State probe casts a shadow on new San Luis Obispo mayor

January 6, 2011


Jan Marx

A three-year state investigation into the funneling of cash and gifts to the campaigns to stop Ernie Dalidio’s proposal to develop his San Luis Obispo farmland has revealed that the city’s newly-elected mayor, Jan Marx, was part of the alleged illicit effort.

Last October, the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) levied $80,000 in fines against Tom and Jim Copeland, and banker David Booker for committing 16 campaign violations in their secretive battle against Dalidio’s project, proposed for south of the Madonna Plaza shopping center.

The state’s probe includes 1,414 pages of reports and documents and was recently made public through a Freedom of Information request. The documents identify Mayor Marx, an attorney, as a leader in the campaign to stop Dalidio’s development, which was slated to directly compete with commercial properties owned by the two Copeland brothers.

In 2000, while on the San Luis Obispo City Council, Marx and former councilman John Ewan served as representatives in negotiations to annex Dalidio’s proposed project into the city. Marx and Ewan bargained with former San Luis Obispo County Supervisors Katcho Achadjian and Peg Pinard until they came up with a proposal that included 46 percent open space in the project, and a contract with Dalidio to purchase additional lands to be designated as open space.

All four negotiators signed the agreement.

Much to the surprise of other council members, Marx voted against the project when it went in front of the City Council. After she was on the losing end of the vote, she helped launch a political campaign to stop the project.

“She (Marx) then did an about face and said ‘No,’ ” Ewan said. “She has said that the end justifies the means. It makes me think that she was not negotiating in good faith.”

A thorough review of the voluminous FPPC documents confirms that Marx was involved in the campaigns and that she made a $3,000 loan to help launch the effort in 2004.

The FPPC, in its decision and order  in which the Copeland’s did not contest, said the Copelands’ LLC, Responsible County Development, was the “sponsor” of the campaign against Dalidio’s project.

In an interview with CalCoastNews, Marx said, “I wasn’t against the project, I wanted them to follow the rules and have 50 percent open space.”

When asked for a reaction to the state’s repeated documentation of her involvement in the campaign against Dalidio, Marx said that even though she along with several other people founded the campaign against the project, she was not involved in the inner working of the campaign as it progressed.

But the FPPC documents reveal a different story.

A trail of receipts, credit card statements and reimbursement checks shows that Marx handled everyday campaign duties from the start of the fight in 2004 through the second election in November, 2006.

She also printed campaign flyers, purchased campaign supplies and handled some advertising with local media. As late as August, 2006, just months before the election, the campaign phone service was paid with Marx’s credit card and not yet listed in the campaign’s name, according to FPPC documentation.

The anti-Dalidio development campaign has gone by many names, including Citizens for Planning Responsibly. It was first known as “Save San Luis Obispo, A Committee against Measures A, B & C” during the April, 2005 election and was renamed “County Coalition for Local Control (CCLC), No on J-06” for the November 2006 election.

Front and center in the investigation is a series of substantial loans that were made to the Save San Luis Obispo campaign that were later forgiven. Booker contributed $750 and together with his wife, another $98,000 in loans, according to contribution forms and promissory notes obtained by CalCoastNews.

The Bookers forgave more than $89,000 of the loans.

The Copelands, along with their limited liability companies, San Luis Obispo Court Street and San Luis Obispo Downtown Centre, contributed $87,500 with $58,000 of that in loans. Only $20,000 was paid back while $38,000 was forgiven.

Developers and commercial property owners, many with financial motives to stop Dalidio, provided the bulk — more than 80 percent — of the funding for the committees opposing Dalidio. And while some developers donated funds using their name and legal addresses, others, such as the Copeland brothers and former North County developer Kelly Gearhart, who contributed $20,000, hid their identities behind company names and post offices boxes.

The Political Reform Act requires that contributors provide a street address and their full legal name.

Local clerk recorder employees are responsible for inspecting campaign filings to make sure laws are being followed. These employees said they repeatedly told Dalidio’s opponents that they were breaking campaign laws and that they needed to correct the filings and provide addresses and not post offices boxes.

“Please be aware that the State Franchise Tax Board periodically audits these files and will often fine a committee that has inaccurate or incomplete filings,” said Tami Bisantz, county clerk recorder assistant, in a letter to the CCLC, on Oct. 4, 2006. “When you amend, you will need the complete cover page along with the amended pages attached.”

