Lodi City Council forced to rescind vote on Wal-Mart project after locking out dozens of citizens

To obey fire safety regulations, the Lodi City Council locked out dozens of people from a meeting on a Wal-Mart environmental impact report. Citizens threatened to file a suit under the open meeting Brown Act, and the Council agreed to rescind their approval of the report and hold a new hearing in a venue large enough to accommodate all concerned citizens. -DB

The Sacramento Bee
Thursday, Jan. 15, 2009
By Loretta Kalb

LODI, Calif. – The City Council’s pivotal thumbs up for a proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter on Dec. 10 will be rescinded in response to complaints that the session violated California’s open-meeting law.

During the meeting, dozens of people remained outside in the cold after being kept out of the packed Carnegie Forum. The doors were locked to comply with a fire marshal’s mandate that the 150-person capacity not be exceeded.

The meeting lasted until after midnight and produced 3-2 approval of an environmental impact report for the Wal-Mart project.

Citizens for Open Government failed that night in a bid to have the meeting delayed so everyone could attend. Last week, the group sent a demand letter declaring the Ralph M. Brown Act had been violated.

Members of the group threatened to file suit if the city failed to remedy the problem.

City spokesman Jeff Hood denied the city had acted illegally. He said redoing the EIR meeting is “simply less burdensome” than defending a lawsuit at an estimated cost of $60,000.

So, he said, the council agreed in closed session Tuesday to formally rescind the vote at a future public meeting.

A repeat meeting on the EIR has not been scheduled, but it will be in the Hutchins Street Square Community Center, which can seat 789 people, Hood said.