Atascadero council takes stand against anti-Walmart lawsuit

The Atascadero City Council will not back down on its approval of a Walmart store after being sued by a local citizens group alleging the city didn’t adequately analyze how the development will impact the area.

On Tuesday, about a dozen members of the public spoke to support the city’s June 26 decision to approve the construction of a Walmart center and an adjacent shopping plaza at El Camino Real and Del Rio Road. The issue has been debated and studied for nearly seven years.

The lawsuit to stop the project was filed by Save Atascadero on Aug. 9.

The suit alleges the city failed to adequately respond to public comments on the environmental review, which didn’t include a thorough investigation of project alternatives or how to lessen the impacts.

Specifically, the group disagrees with city plans to front nearly half the cost of the stores’ multimillion-dollar road improvements instead of requiring Wal-Mart officials to put up the cash for future businesses.

On Tuesday, about a dozen supporters and all five members of the City Council said they believe the project was approved with community support, and the council vowed to fight the lawsuit. New jobs and tax revenue were among the project’s benefits, supporters said.

Previously called Oppose Wal-Mart, Save Atascadero includes local resident and group spokesman Tom Comar and group coordinator Lee Perkins. The suit also names residents Gloria Boyd, Madeline Rothman and Ron Rothman as group members.

While its members didn’t speak at Tuesday’s meeting, Comar emailed a statement to The Tribune saying the council “had their chance to do their due diligence and ensure that the (environmental report) was done properly,” so now the issues must be settled in court.

The group is seeking to stop the project so further study of the impacts can be done. It is also seeking attorney’s fees.Litigation could delay construction of the shopping center by a year or more, according to the city attorney. Before the filing, a Walmart was slated to open in Atascadero as early as 2014.

A draft copy of the council’s reaction statement was passed out at the meeting. A final copy will be made public after the council’s wording changes are added.

The council approved the statement, which will appear as a one-page letter to the community. It wasn’t immediately clear how the letter will be used.

“I don’t feel discouraged,” Councilwoman Roberta Fonzi said of the latest roadblock in the project’s long history. “I am disappointed, but we’re not beaten down.”