The group appears to have elected to keep their donors identities hidden and never provided an amendment with the solicited corrections.

In an odd twist last week, the County Clerk-Recorder’s office told CalCoastNews that it lost part of the file for the CCLC about a year ago. Last week, Bisantz asked the committee if they could re-file the missing documents following a CalCoastNews request for the complete file.

During their fight against Dalidio’s development, the committees were regularly under fire by the media for transgressions such as not paying rent, claiming the use of a Copeland owned building as a donation and sending misleading mailers.

The FPPC investigation confirmed the allegations.

Just days before the Nov. 7 election, it was Marx who was tasked with publishing an apology on behalf of the CCLC following a deceptive mailer that resulted in criticism from the media and the San Luis Obispo County Clerk Recorder. The campaign mailed out absentee ballot applications to potential voters, which appeared to show that the County Clerk Recorder was in favor of “No on J.”

The campaign apologized for their “inadvertent error” through a correction that Marx personally published in The Tribune, records show.

The FPPC investigation report says that for four months in 2005 the Copelands donated office space to the committee without disclosures by the campaign as required by law.

When asked about the failure to report the donation of office space from the Copelands, Marx said, “I don’t think we had an office. We met in each others’ homes.

“We were a grassroots group.”

In 2006, while a Copeland-owned building on Monterey Street served as the CCLC campaign headquarters, the local media began writing about the group’s failure to properly report the office space donation.

Shortly before the election, Suzanne Fryer, the Copeland’s corporate attorney and one of the principals in the anti-Dalidio campaigns, drew up a contract between CCLC and the Copelands to pay $7,500 for four months rent. The agreement says it “was entered into and effective as of July 10, 2006.”

However, according to dates on the bottom of each page, the contract was not penned until Oct. 29, 2006, months after the campaign took occupancy of the space.

The FPPC investigation also noted that Fryer failed to claim $2,337 in copies and paper she donated to the committees battling against Dalidio.

Fryer did not return requests from CalCoastNews for comment.

Marx, asserting her limited involvement, said she was unaware who was making donations to the anti-Marketplace committees, even those donating more than $10,000.

However, others involved in the campaign claim Fryer and Marx headed up the various committees that battled Dalidio and that they must have known the names of the big donors.

“Jan (Marx) and Suzanne (Fryer) sort of ran it,” said Rosemary Wilvert, president and spokesperson for Citizens for Planning Responsibly. “We would get legal advice from Jan and Suzanne. They would tell me how to say things to the media.

“I imagine they (Marx and Fryer) knew but they did not tell us,” Wilvert responded when asked if Marx and Fryer knew the donations came from the Copelands.

Under persistent questioning about her anonymous role in the fight against Dalidio, the mayor was evasive and then chose not respond to further requests for comment.

The FPPC investigation found that the Copelands and Booker made contributions to the committee through an LLC rather than their legal names, failed to disclose the true source of contributions made to the campaign and did not file a semi-annual and late contribution report as required by campaign laws.

The Copelands and Booker, among other contributors, had worked to conceal their identities from voters for four years despite public outcry for disclosure, even though California campaign rules require the transparency of donors.

In addition, the report notes that Booker, the agent for service on the Copeland’s LLC, Responsible County Development, was also the president of First Bank of San Luis Obispo, the bank the illegal donations were funneled through.

Even though the FPPC investigation does not name others suspected of contributing to the campaign through the Copelands’ LLC, Dalidio’s attorney, James McKiernan of San Luis Obispo, said that a review of the FPPC records makes it appear other rival developers used the LLC to funnel funds to fight Dalidio’s development.

These developers are likely to be exposed if Dalidio elects to re-file a lawsuit against those who illegally donated money though the LLC, McKiernan said, adding that Dalidio is exploring the revival of a lawsuit, which would likely include a subpoena of the LLC’s bank account records.

As part of their investigation, the FPPC also looked into Booker’s 2004 unsuccessful run for mayor of San Luis Obispo, a campaign that included $30,000 in loans the banker made to his campaign and then forgave. The report notes that Dalidio’s Marketplace Association spent $2,732 opposing Booker while Copeland, through several LLCs and family members, supported Booker’s campaign.

Booker did not return requests for comment.

