Community Stands Against Camarillo Costco: Environmental Review Demanded

In a significant move, a grassroots group has taken legal action against the city of Camarillo and Costco Wholesale, challenging the construction of a new warehouse store on West Ventura Boulevard.

Ventura County Citizens Against Mega Gas filed the lawsuit this spring, contesting the city’s approval of the Costco project. This coalition, comprising Camarillo and county residents, initiated the suit after their appeal was rejected by the City Council in February, thereby greenlighting the members-only store.

The proposed development is substantial, featuring a 169,397-square-foot warehouse and a gas station on approximately 20 acres adjacent to Home Depot and across from Camarillo Airport.

According to the city’s plans, Costco will house a food court, vision and hearing center, pharmacy, bakery, tire center, photo area, and over 4,000 products, including alcohol. Additionally, the site will include 901 parking spaces and 16 double-sided gas pumps, accommodating 32 vehicles simultaneously.

Currently, Ventura County hosts Costco stores in Oxnard and Simi Valley, with another just over the county line in Westlake Village.

The city’s analysis of Costco’s project application, submitted in 2022, revealed significant local demand: an estimated 36,650 Camarillo residents visited the Oxnard store, 12,710 visited Westlake Village, and 6,260 went to Simi Valley in the same year.

The Lawsuit’s Allegations

The lawsuit targets the city of Camarillo and its City Council for approving the Costco project without requiring a full environmental impact report (EIR), which the plaintiffs argue is necessary under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

The city had concluded that certain mitigation measures would sufficiently reduce environmental impacts, negating the need for a comprehensive EIR.

Michelle Glueckert D’Anna, a spokeswoman for the city, stated that neither the city nor the council members would comment on ongoing litigation.

However, she noted that under the project approval guidelines, Costco is responsible for covering all litigation-related costs, including the city’s attorney fees. D’Anna expressed confidence that the project’s approval process adhered to CEQA, taking into account the environmental impacts appropriately.

Community Stands Against Camarillo Costco: Environmental Review Demanded

Resident’s Concerns

Joan Handzel, a resident of the Springville community near the proposed development site, joined the lawsuit due to concerns about potential pollution and increased traffic. “I hope that the environmental impact report will highlight the deficiencies in the Costco proposal, preventing its construction,” she remarked.

Kristen Kessler, another member of the opposition group and a longtime environmental and wildlife advocate, voiced worries about the displacement of local wildlife. She emphasized the importance of the area as a habitat for various bird species, including special-status species like western burrowing owls and horned larks.

The Ventura Audubon Society, to which Kessler belongs, submitted a letter to the City Council in November 2023, criticizing the reliance on a 15-year-old environmental review and stressing the need for updated assessments.

Two business owners in the opposition group, who own a local gas station, also expressed concerns about the competitive impact of a new Costco gas station.

One of the business owners, who signed the petition as “Hilu Gus Co., Inc.,” owns a Chevron station in Camarillo. Kessler acknowledged their fears that the new Costco gas station would siphon off their business.

Environmental and Community Impact

Longtime environmental activist Merrill Berge highlighted that while Costco has agreed to pay into a countywide mitigation fund to offset emissions from the project, the payments only cover three years of emissions. Berge argued that this is insufficient given the project’s long-term impact.

Berge, a 23-year resident of Camarillo, pointed out that the citizens’ group was formed in response to the Costco project. “We all had our various concerns from different points of view,” she said, underscoring the diverse reasons behind the group’s formation.

The decision on whether the project proceeds lies with the City Council, following a court judgment on the lawsuit. Berge emphasized that an EIR would provide a clearer basis for the community and the City Council to make an informed decision.

Looking Ahead

The next court hearing, a case management conference, is scheduled for June 14 with Judge Ronda McKaig at the Hall of Justice. The petitioners hope that the case will shed light on the real impacts of the Costco project and ultimately lead to a more thorough environmental review.

Dua Anjum, an investigative and watchdog reporter for the Ventura County Star, reported on this story, made possible by a grant from the Ventura County Community Foundation’s Fund to Support Local Journalism.

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