Dalido accelerates bid to develop his property

April 1, 2008


Ernie Dalidio’s legal team launched a new offensive last week to reinstate Measure J and asked a judge to reconsider a second negative ruling in the rancorous fight over development of his San Luis Obispo County acreage.

Attorney Michael Morris appealed the judicial decision which invalidated Measure J and Attorney James McKiernan filed an application to change a federal judge’s tentative ruling that tossed out a lawsuit Dalidio filed against opponents he alleged interfered unlawfully with his proposed development.

The current court actions are the latest chapter in an almost 20-year battle to prevent Dalidio from developing his land along Highway 101 near Madonna Road in San Luis Obispo.

Last month, Judge Roger Picquet overturned a 2006 San Luis Obispo County ballot initiative approved by voters by a 65-35 percent margin. The measure would have allowed Dalidio to incorporate business, retail, and residential on his 131-acre site.

“Our appeal is part of the long saga regarding this matter, opposed by the same folks who have always opposed it,” Morris said. “Whether the appeal is approved or not, the project will move ahead through the county with just a different approach.”

Opponents of the development, Citizens for Planning Responsibly (CPR), and the Environmental Center (ECOLSLO), sued to overturn Measure J.

“We are prepared to fight,” said Citizens for Planning Responsibly spokesperson Rosemary Wilvert in response to Dalido’s recent appeal. “Judge Picquet ruled that Measure J was illegal. We are not concerned. We will have to gear up to oppose the appeal. You can’t trump state law. Let him waste more time and money.”

Dalido’s multi-million-dollar lawsuit claims that the Downtown Association and Responsible County Development LLC conspired and implemented unlawful business practices to thwart the proposed development

Judge Christina Snyder tentatively dismissed the case due to the defendants’ First Amendment rights. Anti-SLAPP statutes allow a judge to dismiss a suit at the onset. SLAPP or “Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation” refer to lawsuits often filed by developers and government officials against individuals and community groups for speaking out on civic or government issues.

Dalidio’s attorneys argued that unknown developers, using environmentalist as “straw men,” funded the bulk of the “No on J” campaign through Responsible County development LLC.

“This is about developers trying to run Ernie off,” McKiernan countered. “Based on my argument, the judge agreed to review and take on submission allowing us to change or amend our charges.”

“No on J” spokesperson Alan Thomas contends that Measure J sets an unfair playing field in favor of Dalidio.

“The irony is that Measure J would have given Dalidio’s team a huge unfair competitive advantage over other local developers and downtown retailers who play by the rules,” Thomas said. “That’s the joke of all this. It’s Ernie’s team who’ve been trying to do what McKiernan’s lawsuit accused others of doing. Fortunately, they’ve been thwarted by many honest, decent people who really care about this town and don’t get paid a single penny for their troubles.”

If unable to file in federal court, McKiernan plans to bring his case back to state court.

“It was a chess move to federal court,” McKiernan said, “an attempt to hold back on revealing the members of the LLC. We will go back to state court if we have to. In state court the members of the LLC will be disclosed within 20 days.”


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By: Anonymous on 4/9/08

Why should the Dalidio family put up most of the money to build an overpass to Prado Road. Didn't I just read that the new Margarita housing development on the east end of Prado "needs the overpass"?

Cal Trans most surely will not approve on-ramps and exits so close together. Those traveling south on HWY 101 could exit at Los Osos Valley Rd and double back on Calle Joaquin pass Kimball Chevrolet/VW toward the Embassy Suites Hotel. Wasn't that where Calle Joaquin was originally supposed to meet? (At the Sear's store)

If he scaled back the development slightly, he would only need an off-ramp from southbound 101. Northbound drivers could exit at either LOVRd or further north at Madonna Rd. If the city still needs an overpass, how about asking those on the east side of the freeway who would benefit by a Prado Road overpass to kick in?

McKierman? I thought failed Central Coast Mall developer Bird was bad for Ernie.

By: Anonymous on 4/7/08

Comprimise..Pig farm !!!! worked for Alex

By: Anonymous on 4/4/08

I hope Ernie sells the property at a discount to a large corporation. They can sit on it until SLO becomes gridlocked for lack of the Prado overpass.

When the city goes to the corporation for help, they will say sure. However we want and need twice the density as proposed by Ernie. And they will get it.

End result, we suffer through the traffic mess and get exactly what we did not want. Serves us right.

By: Anonymous on 4/2/08

The main question for me seems to be the character of development, and the Dalidio Ranch project is just more of the ticky-tacky chain stores that are invading town. The extension of the auto dealerships along 101 — is this separate and a done deal? — is especially bad, reminding me of the auto malls that line 101 in Oxnard and Ventura. What a hideous gateway to the city for people arriving from the south on 101.

But I'd be interested in what alternatives, short of nothing, people see for that land. Residential? Different sorts of commercial development?

By: Anonymous on 4/2/08

If one agrees that as a general matter growth is happening here to some degree — you could stop all growth, but that's a much bigger question — at some point it will come down to developing something like the Dalidio property somehow, or some other piece of land. If you compare the Dalidio parcel to the prospect of development snaking into Los Osos Valley, Edna Valley or somewhere else that truly represents sprawl, Dalidio starts to seem not so bad from many angles.

