By Jeff Hood
January 11, 2006
LODI – The city, not Wal-Mart or shopping center developer Darryl Browman, will decide how to respond to last month’s court ruling that halted plans for a Supercenter at Lower Sacramento Road and Kettleman Lane. City Attorney Steve Schwabauer said he would advise the City Council of its next step in a closed session next week. San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Humphreys overturned the city’s previous project approvals Dec. 19, ruling that a study used to assess the shopping center’s environmental effects was flawed.
The lawsuit was brought by a group called Lodi First, whose members remain mostly anonymous. “Yes, their money is behind the project, and they’re reimbursing the city for whatever costs might occur, but that economic incentive doesn’t give them the power to tell the city what to do,” Schwabauer said of Wal-Mart and Browman Development.
Schwabauer said the city can require Wal-Mart and Browman to pay for a new environmental study addressing the shortcomings, or Lodi can appeal Humphreys’ ruling to the state’s 3rd District Court of Appeal. Wal-Mart and Browman also could decide not to proceed with plans for the 226,868-square-foot Supercenter and other stores.
City Councilman Larry Hansen said the city should require a new environmental study and not fight Humphreys’ ruling. “Appealing is a waste of time and money,” Hansen said. “I’m more inclined to just do what it takes.” Steve Herum, the attorney who won the case for Lodi First against Wal-Mart, Browman and Lodi, said he expects the city’s new environmental study to address the faults outlined by Humphreys. The judge ruled the study did take into account the cumulative effects two Supercenters in Stockton and one in Lodi would have on urban decay, nor did it adequately address the shopping center’s energy demands, as required by the California Environmental Quality Act.
“The bottom line is they have to start over,” Herum said. “They cannot assume every word of the (study) is good except under energy and urban decay.” Andrea Leisy, an attorney for Browman, said the decision on how to address the court order is ultimately the city’s, and the developer will cooperate with Lodi officials to complete the environmental study requirements. A Wal-Mart spokesman did not return repeated calls seeking comment. In Lodi, there has not been any discussion of an alternative to a Wal-Mart Supercenter as the shopping center’s major tenant, according to Randy Hatch, community development director. Hatch said he has contacted the consultant who wrote the original environmental report about Humphreys’ ruling and has discussed with attorneys how to address the points the judge made.