(FORMERLY OPPOSE WAL-MART) UPDATE
September 6, 2012
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Editor: Lee Perkins
VIEW PAST SAVE ATASCADERO UPDATES, AT
SAVE ATASCADERO SEEKS RELIEF IN COURT TO ENSURE CEQA STANDARDS WILL BE MET IN THE EIR REPORTS ON THE WALMART/ANNEX PROJECT. THE FOLLOWING IS THE SAVE ATASCADERO NEWS RELEASE AS WELL AS ARTICLES FROM THE A NEWS AND THE TT COMMENTING ON THE SUIT.
THANK YOU ALL FOR YOUR CONTINUED SUPPORT!
August 15, 2012
PRESS RELEASE FOR CEQA CHALLENGE OF WALMART/ANNEX PROJECT
Save Atascadero had no alternative but to seek relief in court. Neither the Atascadero Planning Commission, with the exception of one member, nor the City Council did their “due diligence” in assessing, deliberating, and ensuring that CEQA standards were met by the state-mandated Environmental Impact Report before approving the Project.
Willfully ignoring the testimony of experts and informed citizens, that highlighted insufficiencies, inconsistencies and inaccuracies in the EIR data and the lack of pertinent data, the City Staff, Planning Commission and Council, failed the citizens of Atascadero.
For both pro and anti-Walmart supporters, rest assured if or when the project comes, we want it to be the best project, the most environmentally mitigated project that is feasible to meet CEQA standards or even to exceed those standards.
This legal challenge is technical and will be fought out in the court room through the testimony of experts, not in the press or letters to the editor.
Any questions are to be directed to
M.R. Wolfe & Associates, P.C. Attorneys-at law
1 Sutter St. Suite 300
San Francisco, Ca. 94104
Tel: (415) 369-9400 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tom Comar, Spokesperson for Save Atascadero
SAVE ATASCADERO NOTE: Between 40 and 50% of Atascadero residents have septic tanks. When our septic tanks are serviced, the “septage” must be trucked all the way to Santa Maria to be processed. This has been happening for almost ten years. Having to transport the septage such a distance means our septic tank servicing is more expensive for us and inconvenient for local Septic Tank Service companies. It begs the question, what improvements has Atascadero made to their basic pond system for waste over these last ten years??? In the meantime, the Sewer Fund/Wastewater has accumulated to over 10 Million dollars which the City proposes to borrow to finance the road improvements for Wal-Mart.
SLO TRIBUNE VIEWPOINT
Viewpoint: Annex project not worth risks
By Len Colamarino
I alone voted against the Walmart/Annex project at the Atascadero Planning Commission meeting on June 5.
That Walmart was one of the project applicants had nothing to do with it. The project entails costs and risks for Atascadero that greatly exceed the hoped for benefits and rewards.
The Walmart/Annex Project commits the city to advance approximately $2.5 million to improve the Del Rio freeway interchange. Recovering that money depends on the Annex portion of the project being built. That is a doubtful matter, at best.
Five of the Annex’s six parcels were acquired through foreclosure last month by the Montecito Bank and Trust Co., from its borrower, The Rottman Group. Rottman was Walmart’s co-applicant on the project going back to 2006. Since then, it faltered financially, fell out with Walmart and lost all but one of the Annex parcels. So now five Annex parcels are held by a bank and the other is controlled by a disgruntled, insolvent developer. With the economy still stalled, and no white knights or angels around, assuming the Annex will be developed as Rottman planned is unrealistic.
Nonetheless, the city proposes to bet $2.5 million of taxpayer money on the premise that the Annex will be built as Rottman planned. Not only that, with the city suffering its own financial distress, it will take the $2.5 million from the Atascadero wastewater fund as a loan.
When I questioned this at the Planning Commission meeting, the city attorney summarily declared it legal, without elaborating on the grounds for his opinion. As to whether insurance would cover the risk of the wastewater fund coming up short due to an earthquake or other unplanned event (like a state mandate requiring additional wastewater spending), no answers were forthcoming. Given the sums involved, the irregularity of this inter-agency borrowing, and the various risks, a thorough, written analysis of the issues is the least a city official should have to justify approving such a “funny money” transaction.
