UPDATE: Unmasking Dalido’s mysterious foe
March 18, 2009
By KAREN VELIE
Centervest, the group that contracted to take the torch from Ernie Dalidio and propel his proposed development through the system, has backed out reportedly because of the economic downswing. Meanwhile Dalido’s team continues attempts to unmask their mysterious foe, the Responsible County Development LLC.
Centervest principles John Wilson, Rudy Bachman, and Tom Morrell have elected to focus on their Promenade shopping center after learning Gottschalk’s was following in the footsteps of Mervyns and planning to shut their doors, sources said. Kohl’s is likely to replace Mervyns and Macys is a probable candidate for the Gottschalk’s site.
Dalidio has battled opponents of his proposed 131-acre development on his land in the county bordering the city of San Luis Obispo for 18 years. Plans for the development incorporate retail, workforce housing, an organic garden, and a farmers market. Opponents of the project include environmental groups focused on retaining the land for agricultural uses, and competing developers.
In the meantime, one of Dalidio’s law firms, James McKiernan Lawyers, filed a voter fraud complaint against the No on J Campaign and the top secret LLC which funded the group, with the San Luis Obispo District Attorney’s office. The district attorney reviewed the allegations and forwarded the complaint to California’s Fair Political Practice Commission (FPPC).
The Responsible County Development LLC was formed July 1, 2005, for apparently only one purpose, to fund the No on J campaign. It had no viable plans to repay more than $90,000 in loans given to the fight against the Marketplace. An employee of Tom Copeland recently told a CalCoastNews reporter that Copeland was a principle contributor to the LLC.
Possible allegations of voter fraud include failure to disclose payments made, or non-monetary contributions in the form of office space and salaries. The use of the Copeland-owned Monterey Street office and paychecks from Copeland to an employee of the campaign were mysteriously left out of the group’s campaign finance report. Because of the state’s budget crisis, the FPPC is low on funds and attorneys, and as such, the state would prefer that Dalidio initiate further action.
Meanwhile, an appeal of Judge Roger Piquet’s ruling that Measure J was not the proper subject for an initiative is currently winding its way through the legal system and should be decided by September.
“If the trail court overturns it, there will be a project,” Dalidio attorney Mike Pick said. “The ruling impacted a lot of things. We voluntarily dismissed the appeal (on a federal RICO case filed against the Downtown Association, the No on J Campaign, and the LLC that funded it) for two reasons — Measure J is in limbo and the FPPC proceedings are still under investigation.”
A timeline of the ongoing saga:
1991 – Dalidio petitions the San Luis Obispo City Council for permission to construct a residential development on his family’s land that runs along the west side of U.S. Highway 101 between Los Osos Valley and Madonna Roads. He asks the council to annex the residentially zoned county parcel, surrounded by development, into the city.
1991 – The council asks Dalidio to replace his residential development plan with a retail hub comprised of big chain stores. Council members estimate it will take the city approximately a year to rewrite the general plan.
1994 – The rewrite takes longer than planned. The council gives Dalidio permission to construct a retail development on half of his land with the remaining 50 percent designated as open space. Dalidio agrees.
1994 – Bill Byrd, the developer with whom Dalidio had signed an option, finds himself in legal hot water. That coupled with a downturn in the Market, cause Dalidio to put a temporary hold on his plans.
1997 – Dalidio begins the preliminary building processes.
1997 – The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors surprises everyone when they vote to rezone the property from residential to agricultural.
1998 – Downtown developer Tom Copeland asks Dalidio’s attorney, Michael Morris, to arrange a meeting where they can discuss Dalidio’s proposal. According to court records, during the lunchtime meeting at the Embassy Suites, Copeland pleaded with Dalidio to relinquish his plans to build a retail development and to again focus on residential with Copeland’s assurance he has enough pull with the city to get the council to change their minds. Dalidio refuses to change back to residential.
2001 – The city council votes down Dalidio’s proposal. Dalidio takes his plans to the county.
2002 – The city council wants the project in the city. Supervisor Katcho Achadjian proposes that two council members and two supervisors form a committee to negotiate a solution before taking the project back to the city. The board leaves Dalidio’s application open with the county, so that if Dalidio does his due diligence with the city and is still unsuccessful, the door is open for him to bring the project back to the county to process.
2004 – The council votes to approve the project.
2004 – The San Luis Obispo Downtown Association mounts an apparently illegal campaign against the proposed shopping center. It goes to a vote of the people through a special San Luis Obispo city election.
2005 – Dalidio loses the vote by a one percent margin with sparse voter turnout.
2006 – Dalidio proposes his Dalidio Ranch project, Measure J to the county.
2006 – No on Measure J, a group funded by the mysterious LLC, joins the Downtown Association in their fight against the development.
October 2006 – San Luis Obispo City Attorney Jonathan Lowell admits the Downtown Association, a group in which Copeland was a board member who sat on the Economic Committee, appeared to have violated the law when they mounted a campaign to oppose the Dalidio Ranch project.
2006 – Dalidio announces he is working on contracts with Target, Costco, and In and Out Burger.
November 2006 – Measure J wins by a 65 percent vote.
2007 – Two opponents of the development, Citizens for Planning Responsibly and the Environmental Center, claim in a lawsuit that the project violates state laws and conflicts with the county’s general plan
January 2008 – Dalidio files declarations with the federal court in Los Angeles with plans of a RICO lawsuit against the LLC that funded the No on Measure J Campaign and the Downtown Association. 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.
“Tom Copeland made it clear that he did not want any further development in the city other than what he was planning for downtown San Luis Obispo,” Dalidio said in his declaration.
A second declaration by Sean McCain, a lead tenant negotiator, outlines alleged communications with numerous potential tenants including Old Navy, Circuit City, PetSmart, Costco, The Vitamin Shop, and Target. Many had executed leases or letters of intent to lease on the Dalidio property, and subsequently canceled those agreements to sign leases with Madonna family properties for a development on Los Osos Valley Road.
February 2008 – Judge Picquet overturned the 2006 Measure J ballot initiative. Dalidio continues to retain the services of attorney Morris discounting the litigator’s apparent conflict of interest; Morris’ wife’s sister is reportedly married to Copeland.
March 2008 – Federal court judge Christina Snyder tentatively dismissed the Daldio’s case alleging conspiracy and unlawful business practices due to anti-SLAPP laws and Judge Picquet’s ruling.
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.
April 2008 – Attorneys for Dalidio announce plans to appeal both Judge Picquet’s ruling and the federal courts ruling.
August 2008 – Madonna Enterprises enters into negotiations with Target, a store previously tied to the Marketplace. Clint Pearce, the real estate manager for Madonna Enterprises said he was not involved in the fight against the Marketplace. His proposed retail development, primarily unopposed by Dalidio’s critics, is substantially larger then the Dalido’s planned project.
2009 – Small mom and pop stores continue their exoduses from the downtown core as rents skyrocket and chain stores fill in the gaps.