A state appellate court has dealt a blow to Wal-Mart’s strategy of using petition drives to push through approval of new superstores while avoiding California’s environmental law.
In a cookie-cutter pattern documented by California Watch, the mega-retailer bankrolled local signature-gathering efforts to build superstores or repeal restrictions on big-box stores in five California cities last year. Once 15 percent of local voters signed the petitions, city councils had to either approve the projects or hold a special election, which can be costly. Wal-Mart then urged cities to approve the petition rather than send it to voters, angering some officials who felt bullied.
Wal-Mart has said the strategy is necessary to avoid politically motivated lawsuits under the California Environmental Quality Act.
Voter-approved ballot measures that stem from petitions are exempt from environmental review and protected from CEQA lawsuits. Wal-Mart argued that when a city approves one of its petitions without an election, the project would be protected, too.
But in a strongly worded opinion, a three-judge appellate panel ruled late last month that the landmark environmental law still applies.