Dalido accelerates bid to develop his property
April 1, 2008
By KAREN VELIE
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.”