A group called American Canyon Community United for Responsible Growth has gone to court to stop a Wal-Mart superstore from being built in their small community of American Canyon, California. The defendants in the lawsuit are the city of American Canyon, and the developer, Lake Street Ventures. The plaintiffs charge that the city council failed to adequately address the environmental impacts of the project, and failed to follow state law in reviewing the superstore project. The case began in 2003, when Lake Street Ventures proposed a 196,000 s.f. Napa Junction Project, a mixed use project with the Wal-Mart superstore plus 216 units of multi-family housing, a 100 room hotel, and a small public park. The project was split into two phases. The citizen’s group charges that 1) the city’s approval violated the city’s zoning code by not requiring a conditional use permit for retail food sales and for an outdoor garden center, as well as a “major modification” approval for a project resulting in greater than a 5% increase in an approved use. 2) the land use approvals granted by the city were inconsisent with the city’s General Plan. California law requires that land use decisions be consistent with General Plans. The ACCURG argues that the General Plan requires that “all buildings in the community commercial center…be located and scaled to ensure the visual prominence of the Town Center.” The General Plan also requires the city to conduct a fiscal impact analysis of the potential project specific impacts and potential cumulative impacts of a project as well as available mitigation measures. The group says the city council’s approval of the Wal-Mart conflicts with the General Plan “by authorizing the construction of a largae retail complex even though American Canyon market conditions are not likely suitable for the development of large retail complexes.” The city’s fiscal impact statement “failed to consider project-specific fiscal impacts” or any cumulative impacts. 3) the city failed to adhere to the California Environmental Quality Act, and did not even determine that the project was exempt from the CEQA, did not prepare and certify a project Environmental Impact Review, and generally failed to proceed in the manner required by the CEQA. 4) the city did not even provide residents with a stable and finite project description, that the “illusive project” kept changing size and content. 5) the city violated state law by splitting the project in two or more segments, called “piecemealing” a large project into smaller ones to understate the cumulative impact of the whole project. 6) the city did not adequately evaluate the project’s potential to cause urban decay. The city’s own fiscal study showed that two grocery stores, Safeway and Food-4-Less were “at risk of closure from the project.” The plaintiffs introduced a report prepared by staff at San Francisco State University which concluded that the Wal-Mart project “is likely to close stores and cause significant urban decay impacts.” 7) the city failed to analyze the individual and cumulative impacts of the project’s traffic. 8) the city failed to evaluate the air quality impacts of the project. 9) the city failed to recognize the project’s impact on public safety, and rejected the Planning Commission’s recommendation for limited hours of operation for the Wal-Mart from 6 AM to midnight. 10) the city failed to measure the project’s impact on the availability of public services, including impact on public hospitals. 11) the city’s findings of fact in this case “are not supported by substantial evidence…and do not bridge the analyical gap between the evidence and the decision.” 12) the city relied on a “secret” unpublished zoning code that allegely was passed in December of 2000 that allowed “retail food sales” as a permitted use in a Community Commercial zone. “The city never introduced the text of the “secret” zoning code during the public hearing process,” the citizens charge.
This lawsuit, which was filed in the Superior Court of Napa County, asks the judge to issue a permanent injunction restraining the city and the developer from taking any action on the site pending the outcome of this project. Shortly after this case was filed, a similar case was decided in Bakersfield, California, where a judge ruled that the city had not followed state and local law in approving a Wal-Mart supercenter, and sent the case back to the city to properly review. Regardless of the outcome of this lawsuit, the citizens’ action has forced Wal-Mart to setaside its timetable for getting in the ground. A legal chasm has opened up in American Canyon. For a copy of the American Canyon lawsuit, contact [email protected] For earlier stories on this community, or on the Bakersfield case, search Newsflash by the names of the cities.