The California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) identified and could levy fines against the financial backers ofthe 2006 campaign that stymied developer Ernie Dalidio’s San Luis Obispo Marketplace project.
This latest milestone in Dalidio’s decades-long struggle to develop the 131-acre multi-use property on his land near Madonna Road and Highway 101 comes after the FPPC released a report on Oct. 4 naming prominent downtown SLO business owners and developers James and Thomas Copeland as the primary figures behind 2006’s “No on Measure J” initiative.
The commission has also proposed $80,000 in fines against the Copelands for 16 alleged campaign violations, including concealing more than $220,000 in contributions to Responsible County Development, LLC, which was used to secretly funnel money to the measure. David Booker, former senior executive vice president of American Principal Bank, was also named in the report as the manager of the LLC and will be held liable for a portion of the proposed fines. FPPC commissioners are scheduled to vote on whether to impose the fines at an Oct. 14 hearing in Sacramento.
“It took us many years to get here, and I’m sure the wrangling is going to continue,” said Dalidio’s attorney, James McKiernan. “But these findings are significant.”
Dalidio’s development plan was approved by the City Council in 2004, but halted after voters passed a 2005 citizens’ referendum. The proposal was later revised and placed on the November 2006 countywide ballot as Measure J, which voters approved. Measure J opponents argued that the project would divert business away from the downtown area and the city would lose its “small town feel” with the arrival of larger, non-locally owned businesses.
State campaign regulations require transparency for donor and campaign contribution listings, but the identities of the individuals behind the LLC were obscured. In 2007, Dalidio filed a complaint alleging the secret LLC backers committed voter fraud in backing the “No on Measure J” campaign under the semblance of a loan.
According to the FPPC report, Booker signed an affidavit stating the LLC’s primary purpose was to serve as an investment vehicle. However, the FPPC noted that since its formation the LLC had only made one investment: a $500,000 purchase of stock in American Principal Bank. Booker could not be reached for comment.
In 2008, McKiernan unsuccessfully attempted to sue, claiming local developers cost Dalidio millions of dollars in lost revenue by illegally interfering with his project. Now, McKiernan said, Dalidio may consider refiling a lawsuit under the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations act.
“The big question is what’s going to happen next,” McKiernan said. “We’re waiting until the so-called legal dust is settled, but I think we may be coming to the end of the road with a lot of Ernie’s problems.”