SLO council minority halts progress of Grossman development
October 22, 2014
By JOSH FRIEDMAN
The San Luis Obispo City Council majority failed to muster enough votes Tuesday night to further several large housing projects, including one belonging to a politically connected developer.
The city’s general plan update calls for high-density residential development on the south side of town. One of the projects in the area is developer Gary Grossman’s bid to build high-density housing on the property currently owned by rancher Ernie Dalido.
But, the San Luis Obispo County Airport Land Use Commission, which has a regulatory sphere that includes the Dalidio ranch, does not approve of the proposed level of density.
In order for the city to move forward with its general plan update as proposed, as well as with Dalidio’s development, the council would have to override a ruling by the airport commission on density restrictions. At least a four-fifths vote is necessary to overrule the commission.
On Tuesday night, the council voted 3-2 to override the commission. Councilwoman Kathy Smith and Councilman Dan Carpenter cast the dissenting votes and the override failed.
Smith said she objected to overriding the airport commission because she is uncertain that developers would build what is needed in the area. Carpenter said he is concerned that overriding the airport commission would place the city at legal risk.
The airport commission, as well as an aeronautical division of CalTrans, have hinted at suing the city over the proposed developments.
After Carpenter mentioned the city’s legal risk Tuesday, he feuded with Councilman John Ashbaugh, who tried to sway him to vote for the override.
Ashbaugh asked Carpenter why he did not pose any questions about the situation to the city attorney during a closed session hearing earlier in the day. Carpenter responded by saying that Ashbaugh violated the confidentiality of closed session which helped swing his vote against the override.
Both of Ashbaugh’s allies on the council, Mayor Jan Marx and Coucilwoman Carlyn Christianson, are currently up for reelection. Marx and Christianson have each received campaign contributions from Grossman.
While seeking approval for his project, Grossman donated the maximum allowable amount of $300 to both Marx and Christianson.
Grossman has donated larger sums to political allies of the council majority.
The developer has already contributed nearly $20,000 to the election campaign of County Supervisor Caren Ray. He has also donated to Supervisor Adam Hill, who has in turn lobbied several council members to vote for the override which would permit Grossman’s project to go through.
Preliminary approval already exists for development of the Dalidio ranch, but guidelines call for more commercial development and less residential development than Grossman is seeking.
Several local developers say residential projects are currently make more money than commercial ones, so Grossman would stand to receive a higher return on investment by building high-density housing.
Grossman’s representatives have lobbied hard for the project to include more residential development.
His chief of acquistions, Monte Cool, is also a major donor to Ray’s campaign. Cool has contributed $10,000 to Ray’s bid to keep her county supervisor seat.
The San Luis Obispo Council is expected to continue its discussion on the override of the airport commission at a future meeting. In the interim, the Nov. 4 election will change the makeup of the council, as Smith has chosen not to run for reelection.
A new council member could provide a fourth vote in favor of overriding the airport commission and advancing Grossman’s project.