Riverside Press-Enterprise Publishes My Commentary: Don’t Blame Wal-Mart for Fighting CEQA Abuse

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The Sunday, December 2, 2012 Riverside Press-Enterprise published my opinion piece Don’t Blame Wal-Mart for Fighting CEQA Abuse. It is a response to a Riverside Press Enterprise editorial from November 25, 2012, Big-Box Browbeating, which I felt lacked an important perspective: labor unions and other groups routinely exploit the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to suppress potential competition or to coerce labor agreements or other payoffs from developers (a practice known as “greenmail”).

On October 30, 2012, a California appeals court ruled in Tuolumne Jobs & Small Business Alliance v. Superior Court of Tuolumne County (Wal-Mart and the City of Sonora, Real Parties in Interest) that a city cannot bypass CEQA and approve a project if voters qualify a ballot measure to approve the project.

The Sonora Planning Commission and the Sonora City Council didn’t seem to have objections to Wal-Mart in their town. “The legal battle slowing down Wal-Mart’s expansion frustrates Sonora Mayor Hank Russell,” according to an article in the November 19, 2012 Bay Citizen (Ruling Is Win for Environmental Law, Loss for Wal-Mart):

These people just want to delay a process that should be part of a free market economy. I don’t think it’s the city’s role to decide who can compete.

The League of California Cities and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association’s foundation submitted amicus briefs on behalf of the City of Sonora, which had won approval to bypass CEQA in Tuoloumne County Superior Court.

Meanwhile, the true identity of Tuolumne Jobs & Small Business Alliance does not appear to be public. Another mysterious group called CREED-21 (Citizens for Responsible Equitable Environmental Development) submitted an amicus brief on behalf of the Tuolumne Jobs & Small Business Alliance.

A variety of anonymous organizations purporting to represent local citizens challenge proposed Wal-Mart superstores (Wal-Marts that sell groceries) using CEQA. Some of these groups are reportedly fronts for the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union, which represents grocery store workers in the older, “legacy” grocery stores in California such as Safeway, Raley’s, Vons, Albertsons, Ralphs, Save Mart, and Stater Bros.

A November 21, 2011 California Watch article (Wal-Mart Ramps Up Ballot Threats to Speed New Stores) reported on the Wal-Mart ballot measure strategy and claimed it “raises questions about whether California’s communities – dogged by economic woes – can afford an aggressive use of the state’s system of direct democracy.”

I guess it would not be “progressive” to ask whether California’s communities – dogged by economic woes – can afford an aggressive misuse of the state’s environmental laws by unions and other leftist organizations that philosophically object to so-called “big box stores.” Has Wal-Mart ever considered releasing a list of the phony front groups and the names of the law firms that object to the Environmental Impact Reports (EIRs) and file CEQA lawsuits?

The law firm representing Tuolumne Jobs & Small Business Alliance is Herum Crabtree, based in Stockton. A web search indicates this firm has also used CEQA to challenge proposed Wal-Marts in the Northern California and Central California cities of Elk Grove, Lodi, Ceres, Tracy, American Canyon, Bakersfield, and Anderson.

Citizens for Responsible Equitable Environmental Development (CREED-21) is represented by the Briggs Law Corporation. A web search indicates this firm has used CEQA to challenge proposed Wal-Marts in the Southern California cities of Tehachapi, Apple Valley, Lake Forest, Victorville, Ontario, San Bernardino, Hesperia, Menifee, Gelndora, Barstow, Rialto, Murrieta, and Vista.

These are not the only law firms prominent in using CEQA to stop Wal-Mart.

A lawyer based in Davis named William D. Kopper has used CEQA to hinder the construction of Wal-Mart superstores. A web search indicates this firm has used CEQA to challenge proposed Wal-Marts in the Northern California cities of Redding, Red Bluff, Oroville, Linda, Yuba City, Galt, Stockton, Ukiah, Santa Rosa, and Gilroy. Kopper also exploits CEQA on behalf of construction trade unions seeking Project Labor Agreements from developers proposing private residential and commercial projects in Northern California.

The law firm of M.R. Wolfe & Associates, based in San Francisco, has used CEQA to challenge Wal-Mart projects. A web search indicates this firm has used CEQA to challenge proposed Wal-Marts in the Northern California and Central California cities of Antioch, Fremont, Hayward, Suisun City, Madera, Porterville, Visalia, Delano, Atascadero, and Rohnert Park.

Mark Wolfe used to work at the law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo, the CEQA lawyers of choice for California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) and individual construction trade unions. I did not find any evidence through a web search that Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo has ever worked for a client who objected to a Wal-Mart on CEQA grounds.

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