Citizens group raises funds to continue Measure J fight



Having lost November's countywide ballot fight, opponents of Ernie Dalidio's ambitious development plans are ready to continue their battle in the courts.

The group Citizens for Planning Responsibly (CPR) has raised $40,000 to hire a San Francisco law firm that specializes in environmental issues. Group president Rosemary Wilvert said they plan to file a lawsuit against the county not Dalidio by March 2, the final day allowed under law.

Kevin Bundy of Shute, Mihaly, and Weinberger said the firm handles land-use cases throughout the state. He said, however, that managing partner Rachel Hooper is still reviewing options for the effort.

Warren Jensen, chief deputy county counsel, said the county is aware of the matter.

"We know that something is coming," he said, "but until we actually see it I don't think that it would be appropriate to comment."

A call to Dalidio was not returned as of press time.

Citizens for Planning Responsibly was on the winning side of a 2005 election initiative that beat back plans to have the city annex Dalidio's land and allow the planned development. Group leaders maintain that Measure J doesn't conform to San Luis Obispo County's General Plan.

Dalidio turned to Measure J, which offered a revised development plan, following that defeat.

At issue for the citizens group is whether the county plan would allow the site to be converted from agricultural to commercial use as Measure J provides.

"If the precedent of Measure J goes unchallenged," the group wrote in a Feb. 20 fundraising flier, "other big developers and their investment partners may copy this 'ballot-box planning' initiative process elsewhere in the county to get project approval without the normal safeguards."

Group leaders still hope to raise another $15,000 to, according to the flier, fund any potential appeal and repay a loan.

Backers also contend that the unchecked results of Measure J would short-circuit the public's normal opportunities to review the project, would worsen traffic and pollution problems, and could leave taxpayers responsible for infrastructure costs.

Similar issues were raised by a different group, the Coalition for County Control/No on J, which disbanded after the election.

The latest effort was no secret. For weeks, CPR sent out a series of fliers in an attempt to raise money for the lawsuit. In each, group leaders held out the prospect that if they prevail in court, under California law, they may be reimbursed for attorney fees.

Dalidio, whose 131 acres sit just outside city limits, plans to convert his ranch into a shopping center, business park, hotel, and housing development. As envisioned, those business centers would sit alongside a 13-acre organic farm, soccer fields, and possibly a skate park.

Developers have said that the shopping area will be anchored by such stores as Target and Lowe's.

The measure received the support of 65 percent of county voters, but ran essentially dead even in San Luis Obispo.


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