LANCASTER – After more than four hours of citizens’ comments Tuesday night (Dec. 11), the Lancaster City Council unanimously approved plans for a Walmart Supercenter across the street from Quartz Hill High School.
“There isn’t any doubt in my mind that for the overall well-being of this city this project has to be in Lancaster,” said Lancaster Mayor R. Rex.
The council voted after more than 50 residents testified both for and against the development of a 344,752 square-foot commercial shopping center, that would a include Walmart Supercenter, at 60th Street West and Avenue L.
Several Walmart employees came to the council meeting with signs expressing support for the project. Many of them stressed the new jobs the project would provide and touted the benefits of working at Walmart.
“They have medical, dental, vision, 401(k) and stock [options],” testified Isabel Allen, who said she had worked at Walmart for more than 12 years. “I don’t have to commute to make the kind of money I’m making.”
Local business leaders also voiced support for the project.
“I represent the Antelope Valley Black Chamber of Commerce and we are in support of the Walmart project because we’re looking at the bigger picture,” said Perry Watkins. “The increase in sales tax to the city, the increase in jobs for the city; because even though they’re not good paying jobs, they are jobs for people that don’t have one now.”
“We’re here to advocate for job growth in the Antelope Valley,” said Antelope Valley Board of Trade President Drew Mercy.
But opponents outnumbered the supporters Tuesday night. Many said they objected to the project because it was across the street from Quartz Hill High School.
“I am not opposed to the project, I’m opposed to the location of the project and the reason is safety,” said Palmdale Communications Manager John Mylnar, who said he was speaking as a resident of Quartz Hill and as a parent of a Quartz Hill High School student. Mylnar said traffic congestion in the area posed a danger to students, and said he even witnessed a girl struck by a car last year.
“I do know that bringing more traffic to the area will increase the risk of those dangers to our students,” Mylnar said. “That’s just going to be a consequence of the project being at that location.”
Other Quartz Hill residents said they opposed the project because it would negatively impact their quality of life, it would bankrupt local small businesses, and it could cause crime to increase in the area.
Several speakers who opposed the project were from Quartz Hill Cares (QHC), a grassroots community group formed in opposition to the Walmart project when it first went before the council three years ago. (Read more here.)
In 2009, the Lancaster City Council voted to certify a final environmental impact report (EIR) and approved all related actions to move to project forward.
About 30 days later, QHC challenged the adequacy of the EIR in court. The group lost in Los Angeles Superior Court, but scored a victory this year when California’s 2nd District Court of Appeals overturned the Superior Court’s decision.
Walmart officials said the appellate court’s decision was based on one correctable aspect of the massive EIR.
“What the court specifically decided is that the city failed to provide sufficient evidence to support its conclusion that the reduced commercial density alternative was not economically viable,” Walmart representative Jennifer Guenther said Tuesday night. “Essentially what that means is that the court found that they just wanted more evidence to make the finding that that particular alternative wasn’t feasible.”
City officials presented that evidence in the form of an addendum to the EIR Tuesday night. They said no other changes had been made since the project was first approved in 2009; and since all other aspects of the project had already been approved by both the council and the courts, the council needed only to consider the addendum to the EIR.
QHC co-founder, Loretta Berry, presented a letter from the group’s attorney opposing the addendum to the EIR.
City attorney, Allison Burns, said the letter contained “a great deal of hyperbole and name calling” but lacked substance.
“There is nothing in this letter that would stop the city council from proceeding tonight on the matter,” Burns said.
Just before midnight, the council voted 4-0, with Ron Smith absent, to certify the final EIR with the addendum, to approve a conditional use permit, to approve a tentative parcel map to create eight parcels on the project site ranging in size from 0.68 acres to 19.99 acres in the commercial planned development zone.
After the vote, Berry said QHC will continue its efforts to block the Quartz Hill Walmart project.
“We’re going to challenge them [in court] on a couple of issues concerning what’s actually in the addendum and on whether certain procedures were followed,” Berry said. “It is safe to say we are not giving up.”
UPDATED 1/9/2013: The Lancaster City Council gave final approval to the Quartz Hill Walmart project at a council meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013. The council unanimously adopted Ordinance No. 984, an ordinance amending the City Zoning Plan for 40± acres located at the northwest corner of Avenue L and 60th Street West, known as Zone Change No. 06-04. Read the ordinance here.