The effort to bring a Costco Wholesale store to Pleasanton hit a familiar roadblock last week when Pleasanton Citizens for Responsible Growth filed its second lawsuit against the city over environmental review associated with the project.
The latest lawsuit by the group spearheaded by former city councilman Matt Sullivan challenges the adequacy of the city's second round of approvals of the Johnson Drive Economic Development Zone, the regulatory framework for how redevelopment could occur for a new Costco, two hotels and other projects at prominent property near the I-680 and I-580 interchange.
"It is our goal to hold the city and Costco accountable for full and transparent disclosure of the environmental impacts of this project and that the citizens of Pleasanton are fully informed of its consequences", Sullivan, who served on the council from 2004 to 2012, said in a statement Tuesday.
Pleasanton city attorney Dan Sodergren declined to comment on Monday, saying the city had not yet been served with a copy of the lawsuit and "as a practice, I do not comment on pending litigation."
The JDEDZ project had been sent back for a year-plus worth of additional environmental analysis and public review as part of a settlement over PCRG's previous lawsuit in 2018.
The City Council unanimously approved the new JDEDZ environmental impact report and policy documents last month, but the citizens' group disagreed with that decision -- and now asks the court to overturn it.
"As certified by the city, the project's EIR fails to adequately identify, evaluate and/or require mitigation for all significant direct and cumulative environmental impacts the project will cause," PCRG's attorney, Mark R. Wolfe, wrote in the petition for writ of mandate filed in Alameda County Superior Court on March 4.
"As a result, there is no substantial evidence in the administrative record to support the city's findings that nearly all the project's environmental impacts will be less than significant after mitigation," Wolfe added in the 11-page petition.
The petition in part claims the city violated the California Environmental Quality Act in its latest round of JDEDZ deliberations, including "inadequate analysis and mitigation of significant environmental impacts ... (including) on air quality, human health, transportation and traffic, utilities and urban decay."
PCRG also alleges city officials failed to adequately respond to comments on the draft EIR, saying they did not "provide a detailed, written, good faith, reasoned analysis in response to comments received."
The lawsuit asks the court to set aside the city's JDEDZ approvals, order them to comply fully with CEQA and for an injunction preventing the city to move any JDEDZ projects forward while the lawsuit is pending -- along with award of attorneys' fees and costs associated with the lawsuit.
An initial case management conference has been scheduled for 9 a.m. May 22 in Alameda County Superior Court, Department 17.
The newest litigation could halt a project that many community members thought was a done deal to move forward after the City Council's vote last month -- especially since the Costco, central to the JDEDZ, was already the main talking point in a prior citywide ballot measure and PCRG's earlier settled lawsuit.
The JDEDZ project was first initiated by the city in 2014 as a concept to spur commercial development on under-utilized land on Johnson Drive and Commerce Circle. It details rules for how redevelopment could occur on the 40 acres near the freeways' interchange, including rezoning a nearly 20-acre site left vacant when Clorox closed its research center there.
The first environmental analysis and public review process spanned from 2014 to 2017, pausing in the second half of 2016 amid a citizens' initiative over the JDEDZ that ultimately failed.
Decided at the polls in November 2016, 63% of voters defeated Measure MM, which sought to limit building size in the JDEDZ to 50,000 square feet maximum -- a ballot question that did not explicitly reference Costco but was seen by many residents as effectively a vote on whether to allow the wholesale retail giant onto the property.
The council then formally approved the original JDEDZ package in December 2017, but the city was sued that same month by Sullivan's group, who opted for litigation instead of a referendum petition.
Months of initial litigation ensued before the council in September 2018 opted to rescind its JDEDZ approvals in favor of additional environmental work. That decision put on hold Costco's design review application and a Planning Commission-approved application from a hotel developer to build two hotels with 231 rooms in the JDEDZ area.
The second round of environmental review started in October 2018 and lasted more than a year, a longer-than-anticipated process that included new studies by consultants focused on air quality, releasing the new documents for public comment and drafting responses to the comments before the final city hearings.
The city's reconsideration process culminated with unanimous City Council votes on Feb. 4 and Feb. 18 to approve the revised JDEDZ package.
Costco has remained committed to bringing its first-ever store to Pleasanton throughout the lengthy public process, thus far. The company now owns the land it plans to build on along Johnson Drive.
Sullivan has long been critical of Costco's role in the JDEDZ process, including the proposed tax-sharing agreement between Costco and the city to help pay for roadwork needed to accommodate the traffic increase estimated to occur by redevelopment throughout the JDEDZ area.
Sullivan and PCRG also confirmed their concerns with the city's follow-up environmental review with their new lawsuit last week.
"We were forced to file a second lawsuit against the project due to the still-insufficient environmental study performed for the JDEDZ and the failure of the city of Pleasanton and Costco to fully evaluate and disclose the true impacts of the project", Sullivan said.
"What makes this more disappointing is that this was the second attempt by the city and property developer Costco -- forced by an earlier lawsuit brought by PCRG -- to perform a comprehensive analysis of the environmental, economic, and social impacts of the project and they utterly failed -- again," he added.
As for his role in the lawsuit, the petition identifies Sullivan as a member of PCRG, but he is the only member of the "unincorporated association of (Pleasanton) residents, citizens, property owners, taxpayers and electors" identified by name.
The group's stated interest is "advocating for equitable and responsible land-use development policies, maintaining political accountability by elected local officials, and enforcing land-use planning and environmental laws in and around Pleasanton," according to the petition.
But, the lawsuit later states, "Because the claims asserted and the relief sought are broad-based and of a public as opposed to a purely private or pecuniary nature, direct participation in this litigation by petitioner's individual members is not necessary."