The Latest Installment of NIMBYs v. Walmart
In this latest installment of NIMBYs v. Walmart (Atwell v. City of Rohnert Park (2018) 27 Cal.App.5th 692), the court rejected petitioners’ claims because they had been raised in a previous challenge to the Walmart expansion.
The project dates back to a 2009 application for Walmart to expand an existing store in Rohnert Park by adding a grocery store component. The City prepared an EIR, which concluded, among other things, that the project was consistent with the City’s General Plan. The Sierra Club and a local conservation group challenged the EIR on a number of grounds, including its determination that the project was consistent with the General Plan. This claim was not ultimately pursued. The court ultimately issued a writ of mandate on other claims, sending the EIR back to the City.
The City duly revised the EIR and re-approved the project. The EIR’s discussion of General Plan consistency did not change and the City concluded once again that the project was consistent with the General Plan. This time, new NIMBYs filed suit, raising the same argument that the project was not consistent with the General Plan.
The Court granted the City’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, rejecting petitioner’s claim on the basis of res judicata. Because the claim could have been litigated in the earlier case, it could not be litigated in the second case.
Although it seems clear that the second case raised the exact same claim as the first case, it seems less clear that the second group of petitioners was in privity with the first group. This is a required element of res judicata. The court determined that because the Sierra Club and the second group of petitioners both alleged community harm, and brought their petitions on behalf of members of the community, that they had “identical” relationships “to the subject matter of the litigation.
The problem with this conclusion is that the second group of petitioners was bound by the Sierra Club’s decision not to pursue the claim in the first case, even though there was no evidence that the petitioners participated in or knew about that decision.
The court went on to look closely at the project and the General Plan and conclude that the project was consistent with the General Plan. The record evidence supported the City’s conclusion, which was therefore within the City’s broad discretion.