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Judge tentatively clears the way for Wal-Mart 

Legal efforts to halt the construction of a Wal-Mart supercenter north of downtown Atascadero appear defeated for the moment. Judge Jac Crawford issued a preliminary ruling on April 19 denying citizens group Save Atascadero’s petition to force city officials to redo the environmental assessment of the project.

The ruling, if adopted as a final decision, will allow Wal-Mart to begin construction on the 129,560-square-foot box store. Members of the city council who unanimously approved the Wal-Mart project in June 2012 thanked city attorney Brian Pierik, who argued the case in the Paso Robles county courthouse March 19.

“Thank you for a job well done,” Mayor Tom O’Malley told Pierik at the council’s April 23 meeting. “It was a very long process.”

Some Atascadero residents, including neighbors of the project, have complained since plans to build the store surfaced in 2006 that the project threatens to increase traffic congestion and degrade air quality in the area.

Save Atascadero’s lawsuit claimed violations to the California Environmental Quality Act for the city’s alleged failure to include one particular air study in its final report, and for punting a review of how the project will impact air quality in combination with neighboring development.

Crawford disagreed. The judge stated in the opinion that the city adequately disclosed information and properly relied on the expertise of an outside agency in finding that the project wouldn’t pose significant air quality impacts.

“The City did not fail to proceed as required by law,” Crawford wrote.

Save Atascadero also unsuccessfully claimed that the city improperly amended its general plan to accommodate the supercenter project.

Group spokesman Tom Comar said he didn’t expect another hearing before Crawford adopts the tentative ruling. Save Atascadero lawyers haven’t yet decided whether to appeal the decision.

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