It helps enormously when fighting enormous developments to have deep pockets. Most developers, by definition, have plenty of cash, and most citizen groups hold bake sales to fight the world’s largest retailers. In Auburn, California this week, a stalwart citizen’s group simply ran out of financial gas, and had to abandon its 10 year battle with Home Depot. According to the Auburn Journal newspaper, the Friends of Placer County have decided not to pursue a court appeal to block Home Depot, because the finances were too daunting. Dale Smith, one of the leaders of the Friends of Placer County, had filed an appeal against the project, but later withdrew the appeal with county officials. Smith told the newspaper he still was against the Home Depot, but FPC could not afford the cost of fighting it any longer. “Our estimate is that it would cost a minimum of $250,000 to continue to wage a legal battle against the proponents,” Smith said, adding that his attempts to secure qualified legal representation were slowed when it was learned that a retainer alone would run about $50,000. “We don’t have those kind of resources,” Smith admitted. Smith’s appeal would have raised the issue of inadequate water availability to fight a hazardous fire if Home Depot burned, and the issue of air pollution from the spike in traffic this project will cause. Supervisor Jim Holmes, in whose district the Home Depot would be built, expressed disappointment that the appeal was being dropped. Holmes said traffic was his issue, and he questioned using county land for a big box store. “There may be better uses for that particular piece of property. We need senior housing, and that looks like a perfect place to put it, what with all the medical resources nearby,” he said.
Sprawl-Busters has reported on the Friends of Placer County since 1998. This case highlights the unlevel playing field that citizens face when they take on a big box developer. Lack of money means lack of legal expertise, lack of site issue experts, and the inability to go toe-to-toe with developers. But the Friends of Placer County have also demonstrated that a citizens’ group can significantly disrupt the timetable and plans for big box retailers. In this case, the developer had to wait years for his green light, and Home Depot lost nearly a decade worth of sales at the Auburn site. If the developer had sat down with the Friends of Placer County ten years ago, they might have made twice the progress in half the time, but although developers are long on cash, they are often short on common sense. For earlier stories, search Newsflash by “Auburn.”