KING CITY — Union management of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 5 in Salinas is contesting the approval of a new discount grocery store for King City.
King City Council recently approved plans to bring a Grocery Outlet supermarket to the community last April after the developer “followed all the appropriate permitting and environmental review processes,” according to City Manager Steve Adams in a news release July 7.
The new 18,187-square-foot Grocery Outlet project, planned to be built off Broadway Street on an empty lot next to Denny’s, would provide jobs, economic development and cost-saving options to local residents. The store regularly sells name-brand groceries and fresh produce at 40% to 70% less than conventional supermarkets.
“All of that is on hold now as litigation has been filed to challenge the approval,” Adams said.
A member of UFCW Local 5, who lives in Salinas, filed an appeal of the original approval by the City of King’s Planning Commission. The City Council subsequently denied the appeal and approved the project. Attorneys for the union then filed a notice of intent to sue to stop the project.
An open letter dated July 6 and signed by all five City Council members calls the lawsuit “misguided” and that it “hurts working families” in the community.
“An estimated 1 in 6 people were already living below the poverty line in King City as of 2020 — and this was before costs skyrocketed nationwide,” the letter states. “With only one grocery store currently in town, some residents travel almost an hour to either Paso Robles or Salinas to buy groceries at lower prices.”
Travel, however, is no longer an option for some residents due to the cost of gas soaring to more than $6 a gallon and inflation at 40-year highs of 8.6%. Many families are struggling to make ends meet in the small underserved agricultural community, where there is a large minority population.
“It shouldn’t be a struggle to put food on the table,” Mayor Mike LeBarre said. “It is extremely disappointing that outside leadership of a union claiming to represent the interests of working families is supporting a lawsuit against the City to stop a project that would directly benefit the working families of King City.”
Currently, there is only one other full-service grocery store in town — Safeway, whose workers are represented by UFCW Local 5. But, according to Adams, local union members were not allowed to vote on the issue before litigation was filed.
“Attraction of stores and more shopping opportunities was identified as one of the top priorities in a recent citywide community survey,” Adams said. “If given a say in this lawsuit, we feel confident that local union members would not want their union dues used to stand in the way of the City’s efforts to address what we know are important community needs.”
Adams said the City is asking the community and local members to urge UFCW Local 5 to stop supporting the litigation, and to allow local members of the union the option to vote on such issues in the future before litigation is filed in their community.
In a news release July 22, representatives for the labor union said they stand by the claim that the City of King erred in imposing a Class 32 In-Fill Categorical Exemption for the proposed Grocery Outlet project.
“The case before the court in this matter does not relate to socio-economic status or issues involving wages and the price of groceries,” said attorney Tal Finney for Working Families of Monterey County, the lawsuit’s plaintiff. “It involves the failure of the city to follow the mandates of CEQA that require them to inform the public of potential hazards to the environment and health and safety of the public. That the city claims that it is exempt from CEQA in developing a grocery store on a piece of land that once housed an automobile center and all the established dangerous chemicals used in conjunction therewith in such a pristine area of the state is simply unacceptable.”
According to Friday’s news release, the petition filed with the Superior Court of California, Monterey County alleges that the “Respondents wrongfully imposed a Class 32 In-fill Categorical Exemption on the Project; that the Initial Study CEQA checklist which found No Impact or Less Than Significant Impact on each and every potential Project impact inadequate and that the technical studies attached to the Initial Study do not amount to a legally sufficient environmental review; and, that the Respondents pre-committed to the Project, which informed their cursory environmental review under the CEQA checklist.”
“It is unfortunate that the city council and city officials are partnering with Grocery Outlet and the Sacramento-based developer — Best Development Group, LLC — to attack working families in King City,” said John Nunes, president of UFCW Local 5. “The actions taken by the city is nothing short of bullying. They are trying to make this about the union versus a non-union grocer. We are not opposed to the project itself, but we do believe that a legally adequate environmental review should have been prepared to study all the potential impacts.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated as of July 22 with comments from UFCW Local 5.