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    Tesco Hits Roadblocks with Two Lawsuits

    Opponents raise concerns over environmental impact of retailer's new U.S. distribution center.

    RIVERSIDE, Calif. -- Opponents fearing the negative impact of Tesco's grocery distribution center, located on the former March Air Force Base here, filed two lawsuits claiming that the plans were approved without proper consideration of traffic and air quality effects on the area, according to the Press-Enterprise.

    In July, Tesco announced its plans to open an 820,400-square foot distribution center on the former Air Force base, now controlled by the March Joint Powers Authority. The distribution center is part of the company's plans to break into the U.S. west coast convenience market.

    Both lawsuits claim that the March Joint Powers Authority -- which oversees civilian use of former military property that was downsized in 1996 -- did not study the effects that the planned Tesco center will have, or hold public hearings on the project, the report stated.

    The Tesco project complies with the specific plans for the Meridian business park, which is located west of I-215 near Alessandro Blvd., according to John Brown, attorney for the Joint Power Authority. He told the paper that the business park project held public hearings and underwent a comprehensive environmental review as far back as 1999.

    "We always take these lawsuits seriously, especially when they have the potential of delaying redevelopment of the base, which is what they are intended to do," Brown told the Press-Enterprise.

    Tesco's chief marketing officer, Simon Uwins, told the paper that court challenges involving California state environmental laws are common. "We have got every reason to believe that the end JPA decision will be upheld," he added.

    "I would speculate that there are obviously a lot of competitors worried about a major, multinational grocery chain and fresh-fruit supplier doing business in the area," Riverside County supervisor and chairman of the March Joint Powers Commission, Bob Buster told the Press-Enterprise. The commission oversees the March Joint Powers Authority.

    One of the lawsuits, filed by Moreno Valley resident Frank Baca, seeks the disclosure of the project's impacts, Briggs Law Corp. lawyer Karen Skaret told the paper. She added that Baca is simply a concerned citizen whose interests are "strictly environmental as far as I know." She added that although there was a review in 1999, it did not consider the individual effects of each project that will be housed within the Meridian business park.

    "We want them to look at the impacts in terms of traffic, air quality and trains in the area, as diesel fuel is a big aspect of this [the Tesco plans]," she told the paper.

    The other lawsuit was filed by Temecula-based Johnson & Sedlack on behalf of Health First, a "California unincorporated association," according to court documents. Both Health First and lawyers at Johnson & Sedlack could not be reached for comment by the paper. According to a 2004 interview, Raymond Johnson noted that his law firm has handled more than 15 court cases dealing with challenges to block Wal-Mart projects, the Press-Enterprise reported.

    While this might be the first roadblock for Tesco's development in the U.S., it is not the first for the business park property in which it will reside. In 2003, residents in Riverside, Calif. neighborhoods including Orangecrest and Mission Grove filed a lawsuit claiming that the business park would create air pollution and traffic congestion. To settle the suit, the developer agreed to reduce the number of warehouses allowed to build there and vowed to keep trucks off of Alessandro and Van Buren Blvds., the report stated.

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