A group of Lakeside residents (unaffiliated with any common nonprofit organization) sued a big-box store developer and the county of San Diego on October 23, claiming the county should have required an environmental impact report before the company started building on a four-acre site on old Highway 80, just east of Lake Jennings Park Road.
The suit is the culmination of a year-long fight. Seven local feed and supply stores are in the eight-mile radius of where Tractor Supply Co. plans to open a 19,000-square-foot store with a 17,000-square-foot parking and display area outside.
"What the county's trying to do is avoid the California Environmental Quality Act review," said Rory Wicks, lawyer for Save Our Stores. "What they did is they took an EIR for a project from 2007, wrote an addendum, and approved it."
Lakeside resident and store owner Rita Gallant rounded up nearly 2500 signatures on a petition against the project — only to see the county planning commission and the San Diego County Board of Supervisors approve it.
"I'm the little business owner with a big voice," Gallant says. "We couldn't just go and break ground without doing a whole lot of legwork and getting permits — it doesn't make sense that a big-box company can."
Tractor Supply Co. operates more than 1400 stores in 49 states and last reported $1.7 billion in income. The company has just one store in San Diego county, a 19,100 square foot one that opened in Ramona in August 2014. While it was going through the permit process, Hix Snedeker staff said they would own the building and lease it to Tractor Supply Co. Hix Snedeker is headquartered in Daphne, Alabama.
On Wednesday (October 28), Haymes Snedeker called the lawsuit "an attempt to stifle competition cloaked in CEQA."
"Our project is less impactful than the previous project," Snedeker said. "It's just some feed stores suppressing economic competition — when there's a real CEQA lawsuit, it suffers because of suits like these."
On its website, Hix Snedeker says it "achieved the fastest approval of a large box project in San Diego County in the last ten years."
Attorney Wicks says the company took an approved 2007 plan for Black Gold, a combination car wash, gas station, and convenience store, got the county to agree it was substantially similar to a big-box store use, and then wrote an addendum to the Black Gold EIR.
In June 2014, Gallant delivered a petition with about 2500 signatures to the Lakeside Community Planning Group, then watched the project get approvals right up the chain to the board of supervisors. Then, Save our Stores raised $6000 to hire a traffic expert and get their own review.
The 2015 traffic analysis identified far more and far greater impact to the neighborhood and roads than the addendum and the 2007 report documented. The group appealed the decision to let Tractor Supply use the eight-year-old EIR and, at the end of September, three county supervisors voted unanimously to reject the appeal (supervisors Greg Cox and Ron Roberts were absent).
The supervisors required the developer to indemnify the county with a $250,000 bond in case a lawsuit — like this one — was filed against the board.
"I want them to play by the rules," Gallant says. "They will end up here eventually and we'll have to deal with it, but they should go through the same process everyone else has to go through before they build."