But if we want that property to become a permanent open space or park, the city or county should buy it. That seems absurd to me, sandwiched between 101, Madonna Road and Madonna Plaza, and open space could be better preserved elsewhere. Or folks here could take it off Dalidio's hands and farm it. I hear corn-based ethanol is an ideal alternative fuel. :)

I hate to see SLO grow, especially in the manner it's happened for the most part, and Measure J was a disgrace, but there are far worse forms of sprawl than development of the Dalidio parcel.

By: Anonymous on 4/2/08

Whenever I hear that a development should be allowed because it's already surrounded by development, I can't believe that argument can be forwarded by intelligent people. All that development surrounding Dalidio is also pretty recent. It was swamp and agrarian before. To me it's like suggesting that nuclear waste should be buried on the site, because heck, there's already a source nearby. Of course master planning a community is really hard, but try recreating a bit of nature. As Will Rogers supposedly said "Invest in LAND…they ain't makin' any more of it."

By: Anonymous on 4/2/08

I actually don't believe "SOMETHING" must be built on this land. The surrounded argument is ridiculous. Drive down lovr and you will see many farms working marginal land not nearly as large as ernie's. Sun+water+dirt= sustainable food source. I know that Ernie sold his soul and hocked his family's future on this project to the point of no return but don't insult me that a Target store is all this land is good for.

And retail dollars are hardly a boon to the economy. Suck ass jobs and tons of traffic. No thanks. And while I'm at it the "Gap" property on lovr should not be allowed to develop until they fix the overpass. Alex screwed slo, his minions continue to screw slo and Ernie is left having to pay for those sins.

By: Anonymous on 4/2/08

I just find it hard to believe that there is absolutely no compromise here.

The property IS surrounded by development.

There ARE retail tax dollars that go north and south due to lack of availablity in SLO.

Ernie's land cost basis is extremely low, even accounting for the money he has spent over the last decades attempting to develope his land. Given that, he could afford to build a retail project with relative low density and have it still pencil out.

I also believe that his opponents recognize that SOMETHING will be built on his land and, given that, will agree to some sort of compromise.

Unfortunately any compromise will have to start with Ernie, and that currently looks unlikely.

At least for now.

By: Anonymous on 4/2/08

As the Sun God I can assure you that I still shine on the Dalidio property even while it is "surrounded" by a freeway and houses.

And Robert Moses, I don't know how having big box stores will help the environment. The whole sales pitch was to create a destination shopping center to attract out of town money. If they do not attract out of town money then the project is a failure. There is only so much retail pie in San Luis.

By: Anonymous on 4/2/08

Yes, slodeath, the Los Angeles model that so many cities have duplicated is a disaster, but one can argue that developing the Dalidio property isn't really sprawl of the worst sort. Look at the satellite imagery on

Google Maps.

And one has to concede that some big box stores are inevitable and that such stores could never be developed in a downtown like SLO's. In the case of SLO, you can even argue that opening big box stores was a net gain environmentally, since far fewer car trips to Santa Maria are necessary. (My friends and I used to make regular trips to SM or Santa Barbara to shop, and aside from car impacts, the loss of tax revenue to other cities was a bit absurd.)

By: Anonymous on 4/2/08

Please google James Howard Kunstler and read his predictions for 2008. The entire car and suburb/sprawl based national economic model is a dinosaur slowly gasping as gasoline reaches $4 a gallon. SLO is no exception.

By: Anonymous on 4/2/08

There really are no "good guys" on either side of this, and it's a shame that there seems to be no way to compromise. Some sort of development of this property seems reasonable, but Dalidio's approach has been very poor and his opponents are obviously tainted by self-interest.

It's worth remembering that the erstwhile Central Coast Plaza was hobbled by a desire to protect the downtown, while at the same time recognizing that recent retail development on the south side of town has been of a very sorry character.

I've often wondered why Alex Madonna's funeral procession was routed down Higuera Street, when obviously it should have gone down eponymous Madonna Road, past Denny's, McDonald's, Chili's, the chain motels, the gas stations and a vast sea of tarmac that could swallow your dreams whole, and then down Los Osos Valley Road, where Alex could have been interred on aisle 19 at the Home Depot.

By: Anonymous on 4/2/08

If measure J was illegal using the ballot to promote development then why not overturn the city ballots cancelling a project that was approve by the city.

I still maintain that Ernie mistake was partnering with an out of town developer and not the Madonas or the Copelands.

It sure is nice the Madonas can build a little bike path and not be responsible for the problems on Los Osos Vally Rd.

I guess it is who you know in this town.

By: Anonymous on 4/2/08

65% of the voters approved the project when they voted on J. It's rediculous that a hand full of trouble makers can cause so many problems for Ernie. Good Luck Ernie.

By: Anonymous on 4/1/08

Is this where the sublime officially transitions to the ridiculous?

By: Anonymous on 4/1/08

Can someone explain to us why Ernie is using James McKiernan as his attorney??? Did he run out of money???