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Judges Reject Wal-Mart Effort to Avoid Environmental Laws

A panel of state judges is rejecting a Wal-Mart strategy for avoiding state environmental laws when building new stores.

Wal-Mart got approval to build its big-box superstores in five California cities last year, including Milpitas, by mounting petition drives. In each case, the company collected signatures from 15 percent of the city's registered voters, which forced the city either to pay for a special election, or approve the project.

"It was kind of a brilliant strategy," said reporter Will Evans, who covered the story for California Watch, "because the city didn't want to spend money on a special election, and they would go ahead and just approve the project.  And the added benefit was, once they (Wal-Mart) went the initiative route, the California Environmental Quality Act doesn't apply."

That is, the act doesn't apply when voters approve a project by initiative petition. The 5th District Court of Appeal disagreed, and ruled that Wal-Mart cannot avoid both environmental review and voter approval.

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