Attorney representing "Keep Taft Great" says more environmental studies are needed

The Taft Planning Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to approve a site plan for a proposed grocery store over the objections of an attorney representing a group characterized as "Keep Taft Great" and the threat of possible litigation.

Tal Finney, a Los Angeles-based attorney claimed the project is moving forward without adequate environmental studies and the members of "Keep Taft Great" would be impacted by "traffic, noise, air quality, soil quality, ground water quality, health, safety and other impacts" from construction of the store."

Finney said soil studies done on the site are too old and inadequate.
Greg Aguirre, president of Capitol Rivers, the developer, on the other hand, characterized Finney as a "hired gun" working for Albertson's to keep a competitor out of the Taft market.

Commissioners seemed, too, seemed skeptical of the motives and the identity of the opposition to the store.

Grocery Outlets has proposed a 18,000 square foot discount grocery store on a site just east of the Dollar General store on the south side of Supply Row just east of South Tenth Street.

The Dollar General project, which opened in the fall of last year, was approved without any protests.

The Grocery Outlet project was on the Planning Commission's Dec. 4 agenda for approval but that action was tabled after the City received a letter from Finney protesting the project and he testified against it at a public hearing.

A Bakersfield man has also protested construction of the store, and a nearby resident has raised concerns about trucks using Front Street but said he is not opposed to the project.

Aguirre said Finney has been involved in similar challenges at several locations in California, all involving discount grocery stores proposed in close proximity to existing Albertson's, Safeway and Vons stores, all of which are part of the same company.

He challenged Finney's motives at the Planning Commission meeting and questioned the authenticity of "Keep Taft Great" in an email to the taft Midway Driller.

"The whole thing smells a little fishy and its not driven by environmental issues of people in the community of Taft," Aguirre told the Planning Commission. "We're extremely skeptical of the motives."

Finney said economics isn't behind the challenge

"The whole concept of this thing being a grocery store issue is not the correct way to look at it," he said.

Finney said testing technology and what is considered a containment have changed in the past 12 years and a full environmental impact report should be done "so that the public knows what's going on here."

City Planning and Community Development Director Mark Staples said soil at the site was tested in 2007 after the City purchased the land, again in 2008 and 2012 and more recently after Capitol rivers expressed an interest in buying it.
Staples also said the land qualifies for an exemption as an infill development through the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

Finney said several members of Keep taft Great were in the audience, but none stood up when asked by the Planning Commission to do so.

Commissioner asked if any members of Keep Taft Great were Albertson's employees.

Finney said he didn't know.

"There's no need for them to be demonized," he said.

Finney said later he thought they were "chilled by Aguirre;'s comments.

But the Planning Commission was skeptical of the claims of the both Finney and James Kell, a Bakersfield resident opposing the project.

Kell was asked who he worked for but declined to answer.

Commissioner Jerry Livingston made the motion to approve the site plan as presented.

"My experience with the people in this town is that people in taft speak up when they're not happy with something," he said "We don't usually have someone hide behind someone to do that."

The vote was 4-0 on a roll call vote to approve the project.

The Commission's vote can be appealed to the Taft City Council or a CEQA action can be taken.
Finney said he will consult with his client before taking any action.