In July, 2004, the development plan for Dalidio’s marketplace project was approved by the San Luis Obispo City Council. However, a citizen’s referendum placed the issue of development on a 2005 special election ballot as Measures A, B, and C, which was defeated by city voters.

After this loss, the previous “Marketplace Project” proposal was revised and submitted to San Luis Obispo County as the “Dalidio Ranch” initiative and the Board of Supervisors placed it on the November, 2006 ballot as Measure J, which was approved by voters countywide.

The Dalidio Ranch project is slated to include a 13-acre organic farm, a seven-day-a-week farmers’ market, a soccer field, a Monarch butterfly preserve, a 24-hour drive-through pharmacy, retail development, 60 units of workforce housing and the construction of an overpass connecting U.S. Highway 101 and Prado Road.

The 131 acres of Dalidio land currently is in unincorporated county territory just south of the San Luis Obispo city limit. Officials from the city have repeatedly said they want the Dalidio project to be annexed into the city and wonder if the bad blood between Dalidio and Mayor Marx could thwart their plans.

“I am not going to work with the city with Marx on the council, after what she has done,” Dalidio said. “She has been in the pocket of the Copelands.”

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Dave, you’re right. I’ve heard CCN criticized because it’s supposedly left-leaning. Well, I’m probably one of the more conservative readers out here and I really appreciate this website. KSBY and The Tribune almost NEVER cover some of these stories and when they do, the reporting is watered-down and usually days or weeks after CCN has already covered the story.

This latest piece about Jan Marx shows that the reporters on this site–none of whom I know–are true journalists and write about the who, what, when, where that SLO county residents are longing to read about!

Some people are not use to or able to handle these things that has “always” been there now surfacing more! Investigative reporting is a good, not a bad thing, it keeps the community vigilant and make smarter voters.

Dear Jan Marx,

I am sorely disappointed in your shaddy politics and even worse shaddy ethics. It is with sour humble pie that I recall that I voted for you two months ago in that November city booth.

You woefully misrepresented yourself Marx. And I most ardently demand that you return my vote.


Totally Bummed Citizen



Welcome to one of the “nicest” places in the USA to live. I don’t think so. Thank you San Luis Obispo for taking the heat off of all the other cities in San Luis Obispo County. It appears that you are the dirtiest. The people of SLO should be outraged and immediately call for the resignation of Ms. Marx. Paul Brown should be the Mayor of SLO.

I think “we the people” are getting sick and tired of all these shenanigans. It’s time to clean house and demand that the people be served and that the people are not serving the politicians.

Ernie, as those people on one of the downed airplanes on 9-11 said-“let’s roll.” It’s time to go after them.

I have no dog in this hunt. I had nothing to do with the preparation of this article.

But Karen Velie has been criticized by some for years for only investigating “conservatives” in her stories, that somehow she protects liberals and always gives them a pass.

I submit that this story should put such nonsense to rest once and for all. Karen Velie is the closest thing we have to a countywide watchdog today and she really, honestly, absolutely doesn’t give a damn about the politics of the people involved.

Good point Dave, but I most of us think she would have broken this story before the election if this was dirt on Paul Brown…

Thank you Karen ! excellent work!

zaphod: I see there is another name on the byline as well. Thanks, too, to Ms. Rizzo.

I will try again…

Thanks Karen,

Many people had suspected Jan’s involvement with the anti J movement from the beginning. Did you find anything to support this before looking over the 1,400 pages (or the election)?

I would hope that CCN would post all of these documents for us to see.

shouldn’t be too difficult for you to locate that “Donate” button somewhere on the CCN website.

And Jan Marx got payback “gifts” during her 2008 council race:

9/8 Thomas Copeland $200

9/12 James Copeland $200

8/4 Suzanne Fryer $200

No surprise there… except, maybe that the donations were actually reported.

I would be more interested in what was not reported. Jan Marx obviously had no problem breaking the law and failing to identify the donors who were involved in the measure J campaign. Why would anyone believe that she didn’t pull the same shenanigans when it came to her own campaign filings?

