparation of a full environmental impact report, and questioned whether the city could suddenly change the way its Design Review Ordinance is applied to projects requiring environmental impact reports.
Phil Tucker, project director for the CHCN, said while the legal fight might be over, the organization intends to watch over the expansion. “We will continue to monitor this process and record and report the community impacts created by the addition of non-taxable grocery sales to an already grocery-saturated retail trade area.”
The store’s expansion created a fierce debate between the city and CHCN in 2005, shortly after Walmart sought to expand its store by 73,000 square feet in addition to converting it to a 24-hour establishment.
Antioch’s Design Review Board approved the environmental impact reports of the expansion twice in 2007. The second time, Walmart amended its design to expand only by 33,575 square feet while also dropping its desire to stay open 24 hours, but 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 last November.
Antioch City Attorney Lynn Tracy Nerland said the city is relieved that the legal fight has been resolved: “The city is pleased that the California Supreme Court found no reason to question the city’s environmental and planning procedures in approving development projects.”
Walmart, which brought in $466.1 billion in sales during the last fiscal year, is ranked second on the 2012 FORTUNE 500 list of the world’s largest companies by revenue.
Outside the store Tuesday, customer Brian Carter was unaware of the legal battle or the store’s intention to expand, but that he would fully support a larger facility.“Walmart has the best deals,” said Carter. “Why wouldn’t someone want it to expand?”