Predictably, the Environmental Impact Report is also being challenged. Attorneys for project opponents submitted a letter arguing, most notably, that the EIR’s “fair share” analysis, under which Walmart bears only about half of the project’s traffic mitigation costs, is legally flawed. The city attorney and the EIR consultants dismissed those arguments at the Planning Commission meeting, but did not provide detailed written refutation. That led me to inquire whether insurance might cover the city’s costs in defending against litigation arising from certification of the EIR. Nobody had an answer to that question.
To justify a municipality proceeding in the face of costs and risks of this magnitude, there should be near-certainty that the community will make big money from the project. Here, however, the prospects are nothing like that. Annual sales tax revenues of about $320,000 are projected from Walmart, along with another $200,000 from the Annex if and when it is developed as originally proposed. Beyond that, there are only unquantifiable hopes that multiplier benefits will trickle through Atascadero from money spent at Walmart, even though Walmart’s products are sourced elsewhere and its profits go back to Arkansas.
The Walmart/Annex project’s limited upside cannot support spending $2.5 million that we don’t have, raiding the wastewater fund and exposing the city to risks of major financial loss and protracted litigatigation. Putting aside the culture-war distractions that come with Walmart’s involvement and assessing this project purely on its merits, it is plain that approval of it in its current form does not withstand analysis. The public’s money is not for gambling, especially in such large amounts and on such an unsafe bet.
Atascadero Planning Commissioner Len Colamarino is a business lawyer who practiced in New York for almost 30 years. He relocated to Atascadero in January 2005.
A NEWS, AUGUST 17, 2012
SAVE ATASCADERO FILES LAWSUIT ABOUT WALMART
Save Atascadero files a lawsuit against the city of Atascadero on Aug. 9 that challenges the city’s actions made on June 26 in regard to the Walmart/Annex.
According to city attorney Brian Pierik, the lawsuit could delay the project at least a year or more. The petition, filed by Mark R. Wolfe and John H. Farrow of M. R. Wolf and Associates, P.C. of SF, the attorneys for Save Atascadero says that the lawsuit challenges the city’s actions that certified the environmental impact report under the California Environmental Quality Act, public resourced code sec. 21000 et seq., and that approved a general plan amendment, zoning ordinance text and map amendment, specific plan, specific plan master plan of development, tree removal permits and vesting tentative parcel maps for the Del Rio Road Commercial Area Special Plan.
“Save Atascadero had no alternative but to seek relief in court,” Save Atascadero spokesman Tom Comar wrote in a press release issued Wednesday. “Neither the Atascadero Planning Commission, with the exception of one member, nor the city council did their ‘due diligence’ in assessing, deliberating and ensuring that CEQA standards were met by the state-mandated environmental impact report before approving the project.”
Comar went on to write that city staff, the planning commission and city council “failed” the citizens of Atascadero by “willfully ignoring the testimony of experts and informed citizens, that highlighted insufficiencies, inconsistencies and inaccuracies in the EIR data and the lack of pertinent data.”
“For both pro and anti-Walmart supporters, rest assured if or when the project comes, we want it to be the best project, the most environmentally mitigated project that is feasible to meet CEQA standards or even to exceed those standards,” Comar wrote.
Engineering Development Associates, Inc., Montecito Bank & Trust, Omni Design Group, Inc., The Rottman Group, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. and Does I through XXV are listed as real parties in interest.
Pierik said the process would include preparing an administrative record, certified by the city clerk and filed by the court. Then, Pierik said that the attorneys for the real parties of interest and the respondent (the city of Atascadero) will each have the opportunity to respond to the petitioner’s brief. Then a hearing would be set. He said how long it takes would depend on how long it takes to prepare an administrative record and what the brief schedule would be.
“The legal challenge is technical and will be fought out in the court room through the testimony of experts, not in the press or letters to the editor,” Comar wrote.
AUGUST 17, 2012
EXCERT FROM SPRAWL-BUSTERS.com
Since 2006, Sprawl-Busters has posted 13 stories about the citizens’ battle in Atascadero, CA to keep out a WalMart superstore. The group is fighting a multi-million corporate welfare deal the city has offered WalMart. For the last six years plus, citizens of this small, California Central Coast town have waged a battle against the giant retailer and the significant deleterious impacts such a development brings.
The most recent fight by Save Atascadero is focused on the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) that is mandated by he state’s California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) for large commercial projects.
