Patterson has done what Ceres has not, so far: Opened a Walmart Supercenter. It appears the project, which opened last month, dodged the bullet of the anti-Walmart forces.
On the other hand, the proposed and approved Ceres Walmart Supercenter is balled up in legal proceedings that could take years.
What gives? Why was Ceres targeted by paid Walmart assassin Brett Jolley (the attorney who makes a living by fighting Walmarts up and down California) and how did Patterson manage to slip by unscathed?
In the real estate axiom, apparently it was all about location, location, location.
Isolated on the west side of Stanislaus County, Patterson residents salivated at the prospects of finally having a major store in their city that would prevent them from making long treks to Turlock, Modesto or the East Bay to do their shopping. So much so that when the Patterson City Council approved the 158,000-square-foot project on Oct. 12, 2010, the crowd broke into thunderous applause.
Jolley is a well-sharpened legal advance man. Fueled by union labor money, Jolley trolls through a community where Walmart proposes a Supercenter with the purpose of finding locals with no love for Walmart. He instigates a "front" group, supplies them with the polished talking points and puts them on stage, while Jolley the puppeteer gets them to come down to spoil Walmart's party. He makes it appear that there is a groundswell of community opposition to Walmart by giving the group a name tailored to that community, hence "Citizens for Ceres" or "Merced Alliance for Responsible Growth" or the more generic "Citizens for a Healthy Community" in Red Bluff or "Citizens for Open Government" in Lodi. (No imagination in naming to be sure).
Oh sure, some of those who join — such as the not in my backyard crowd — have legitimate concerns that fade with time. The chief players fight to the last ounce of breath (hooked up to a ventilator of union money), having bought into the crusade as true believers they are doing God's work. Jolley and his tenacious group are as unwelcome to hearings as ants are to a picnic. They go on record, throwing everything — even the kitchen sink — at the project in the hopes that something, anything, will stick. They fight location, traffic and noise and light impacts, how much energy the store will being using, the hours beer will be sold, overstate how much crime will be generated, stress how inferior Walmart products are, instill fears that established businesses will be buried, bemoan the architectural design, cry about the poor kit foxes who will die because their habitat will be destroyed by construction, complain, complain, complain. Once they are on the record with their trail of protests, and once the city approves the project, they don't quietly go away. Remember, they are armed with union money and they can afford to do what no small group of neighbors can do — fight on the basis that the environmental review process is lacking or flawed and even take it to the California Supreme Court.
It's sleazy work if you ask me.
It was easy for Jolley to find willing cohorts in Ceres, where there is more contempt for Walmart on account of the replete shopping alternatives in nearby Turlock and Modesto. Patterson, starved for a retail project, offered no one to do his bidding. Residents were plainly tired of traveling everywhere but home to shop and they longed for the over 300 jobs promised by the Supercenter. Patterson city officials welcomed Walmart for bringing an expected $688,000 annually into city coffers. No doubt, Jolley must have left Patterson with his head slung low that nobody in Patterson wanted to play his Walmart chess game.
The Patterson Walmart project application was filed on Jan. 15, 2009, and the City Council there approved the project on Oct. 12, 2010, a mere 19 days after the Patterson Planning Commission approved it. The Patterson Walmart Supercenter opened on Jan. 23 at Ward and Sperry avenues a little over two years later (weather causing some of the delay). So from date of application to store opening: four years had elapsed.
Contrast that with Ceres project delays caused by Jolley. The Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center project application was filed on April 11, 2007. It was approved four years and five months later! However, Sept. 12, 2011 was just the start of the second phase of fighting: Going to the courts since there was no hope of stopping it at the city level.
In the end, Walmart prevails — but not without the delay tactics burning up Walmart shoppers and free enterprise advocates alike — and burning up Walmart attorney costs. It's been 10 years since the Red Bluff Walmart was proposed and is now cleared to build. A proposed Walmart for west Lodi fought for 10 years also has been cleared. It took a 2010 California Supreme Court decision to finally allow Walmart to build a 207,000-square-foot Supercenter in Stockton where it was first approved by the city in 2004. And in an area closer to home, opponents of a 1.2-million-square-foot Walmart distribution warehouse proposed in Merced are hoping to take their case to the state Supreme Court after losing an appellate court battle. Never mind the waste of taxpayer money fighting the inevitable in court, it's morally questionable throwing up legal challenges to a project that has been examined ad nauseum.
Even if the 5th District Court of Appeals rules the Ceres EIR is complete and ironclad, expect Jolley (AKA Sheri Jacobson) to drag this thing on and on. After all, it's all about delay at this point. If that's the case, we may see a Supercenter at Mitchell and Service by 2017.
If that isn't an abuse of the legal system I don't know what is.