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Environmental Concerns Just Hot Air
by Ron Davis

Opponents of a planned shopping center in Baldwin Park, CA, have failed in their bid to prove that the development will adversely impact the local environment.

Plans for the shopping center call for a Wal-Mart anchor store and several other retail tenants to lease space there. Baldwin Park, an unincorporated community of about 75,000, currently has no sizable shopping center. So residents typically drive to nearby cities for many of their shopping needs. As a result, those neighboring cities receive much of the tax revenue generated by Baldwin Park residents.

Baldwin Park government officials therefore welcomed the development of the Wal-Mart shopping center. They reacted to the developer’s plans by immediately hiring a firm to prepare the environmental impact report needed before approving the construction plans.

After completion of that report, local officials conducted a public hearing. And the only concerns expressed at that hearing related to the loss of Baldwin Park union jobs to non-unionized ones offered by Wal-Mart.

Only later did a small group of local citizens complain about the impact of the shopping center on air quality as a result of emissions from vehicles involved in construction. In response, city officials stated, “If the proposed project is not built as proposed, additional emissions from longer customer driving distances [to nearby cities] would offset any short-term construction activity impacts.”

Opponents of the project nevertheless sued to stop the development, and the Attorney General of California eventually joined their cause.

A California court ruled, however, that the arguments of the shopping center opponents were “nothing more than a statement of disagreement with the environmental impact report and with its certification by the city.”

Explained the judge, “The arguments describe the environmental impact report as ‘doubletalk’ and complain that its conclusions lack support, but they offer no evidence to support a different conclusion. That’s it. That is the entire challenge to the report’s treatment of air quality. That is not enough…. Their arguments are unsupported by substantial evidence.” (Siegfried v. City of Baldwin Park, 2003 SL 1958891 [Cal.App. 2 Dist.])

Decision: September 2003
Published: December 2003



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