A Lodi shopping center anchored by a Walmart Supercenter cleared the last major legal obstacle on Wednesday, likely bringing an end to an eight-year court battle.
The 13-building, 340,000-square-foot Lodi Shopping Center project is planned for the southwest corner of the Kettleman Lane and Lower Sacramento Road intersection.
With a unanimous vote, the 3rd Appellate District of the California Court of Appeals denied the appeal of two groups that contested the city's state-mandated environmental documents for Walmart.
Lodi First and Citizens for Open Government, the two organizations that have opposed Walmart, have 10 days to file an appeal of the ruling to the California Supreme Court.
If either one files an appeal, it usually will take the court a couple of months to decide, but it is possible that the project could move forward during that time, City Attorney Steve Schwabauer said.
The court rejects a majority of appeals without giving thought to their merits, so it is unlikely that they will accept Lodi's case, Schwabauer said.
Councilman Larry Hansen said the ruling will stir up some of the old feelings surrounding the idea of a Walmart Supercenter coming to town.
"This has been a long, hard, somewhat bitterly fought battle. I'm sure there will be people in Lodi who will be very excited and people who will be disappointed," Hansen said. "But bottom line is they have gone through the process, they've played by the rules, so if they want to still build it they can."
Hansen said the ruling means that Walmart only has to go through the city's plan check process and get their building permits.
"They don't have to go back to square one," he said.
Lodi First and Citizens for Open Government said that the project's state-mandated environmental documents were not adequate, specifically the portion on global warming and mitigation measures for the loss of agriculture land.
City Attorney Steve Schwabauer said the court ruled that the city's documentation was adequate.
"It is a victory for the city in that the court upheld the process the city used to consider the (California Environmental Quality Act) documents," he said.
Representatives of Lodi First, Citizens for Open Government, Walmart, and the project's developer Darryl Browman did not immediately return phone calls.
Councilman Phil Katzakian said he would like to see the Walmart project get started as soon as possible. He said it will be interesting how development on the final corner of the intersection will affect the businesses in that area.
"I was told that once you get the fourth shopping center in there, the synergy will change for that whole corner, which could help with some vacancies in Lowe's shopping center," Katzakian said.
While he was not on the council when the decision about Walmart was made, Councilman Alan Nakanishi said he would not have supported approving the project.
"I would have probably voted for local control, and supporting our local stores," he said.
But now that there is a court decision, he said Lodi should abide by the law and welcome Walmart.
Councilman Bob Johnson said in November 2004 voters shot down a proposal to limit the size of retail stores, so he feels like a Walmart Supercenter is long overdue.
"Many, many years ago the citizens of Lodi voted on a referendum to welcome big-box stores," Johnson said. "They said they wanted big-box stores, and it looks like we will get a Supercenter after eight years of dispute."
For Hansen, his decision has always come down to free enterprise and giving all businesses the same chance to come to Lodi.
"Free enterprise means that you let the market decide, the customers decide," he said. "I've really been opposed to government saying, 'You can come in to a business but you, who also played by the rules, we don't like your company philosophy, so we are not going to let you come in.'"