Despite the heat of controversy over a proposed Wal-Mart supercenter in American Canyon, California, the construction site has been on ice for the past four months. No more walls going up, no more nails being pounded. Sprawl-Busters reported on November 21, 2006 that Wal-Mart was stunned by a court ruling in a superstore project in American Canyon, where local officials tripped over their own enthusiasm for the giant retail project known as Napa Junction. Construction on the superstore was well underway, the state Court of Appeals in San Francisco overturned an earlier decision by the Napa Superior Court, which had ruled against two citizen groups in their efforts to block Wal-Mart. In a 37 page decision, Justice Linda Gemello found that the “city prejudicially violated the California Environmental Quality Act… (and) prejudically violated its zoning ordinance.” Now, four months later, Wal-Mart’s construction is still in limbo. According to the Vallejo Times Herald, a judge in Napa County Superior Court ruled March 22nd that Wal-Mart cannot return to constructing its superstore, but he refused to void the permits that the city has already granted for the project. Judge Raymond Guadagni — — who is the same judge that the First District Court of Appeal ordered to reconsider the case — said that he lacked authority to require Wal-Mart to start from scratch on its permits. Yet Guadagni earlier in the same week had ordered some of the city’s permits to be voided. The judge also ruled that American Canyon has to address the issues raised by the Court of Appeals within two months. But city officials indicated that even though the judge did not throw out the building permit for the store, the city will vote to approve them again, as “the safe thing to do.” A Wal-Mart public relations spokesman told the Times Herald, “We are confident the city is complying with the direction of the court and we continue to hear from our customers and supporters that they are anxious for the project to move forward.” Residents of American Canyon were supposed to have their cheap chinese products by late January, so the citizen’s appeal has kept the shoppers at bay for nearly two months. American Canyon Community United for Responsible Growth and Citizens Against Poor Planning both forced the issue into the courts — just as Wal-Mart would have done if its permits had been denied. Work on the Wal-Mart project has not taken place since November — not because of what the citizens’ groups did — but because the city violated state environmental laws and city zoning ordinances when it approved the store. The Appeal Court ruled that the size of the store had not been accurately represented and its impacts on traffic and the local economy had not been adequately studied.
City officials in American Canyon say they are now working on an analysis of traffic impacts and potential urban blight that could be caused by the store. The Planning Commission is reviewing a major modification permit that would allow a larger square footage store, as well as the design. The citizens charged that the city made a legal mistake when they failed to conduct a detailed environmental review of the superstore proposed from Highway 29. They also claimed that the proposal was altered significantly after the city conducted its initial review. Wal-Mart tried to get by with a larger store, and a different site plan after the city’s review was over, and lawyers for the citizens said it was essentially a new plan that needed new studies. “We conclude that the supercenter proposal substantially changed the type and size of the retail component,” the appeals court said. The court added that no indication was given that a big box store would be part of the plan, operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, or that it would likely draw more traffic from a regional market than the city’s studies anticipated. “The city’s low calculation of the supercenter’s square footage fatally undermines its conclusion that the supercenter proposal would have no significant effect on traffic,” the opinion concluded. The city is responsible for the construction site sitting idle for four months now, but in their zeal to approve the project again, the city is likely to ignore any adverse impacts, and push American Canyon further into an economic canyon by granting Wal-Mart its permits as many times as they must.