Opponents say full environmental study must be done before project goes forward
The Taft City Council will hear an appeal of the Taft Planning Commission's approval of a Grocery Outlet Store on March 3.
Attorneys for a group they identify as "Keep Taft Great" argued before the Planning Commission in January that a full environmental review of the site is necessary before the project can be approved, but the commission disagreed and in January gave the green light to build the discount grocery store on Supply Row adjacent to a Dollar General that opened last fall.
The developer, Gregg Aguirre of Capital Rivers, has charged that the issue is not the environmental concerns but an effort by Albertsons to keep a competing discount grocery out of Taft.
"The whole thing smells a little fishy and it’s not driven by environmental issues of people in the community of Taft," Aguirre told the Planning Commission.
Aguirre called Tal Finney, who said he was representing “Keep Taft Great”, made up of Taft residents.
Finney, in return, said the remarks made by Aguirre intimidated Keep Taft Great members in the audience for the hearing.
Further questioning by members of the planning commission led to allegations by Finney's firm that they were "rude and bullying."
"The personal insults levied against Petitioner’s attorneys were neither impartial, nor professional, and significantly undercut the review of (the Grocery Outlet project)," the letter sent to the city said. "Several members of Petitioner were present in the hearing because they wanted to speak. However, after witnessing the vitriol directed at their attorney, these members of the public were afraid to stand up and speak about the Project for fear of being personally targeted by the Planning Commissioners."
As the hearing nears, Aguirre's firm has taken out an ad in the Taft Midway Driller calling for people from the community to come to the hearing to support the Grocery Outlet.
The appeal hearing was scheduled to be held at the Feb. 18 council meeting but it was postponed when the city received a packet of information from the appellants the day of the meeting and asked for time to review it.
Still, an attorney for Keep Taft Great and a union representative both spoke against the project before the council delayed action to March 3.
The chain of events leading to the appeal started in early December with last minute objections to the project as the Planning Commission was getting ready to vote on what had until that point seemed to be a routine project.
That vote was postponed until January when the commissioners voted 4-0 to approve the project. That hearing included charges from Greg Aguirre of Capitol Rivers.
Now the Council will hear the appeal and vote to grant it or deny it.
Shaune Arnold, who works with Finney at Arnold LLP repeated allegations raised by Finney of the same firm that the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires a full environmental review that must be circulated in the public for comment and review.
City officials have said soil studies and reviews done in the past 14 years since have said they purchased the land from a railroad company are sufficient and it qualifies for an exemption from a full reviews, Arnold disagreed.
In a written letter included to the city, she said the prior studies are "wholly inadequate" to support The exemption or approval of the project, and said a full environmental impact is necessary.