Marx’s own emails belie prior claims
May 17, 2011
By KAREN VELIE and DANIEL BLACKBURN
San Luis Obispo Mayor Jan Marx, by her own admission in a series of emails, was a key player in an illegal campaign aimed at torpedoing a development project proposed by rancher Ernie Dalidio — something she has repeatedly denied.
Marx’s reference to herself as “vice president” of Citizens for Planning Responsibly (CPR) is contained in emails to other members, copies of which were obtained by the news website KCCN.tv last month.
The emails show Marx was active in her leadership role through July 2008, aside from a few months she sat aside to run for a seat on the San Luis Obispo City Council.
Then, after her subsequent mayoral election, she successfully advocated and endorsed a land use ordinance intended to restrict Dalidio’s use of his land, if he were to annex to the city. And while Marx noted her knowledge of agricultural land use issues during council discussions, she failed to inform her fellow council members or the public of her pivotal role in the anti-Dalidio campaign and possible conflict of interest.
Last October, the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) levied $80,000 in fines against Tom and Jim Copeland and banker David Booker for 16 campaign violations in their secretive battle against Dalidio’s project, proposed for south of the Madonna Plaza shopping center.
The FPPC ruled in its decision and order that the Copelands, who had an economic interest in stopping Dalidio’s development plans, sponsored the campaign. Attorneys for Dalidio have contended the Copelands — and likely other local developers — broke anti-competition laws in their decade long battle against Dalidio.
Marx has consistently downplayed her involvement in the campaign, and contends she is not an officer of CPR at this time.
“I am not an officer of Citizens for Planning Responsibly or any other organization, and was not at the time of the vote on the Calle Joaquin urban farm,” Marx said in an email to CalCoastNews. She then refused to answer further questions.
Marx has admitted to making a $3,000 loan to help launch the campaign against Dalidio which she helped organize in 2004. She claimed, however, that she was not involved in the inner workings of the campaign as it progressed.
In an email she allegedly sent Feb. 19, 2008, she announced plans to run for San Luis Obispo City Council, and noted she needed to hand off some of her CPR leadership duties while she ran her campaign.
“This is not confidential, but I will be making the formal media announcement next week,” Marx says in the email. “I will need to hand off some of my CPR tasks (Suzanne?) and step down as vice president in the next few months, after the fundraiser. I will keep tabs on the litigation, however.” (Suzanne Fryer was legal counsel for the Copelands and a member of CPR during the campaign against Dalidio’s development.)
In an email dated May 20, 2007, Marx asks recipients to tailor her message “as they wish” before sending it as their own to members of the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors. The message asks the board to vote against providing any public funds for the proposed Prado Road interchange.
That infrastructure would be necessary if Dalidio was to include larger stores such as Target in the development.
Marx’s leadership role in the group is further supported by several emails she sent to group leaders such as attorney Suzanne Fryer, Richard Kranzdorf, and Michael Sullivan, informing them of the activities of CPR attorneys. Those activities included trying to get a judge to rule that the voter-approved initiative allowing Dalidio to build his shopping mall was not legal.
In one email disseminated prior to a public meeting, Marx suggested that Rosemary Wilvert, a spokesperson for the group, provide talking points for Sullivan to distribute to speakers before the meeting.
On June 12, 2008, Marx replied to an email from Carol Rich who wondered if CPR should use the donor list of Adam Hill, then a candidate for a county supervisor’s seat.
“It seems to me not to be a good idea to ask either Jim (Patterson) or Adam for their lists, since they will be sitting supervisors when this project will likely come up,” Marx says in the email. “This could make it look like they are prejudiced against the developer, ect. . . .”
Contacted recently, Hill said he is opposed to planning through the ballot process, but he is not opposed to Dalido developing his property, and does not view the land as valuable open space because it is already hemmed in by development.
Patterson did not respond to requests for comment.
Nevertheless, it appears Marx does not think her involvement in the anti-Dalidio campaign is a perceived conflict of interest.
The state’s political campaign watchdog, the Fair Political Practices Commission, states that “a public official has an economic interest in a business entity for which he or she is a director, officer, partner, trustee, employee, or hold any position of management,” and as such is not permitted to vote on issues about the entity.
“All this backroom wheeling and dealing defeats the need for transparency in local government and casts a pall of a serious conflict of interest – if not an entire loss of credibility – over Mayor Marx’s continued involvement in any Dalidio decisions,” said Dalidio’s attorney James McKiernan.
Marx’s vote on the city’s agricultural master plan keeps the city-owned 25-acre reserve, located at the end of the Calle Joaquin cul-de-sac north of Kimball Motors, and Dalidio’s property if it is annexed into the city, zoned for agricultural use.
The plan passed 4-1, with Councilman Andrew Carter voting against it.
Carter said he voted against the plan for three reasons. First, he said he was concerned because he had been informed the plan only included the city owned reserve and had not been told Dalidio’s land would be added.
Then, he added, the city did not inform Dalidio about its plan to restrict his property.
In their defense, city staff said they had contacted a former partner of Dalidio’s, Bill Bird, about the plan, even though Bird was no longer involved in the project.
Bird was ill at the time and is now deceased.
Carter also was opposed to the plan’s proposal to cut a road through Dalidio’s property to provide access from Madonna Road through to Madonna’s Target and Costco stores.
Dalidio’s attorneys and at least one council member have said they are in favor of the council revisiting the agriculture master plan.
“In light of new information that has come forward, I would like the opportunity to look into the issue further, and possibly reconsider my original vote on the plan,” Councilman Dan Carpenter said.
Daniel Blackburn is editor of KCCN.tv.