After years of contentious public hearings, court battles and uncertainty, it looks likely that a Wal-Mart distribution center planned for Merced finally is on a solid path toward reality.
Could there be a bigger Christmas present for the city? We can't think of one.
A ruling by the 5th District Court of Appeal in Fresno clears the path for construction of a center that Wal-Mart has pledged will employ at least 600 people -- and likely more -- in jobs that pay a living wage. In a city with an unemployment rate that routinely flirts with the highest in the nation, any job created is cause for celebration.
Wal-Mart has pledged to move forward with its plans to build the massive complex as soon as all legal challenges have been exhausted. And therein lies one final wrinkle.
The Merced Alliance for Responsible Growth -- the group that has fought legally to derail the project since 2009 -- could appeal the Fresno court's decision to the state Supreme Court, a move that would have slim legal chances for success but would manage to push out the timeline even longer.
Our message to MARG is clear: Spare us. Your organization lost fair and square in court, and it's time to hang it up.
If MARG really, truly cares about this community and its residents, it will cooperate with city officials to constructively address some of its concerns with the Wal-Mart project. There would be nothing constructive about filing another appeal that likely is doomed to failure. It would be spiteful and mean-spirited.
MARG co-chairman Tom Grave said his organization's intent was to make the project "as clean and decent a proposal as possible." And we're convinced it is. The project passed muster through an extensive environmental review process that now has been affirmed twice in court.
It's also worth noting that Wal-Mart will have to abide by the same stringent environmental and employment regulations that all California companies are subject to. Any thought that the Wal-Mart center will be an economic and environmental catastrophe for Merced is pure fiction.
The construction jobs will begin as soon as the first shovel hits the dirt, with hundreds more in two years when the first trucks leave the warehouse.
This is one Christmas present we hope Merced gets to open before Dec. 25.