Following are two news reports on this week’s stunning court ruling in favor of the Joshua Tree Downtown Business Alliance. The first is from the San Bernardino Sun, the second is from the Hi-Desert Star. You can download the ruling itself (34 pages, PDF, 3.8mb) here (courtesy JTDBA).
1. From the San Bernardino Sun:
Judge rejects county’s approval of Dollar General in Joshua Tree
By Joe Nelson, The Sun
Posted: 03/06/14, 8:23 PM PST
SAN BERNARDINO >> A Superior Court judge has reversed the county’s approval of a Dollar General store in Joshua Tree, ordering an environmental impact report be conducted to assess the potential adverse impacts on other businesses in the High Desert tourist hub.
Joshua Tree residents and business owners, who have long fought to preserve the unique mom-and-pop vibe of their eclectic community, have been battling the Tennessee-based discount retailer, which wants to open on the corner of Twentynine Palms Highway and Sunburst Avenue.
Residents and business owners formed a group called the Joshua Tree Downtown Business Alliance, protesting before the county Planning Commission when it approved the project in January 2013. The group appealed that decision to the Board of Supervisors in June, when the board denied the appeal and approved the project.
The group filed a lawsuit in July, arguing that the county failed to properly address the potential negative impacts the project would have on the small businesses that have served as the community’s backbone for years. They said a Dollar General would not only be a blight on the area, but also create unfair competition and force other, smaller businesses to close.
Judge Donald R. Alvarez on Tuesday agreed with the residents and business owners, reversing the county’s approval of the project, suspending the conditional use permit issued for the project, and ordering an environmental impact report be done.
“The county did have to consider whether economic or social changes would result in secondary or indirect environmental consequences,” Alvarez said in his ruling.
“We’re very pleased with the decision,” said Celeste Doyle, a Joshua Tree resident of 12 years and local business owner who helped draft the Joshua Tree Community Plan, which details the community’s vision as a unique area where local businesses can thrive and the area’s rural aesthetic could be sustained. “It demonstrates the county made some mistakes, and some very fundamental mistakes, and how this project will affect our community.”
Dollar General is a chain of discount stores headquartered in Goodlettsville, Tenn., with more than 10,000 stores nationwide. The company touts itself as the nation’s largest “small-box” retailer, with more than $16 billion in sales in 2012, more than 90,000 employees and 12 distribution centers, according to the company’s website.
“A corporate store coming into the midst of (Joshua Tree) will be very harmful,” Doyle said. “It was an inappropriate kind of development for our community.”
County spokesman David Wert said the responsibility for the environmental impact report falls on the project’s applicant, Dynamic Development LLC.
“The county believes it conducted a sound process. However, it is up to the applicant to decide whether to proceed in compliance with the court’s decision, challenge the court’s decision, or abandon the project,” Wert said.
Mark Ostoich, the attorney representing Dynamic Development, did not return telephone calls Thursday seeking comment.
2. From the Hi-Desert Star:
Judge rules additional studies needed for Dollar General project
by Courtney Vaughn
Thursday, March 6, 2014 10:10 pm | Updated: 10:17 pm, Thu Mar 6, 2014.
SAN BERNARDINO— San Bernardino County’s planning department will have to rescind a conditional use permit it granted to Dynamic Development, LLC, for a Dollar General retail store in Joshua Tree, a county judge ruled Tuesday.
The ruling was released Wednesday, in response to a lawsuit filed against the county by the Joshua Tree Downtown Business Alliance.
Based on Judge Donald Alvarez’s ruling, the county will need to prepare an Environmental Impact Report for the project, which wasn’t done before.
Alvarez concluded the county must overturn its approval of the project because a mitigated negative declaration, a document which state’s the project’s impacts to the community and the company’s plans to compensate for or reduce those impacts, “(failed) to properly analyze the project’s impacts on the environment in the area of economic impacts resulting in urban decay,” according to court records.
The ruling does not mean the store won’t be built. The EIR must be prepared by the county, which Dynamic Development will pay for if the company wants to proceed with the project.
The county maintains it has no stake in whether a Dollar General store gets built in Joshua Tree, but disagrees with the court ruling.
“Our initial reaction is, we still think we did this project the right way,” David Wert, a county spokesman, said Thursday. “A court has determined that more information should have been considered. We disagree, we think we conducted the process correctly and can’t quite understand the urban decay argument and a full blown EIR, which is usually something that’s reserved for freeway projects or housing projects … We haven’t quite encountered that on a convenience store.”
Wert said despite the court ruling that indicates the county failed to make all of the proper considerations before approving the project, the county doesn’t plan on changing its review process.
“The county thinks we did it right the first time,” he noted.
Dynamic Development’s project was approved by the county planning commission in January 2013. The planning commission’s decision was appealed to the board of supervisors, which maintained the commission was right to approve the permit.
The Joshua Tree DBA then filed a lawsuit against the county in July.
In its complaint, the Joshua Tree DBA alleged the project was inconsistent with Joshua Tree’s community plan, which encourages small businesses. The complaint also asserted the county failed to consider economic impacts like urban decay and that an updated traffic study should be done.
Judge Alvarez agreed that the economic impacts were not considered, which is required by the California Environmental Quality Act. He disagreed that a new traffic study was needed and didn’t feel the project was inconsistent with the community plan.
“Our main claim was the economic impact claim,” Babak Naficy, attorney for the Joshua Tree DBA, said Thursday. “We’re slightly disappointed that we didn’t win on the other issues, but we’re very gratified that the court agreed with us because this project … doesn’t go with that community and there is a genuine concern about how it affects this whole feel of Joshua Tree that all these businesses have tried to cultivate.”
In the ruling, Judge Alvarez cited a 1985 case in the city of Bishop, in which it was determined that under CEQA guidelines, “the lead agency shall consider the secondary or indirect environmental consequences of economic and social changes, but may find them to be insignificant.”
“It is recognized that CEQA is not a fair competition statutory scheme intended to protect against economic competition,” Alvarez stated. “However, such must be considered if the loss of businesses affects the physical environment by causing or increasing urban decay.”
The ruling acknowledges a lack of substantial evidence to support a fair argument over whether the project could cause urban decay by driving out smaller businesses. Alvarez said the Joshua Tree DBA doesn’t need to provide extensive studies or expert testimony to prove urban decay will result.
Celeste Doyle, a Joshua Tree business owner and Joshua Tree DBA representative was one of the first to speak out against the proposed Dollar General store in Joshua Tree. She’s been directly involved in the lawsuit.
“They actually have to go or the environmental review,” Doyle said Thursday. “If there are economic impacts, and we’re sure there will be, (the county) can either approve it despite the impacts, or disapprove it based on the impacts.”
Dynamic Development could not be reached for comment.