Wow. Me thinks Ms. Marx is in some deep doo doo. As much as I didn’t want to see the Dalidio project go through as a long time city resident (since ’73), I am pretty bothered by the tactics the Copelands resorted to in their efforts to stop Ernie Dalidio. After the building I was running my business in was sold to the Copelands, I found very quickly that you can either pay their price (Tom called “fair market value”) which was more than three times what I paid before, or you simply not be in business in downtown. Like I commented the other day on the Dave Congalton Show when Christine Hill was on, if you stand at the intersection of Chorro and Higuera Street and look down Higuera (starting at the 700’s and going down) you will see very few corporate chain stores, but if you turn around and look up Higuera Street (which is the 800 block) you will see mostly chain store operations, most of which have the Copelands as landlords. I think Jan Marx is going to be real sorry for her involvement with the Copelands.

Hi Bob,

How are you so sure that it wasn’t Jan Marx heading this whole thing up? After all, Jan is the attorney, activist and politician. I think you have it the backwards. It’s everyone else that is going to be sorry for their involvement with Jan Marx.

“How are you so sure that it wasn’t Jan Marx heading this whole thing up?” Three words: Follow the money. What financial benefit did Jan Marx gain by her supposedly heading up the campaign against Ernie Dalidio? Ask that question about the Copelands and you will have answered your own question. If anyone seriously thinks that the three $200 donations to Jan Marx’s campaign by the Copelands and Suzanne Fryer were what made the difference in getting Jan Marx elected as mayor, I’m sure you would really like to line up to pay the Copelands the top dollar they ask for their downtown properties to try and run a business. I am not saying that Jan Marx is innocent by any means, but I really believe that the true evil behind the campaign against Ernie Dalidio was and is the Copeland brothers. Follow the money; it has and always be about financial gain, period.


There is nothing wrong or illegal about giving money to causes you believe in. it doesn’t change when you care able to make money from those causes (see Al Gore, for example).

The issue that James McK. uncovered was with the legality of keeping the people involved with the anti J LLC anonymous. It’s the attorney’s job to make sure things are done legally. To place the blame for on anyone but the attorneys is silly. Certainly the anti-J people thought they were within the law, if not Jan Marx could face disbarment!

Jan Marx is a “greenie”, and is motivated by reducing development, just like others (C. Mullholand for example) involved in the anti J measure.

Finally, Measure J was APPROVED by the voters. Why is everyone acting like the anti J people won? They lost! Mr. Dalidio can develop his Dalidio Ranch.


Don’t be so naive–$600 is a lot to a city campaign. Whether it made the difference or not, IT COULD HAVE.

Further, Jan Marx wasn’t in the anti-Dalidio fight for money. She was chair of the “Litigation Committee” for the Sierra Club at the time, and her husband, Steve, is and was treasurer for the Sierra Club. Jan Marx was orchestrating the anti-Dalidio fight for her ideology, not money.

The problem with Marx is that she is not serving the city, she is serving the Sierra Club and her ideology. Some people voted for her because they share her ideology, but not all. The question is, “Who is her true master?” And I guarantee it’s not the city or the voters.

The sickening vote of Marx/Ashbaugh/Smith to NOT EVEN HEAR the findings of the seven-month, 32-member Financial Sustainability Task Force (today’s Trib — Brickbats) is really almost a bigger story than this one. It’s unbelievably arrogant, ignorant, and preposterous!

Marx is an attorney, just like the Copeland’s attorney Suzanne Fryer. They worked together on this–both had their own interests at heart.

Keep in mind that they might have donated far more than $600.00 in cold cash…

I kind of knew this.

I know Mayor Romero knows it.

Nice looking elderly lady (can fool anyone), untrustworthy.

I did not dare say it because of the painted skin, fool anyone.

Investigative reporting will save this contintenent!

I agree Willie. Jan Marx was the “brains” behind this who thing.

This is not the first time that her “attorney skills” let her down. Wasn’t she the author of a no development measure years ago, that passed but was then thrown out based on a mistake on the part of Jan Marx?

I could be mistaken but this was about 15 years ago? (plus or minus a few).

Save our agricultural resources, SOAR

I thought it was SOUR. Maybe I’m mistaken. LOL!

After reading this, I feel compelled to take a long, long shower. I suspect if this had been published prior to November, Paul Brown would be mayor today. I’m no legal expert. I don’t know if Jan Marx broke any laws, but based on this story, she appears to be a two-faced liar, incapable of telling the truth.

Is this grounds for a recall? I predict one term in office for this mayor.

Sad time to break the story — just after the election.

I am glad the information is now in the public forum; I only wish it would have been to us earlier, when we were in a voting way.

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