Wal-Mart foes try appeal

'Good shot' deemed possible if state high court takes case

jsmith@mercedsunstar.comJanuary 17, 2013 

— After losing an appellate court battle earlier this winter, opponents of the city-approved Wal-Mart distribution center recently filed an appeal with the state Supreme Court.

"We think we'll get a fairer shake if they hear it at the state Supreme Court level," said Kyle Stockard, a Merced resident and lead plaintiff in the case. "If we can get it open there, I think we have a good shot."

The state's high court is expected to announce whether it will hear the case by the beginning of April. The court accepts only a small percentage of cases filed, and its decision in this case could be appealed.

City Manager John Bramble called the move a "waste of taxpayer money."

"The question they've asked of the Supreme Court is no different of what they've asked of the appellate court," he added. "They've got a pretty loud and clear response from that court, so I don't know why the Supreme Court would take up the case."

In November, the 5th District Court of Appeal in Fresno ruled in favor of the city of Merced, rejecting an environmental challenge to the project.

The challenge was first brought in 2009 by the Merced Alliance for Responsible Growth, which consists of roughly a few dozen Merced residents.

Stockard, an Alliance member, said the group's attorney, San Francisco-based Lippe Gaffney Wagner LLP, has agreed not to charge the group for legal services.

A 1.2-million-square-foot distribution center was approved by the city for a 235-acre site south of Childs Avenue at the northwest corner of Gerard Avenue and Tower Road. It will likely take two years to permit and construct the distribution center, according to city planning officials.

The project will bring 600 to 1,200 jobs to the area, operating around the clock with about 450 daily truck trips into and out of the facility, according to city officials.

Wal-Mart has signaled it will break ground only after all litigation has been resolved.

Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or jsmith@mercedsunstar.com.

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