Save Atascadero drew the ire of Wal-Mart supporters last fall when the group filed a lawsuit challenging the City Council’s approval of a big box superstore sited for Del Rio Road. After recent weeks of exchanging briefs, the citizens group and the city of Atascadero will argue their respective cases on March 19 in Paso Robles.
Save Atascadero contends that the city’s approval of the controversial development violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which mandates review of the environmental impacts of a proposed project and sets standards for public participation.
The challenge is procedural, meaning that the city could fix whatever errors Judge Jac Crawford might find in the approval process and greenlight the exact same superstore proposal. However, a Save Atascadero victory would force the city and developer to issue a new report, further delaying a project already nearly seven years in the making.
According to Save Atascadero spokesman Tom Comar, the lawsuit covers only some of the issues raised by Atascadero residents during the review process but dismissed by the city in its final report.
On Sept. 11, 2012, all five members then sitting on the City Council signed a joint statement challenging the assertion that Atascadero violated CEQA in approving the Wal-Mart project.
“We are determined to see the Wal-Mart/Annex project through,” the council wrote. “Clearly the project has the support of an overwhelming majority of the people of Atascadero.”
Save Atascadero claims the city failed to produce air quality impact studies during the approval process. The group alleges that the city’s reasons for not disclosing that information evolved from denying possession of the reports to eventually claiming that the requested data was too technical and too burdensome for the city to produce in a manner useful to the public.
“Yet the record shows, and Respondents eventually admitted, that the missing study comprised a single sheet of paper (original emphasis),” Save Atascadero’s reply brief responded. “This rather patronizing approach to responding to public comment flies in the face of CEQA’s policies promoting informed public participation.”
City Attorney Brian Pierik didn’t respond to a telephone request for comment as of press time. In its response to the complaint, Atascadero argues that the issue isn’t about missing information and analysis, but differing expert opinion on the potential impacts of the project.
The City Council unanimously approved the project on June 26, 2012, after finishing the CEQA review now under scrutiny. City officials initially expected the store to open in 2014.