The issue came up last summer, when San Diego/Upland-based attorney Corey Briggs filed a suit against the city, on behalf of the grass roots group Rialto Citizens for Responsible Growth. The petition claimed that the city failed to adequately analyze the impacts that the proposed 284,000-square-foot supercenter would have had on the community as well as the natural environment. The courts agreed.
This past July, San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Donald R. Alvarez sided with Briggs and, in his ruling, faulted the city and voided Rialto’s approval of the store, effective immediately.
Judge Alvarez’s written ruling supports both a suit filed by Briggs and another one filed by the city of Colton. The ruling states that the approval of the retail chain’s location in Rialto violated the California Environmental Quality Act, and cited other land use laws.
“In this case, what it came down to is that the city of Rialto failed to do an analysis of greenhouse gases that the supercenter would generate,” Briggs tells the Weekly. “They also didn’t properly analyze the effects on traffic or energy consumption.”
Briggs also points out that Alvarez’s ruling states that the city’s environmental impact report “defers, or fails to analyze and mitigate” potential effects on five species of plants and animals that dwell in the desert environment, including Plummer’s Mariposa Lily, the San Bernardino and Stephens Kangaroo Rats and the Western Burrowing Owl.
“These animals and plants and their habitat have become endangered since so much of their original habitats have been developed,” Briggs says.
Wal-Mart spokeswoman Michelle Bradford, in a phone interview from the company headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., declined to discuss the ruling that is proving a setback to the supercenter plans. But she would say that the proposed Wal-Mart—and this statement must surely come from the Sam Walton damage control playbook—would have brought benefits to the local economy. “The store would have brought in hundreds of new jobs, revenue and also low prices on goods,” she says.
Another one of Briggs’ contentions against the city, which dovetailed with Judge Alvarez’s ruling, was that there was not sufficient notice of the public hearings related to the project. “I’ve been litigating against Wal-Mart for more than five years,” Briggs says. “I can’t think of a single instance when they’ve been fully honest with the public [regarding] the impact of their projects.”
Wal-Mart corporate has seen several delays in their plans to construct additional stores—in particular in the High Desert—due to similar issues as those raised in the recent Rialto case. Briggs said that he is litigating several cases in places such as Barstow, Hesperia and Victorville. “We see the same pattern with them every time,” Briggs says of the retail giant. “All my clients want is honesty, in Wal-Mart and the politicians who support them with their pros and cons of these supercenters.”
Recently, at a proposed store in Yucca Valley, Wal-Mart argued that they didn’t need solar panels for electricity; and in another proposed store in Ontario, a judge ordered the city to conduct more analysis on the traffic congestion.
What remains at issue, and perhaps what this ruling is trying to make clear, is that recently Wal-Mart has set out to promote itself as a green retailer, trotting out its sustainability and environmental-friendly programs to the public and any and all news media outlets that will listen. Yet, inside courtrooms, the retail giant’s green credentials are called into question—sometimes, as in Rialto, with unfavorable judgments.
But in the end, what can consumers do? Briggs suggests that there is only one answer. “I’m not like others who fight against Wal-Mart and say that it is evil in everything it does,” he says. “I don’t believe that that’s the case. But people out there need to vote with their pocket books, and don’t support them if you don’t like what they are doing.”