The project is called the ‘Del Rio Road Commercial Area Specific Plan.’ It envisions development of two non-contiguous areas totaling approximately 39.3 acres located at the intersection of El Camino Real and Del Rio Road in the City of Atascadero.
The Project has two components. The first consists of a Wal-Mart Super-center of 129,560 sq. ft.,together with two 5,000 sq. ft commercial out-lots and up to 44 multi-family residential units, to be developed on approximately 26.2 acres.
The second consists of approximately 120,900 sq. ft of various commercial and retail uses and up to 6 new dwelling units to be developed on approximately 13.1 acres by the Rottman Group.
The initial draft EIR was clear. Significant traffic impacts at the intersections of 101 and El Camino with Del Rio Road and their mitigations are the sole responsibility of the project applicants: “Because there would be no impact without the project, the project applicant would be responsible for fully funding and constructing the improvements (EIR 3.11-67,68).”
WalMart sold itself to the city claiming it would pay for all the traffic mitigations required, but has reneged on those statements. Meanwhile the Rottman Group has gone bankrupt, is being sued for fraud by a local bank, and refuses to pay anything for the traffic mitigations.
So, the City recirculated the EIR, and came up with a proposal to publicly finance with taxpayer monies the lion share of an unknown cost of the traffic mitigation at the intersection. The real cost will not be known for at least a year, and could range anywhere from $4.5 to $11 million dollars. Because much of the property and the 101/Del Rio interchange is state owned land, Cal Trans, the state transportation agency, must evaluate and assess what will be required and how much it will cost.
The “we will pay our fair share” political catch-phrase taken up by Wal-Mart was seen for what it was–shopping for city/taxpayer subsidies. Wal-Mart got it and the EIR was certified and the project was approved. The EIR also estimated that in the first year that $23.23 million dollars of sales would be lost by local businesses in the sales area and local adjacent communities.
August 29, 2012
Walmart suit hinges on impacts
Save Atascadero says the city did not do a thorough job of analyzing how the project would affect the surrounding area
By Tonya Strickland
A citizens group that has been actively opposed to bringing a Walmart shopping center to Atascadero’s north side filed a lawsuit this week alleging that the city didn’t adequately analyze how the development and adjacent shopping center could affect the surrounding area.
“Save Atascadero had no alternative but to seek relief in court,” group members said in a statement.
The suit alleges that city leaders were “willfully ignoring the testimony of experts and informed citizens, that highlighted insufficiencies, inconsistencies and inaccuracies” in the environmental review stage of the project and “failed the citizens of Atascadero.”
Save Atascadero, previously called Oppose Wal-Mart, includes local resident and group spokesman Tom Comar and group coordinator Lee Perkins. The suit also names residents Gloria Boyd, Madeline Rottman and Ron Rottman as group members.
Their lawsuit, dated Aug. 9 but received by the city Thursday, specifically alleges that the city failed to adequately respond to public comments on the environmental review and failed to require all feasible alternatives to negative impacts presented in that report. The suit further contends that city officials found that “unavoidably significant” impact the projects could bring were acceptable, according to the suit.
The group is seeking to stop the project so further study on how the projects could affect the area can be done. It is also seeking attorney’s fees.
City officials didn’t return requests for comment but issued a statement saying Atascadero City Attorney Brian Pierik is reviewing the documents.
The projects are the Walmart shopping center and an adjacent retail site called The Annex to be built on El Camino Real and Del Rio Road.
Atascadero approved the developments June 26 after nearly seven years of debate, including a failed ballot measure against large big-box stores in town that was also spearheaded by Save Atascadero.
The June approval also certified an environmental report that describes how the projects would affect roads, noise levels and the environment.
Fixes to the Del Rio Road overpass and related roadwork were at the crux of the opposition’s concerns: specifically, having the city front nearly half the cost of the stores’ multimillion-dollar road improvements, instead of requiring the two developers to do so, and possibly dipping into the city’s sewer fund to pay for it.
In addition to the city, the lawsuit lists Wal-Mart Stores Inc., The Rottman Group, Montecito Bank and Trust, Engineering Development Associates and Omni Design Group as parties in interest. They are not defendants in the suit, however.
Before the filing, Walmart was slated to open in Atascadero as early as 2014.