Dalidio accused of funding farmers’ association
February 7, 2010
An e-mail distributed by the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce incorrectly claims that rancher Ernie Dalidio funded a recent controversial San Luis Obispo County Farmers’ Market Association’s advertising campaign. This has created a political firestorm over who is behind these rumors.
On Feb. 3, the chamber sent out an issue of the “e-Insider” – an online source of controversial news – to all of its members stating that Dalidio’s financial support of the farmers’ association had helped “drum up” vocal support for the nonprofit organization of family farmers.
“Insiders report that the television spots and full-page print ads that ran in the week leading up to council meeting were financed by a local rancher-developer who has previously sparred with the downtown association,” according to the e-mail. “The publicity helped drum up significant public testimony, written communications and phone calls that were overwhelmingly in support of the San Luis Obispo County Farmers’ Market Association continuing its 27-year role.”
In the advertisements, the farmers’ association voiced its objections to the San Luis Obispo Downtown Association decision to terminate its relationship with the farmers’ association and to take control of the market portion of the popular Thursday night event. The e-mailed misinformation prompted some readers to question if the battle over who runs the farmers’ market is less about a grass roots effort and more about Dalidio’s “grudge” against the SLO Downtown Association.
“It is crazy,” Dalidio said. “It‘s untrue. I did not finance the (farmers’ association’s) campaign.”
Ermina Karim, the chamber’s director of governmental affairs, said the information that Dalidio had funded the advertisements was confirmed through a “number of sources who would know.” However, no one from the chamber attempted to contact Dalidio, the farmers’ association or Dave Cox of Barnett Cox & Associates (the advertising agency that produced the advertisements).
“The Insider is usually substantiated rumors,” Karim said. “We usually try to confirm by hearing it from sources that are well placed people that would know. The Insider reflects what people are talking about.”
The spokesperson for the SLO County Farmers’ Association, Peter Jankay, said that all funding for the media campaign came from the reserves of the farmers’ association.
“I am shocked,” Jankay said of the allegations that Dalidio was funding the media campaign. “There are real hard working people on both sides trying to work for a solution and this is not productive.”
Dave Cox also confirmed that Dalidio was not involved in financing the association’s media campaign. He did, however, take pictures in front of Dalidio’s barn to use in the ads.
“I asked Ernie if he would mind if we shot pictures in front of his barn,” Cox said. “I don’t think I told him who the client was. He has one of the best looking barns in the area.”
Dalidio has battled opponents of the proposed 131-acre development on his land in the county bordering the city of San Luis Obispo for 18 years. Opponents of the project include environmental groups, the SLO Downtown Association and competing developers.
In early 2008, Dalidio filed a declaration to allow a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act lawsuit against the LLC that funded the campaign against his development and the SLO Downtown Association. Dalidio’s multimillion-dollar lawsuit claimed that the association and Responsible County Development LLC conspired and implemented unlawful business practices to thwart the proposed development.
U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder in Los Angeles tentatively dismissed Dalidio’s case because of a local ruling that has since been overturned.
Following information from Dalidio’s attorneys that the SLO Downtown Association and No on Measure J had run an illegal campaign against Dalidio’s proposal, the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) researched the claims and determined they had merit. As a result, the FPPC authorized Dalidio’s attorneys to act as representatives of the state investigating election fraud.