A San Bernardino County Superior Court judge has ordered the city of Rialto to invalidate its approvals for a proposed Wal-Mart supercenter because the city did not adequately analyze the project's environmental effect, among other factors.
In two companion cases, one filed by a grass-roots organization and the other by the city of Colton, Judge Donald R. Alvarez decided last week that Rialto's approval violated the California Environmental Quality Act and other land-use laws. The 284,000-square-foot project would be built just west of the Colton border.
The rulings were the latest slap against the retail giant, which in recent years has touted its sustainability programs but has faced unfavorable judgments from the courts. Alvarez previously invalidated an Ontario supercenter project.
In May, Judge Barry Plotkin, also of San Bernardino County Superior Court, rebuffed Wal-Mart's plan for a supercenter in the desert city of Yucca Valley, partly on the grounds that it had failed to take measures to reduce its contribution to global warming. Plotkin ordered Yucca Valley officials to examine the feasibility of an "environmentally superior 'green' Wal-Mart supercenter alternative."
These and other rulings suggest a growing legal consensus that climate change must be considered by businesses and governments promoting new developments.
Wal-Mart did not respond to requests for comment Saturday.
Wal-Mart, based in Bentonville, Ark., has long contended that its aim is to achieve stores with 100% renewable power.
Last month, the company unveiled a plan to attach "eco-ratings" to the hundreds of thousands of products in its stores. The world's largest retailer is betting that shoppers will increasingly care how "green" their purchases are -- and maybe pay more for environmentally friendly merchandise.
But the company disputed the need for solar panels to provide electricity at the proposed Yucca Valley store, saying the estimated 7,000 metric tons per year of greenhouse gases that would result from the store's operation were too insignificant to require such measures.
Cory J. Briggs, an attorney for Rialto Citizens for Responsible Growth, which challenged the Rialto project, said Wal-Mart's actions undermine its talk of sustainability.
"Wal-Mart argued that global warming science doesn't yet allow it to reduce its carbon emissions," Briggs said. Yet in 2007, he noted, Wal-Mart announced plans for pilot solar projects in 22 of its stores in California and Hawaii; a Wal-Mart official said at the time that the company felt it was important to "help point the direction in the use of renewable energy."
The citizens group argued, and the judge agreed, that Rialto did not give proper notice of the public hearing at which the project was approved. Alvarez also agreed that the city did not, as required, find that its development agreement with Wal-Mart was consistent with the city's general plan and a specific plan. And he supported the group's contention that Wal-Mart did not take into account other anticipated projects in the area when analyzing cumulative effects.
In addition, Alvarez said the environmental impact report improperly "defers or fails to analyze and mitigate" potential effects on five special-status plant species, including Plummer's mariposa lily, and on the San Bernardino and Stephens' kangaroo rats and the Western burrowing owl.