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- FILE PHOTO BY JESSE ACOSTA
- A DREAM DELAYED : Ernie Dalidio, whose ranch development project passed in a county vote in November, is facing delays.
The Dalidio project, which county voters approved through Measure J in November, is still far from breaking ground and is finding new resistance at every turn.
While the county and city squabble over who should finance a highway interchange, estimated at around $60 million, a group of citizens have challenged the legality of Measure J.
County Supervisors voted 3-2 on May 22 to approach the SLO City Council about funding the Prado Road overpass that would become critical to traffic flow. City taxpayers voted "nay" when the Dalidio project surfaced as the San Luis Obispo Marketplace in measures A, B, and C on the ballot in 2004.
One reason for the county vote was the fact that the city calls for an interchange at Prado Road, but not at the priority it would become if the Dalidio project were completed. The Dalidio land, which sits like an island in the city, will likely be annexed into the city as well. County Supervisor "Katcho" Achadjian called the vote a good neighbor move a chance for the city and county to have an open discussion. SLO City Council member Christine Mulholland said that the county essentially "punted."
"It's been very clear that since it was put on the ballot, this is a county project," Mulholland said.
The SLO City Council will likely hear from county staff on the subject in mid to late summer.
Meanwhile, a group of citizens from around the county, identifying themselves as Citizens for Planning Responsibly, has filed suit against the Board of Supervisors, the San Luis Marketplace Associates LLC, and the Dalidio Ranch trustees for allegedly violating the county General Plan and the state's Constitution. May 25 marked the beginning of the trial, which will likely further delay the Dalidio development.
The project's opponents have been around in various forms since 2003, as the County Coalition for Local Control, the No on J camp, and now CPR. The Dalidio saga is one that goes back almost 15 years, since the family farm first tried to join the developing world. CPR formed in a matter of weeks, and just days before the deadline to appeal, filed a claim challenging the legality of Measure J. CPR's volunteer president, Rosemary Wilvert, credits the community response to a "built up frustration at this strong-arm development." The issue she said, is still about local control of development.
"They're determined not to play by the rules, so we decided to test the legality," said Wilvert, a grandmotherly sounding Los Osos resident. "How can big business from L.A. and Texas come in here and violate our county planning?"
Wilvert joined the cause after it became a county issue, but most of the activists have been involved since the beginning, wanting to preserve the land as agriculture or open space, according to Dalidio's attorney, Michael Morris.
"The folks who filed the complaint just don't like the project," Morris said, confident in the route Dalidio took to the ballot. "Their grievances are not with the way we did it, but what the law provides for."
There's no money to be won in the suit, but there's still plenty to be lost. The longer this drags out, Morris said, the more it will cost. After two judges were passed up because of conflict of interests, a third excused herself from presiding over the suit, and the case finally landed with a fourth judge. According to Morris, it's not unheard of to go through three judges but it's not so common either. For an issue that's been back and forth between the city and county twice, there's hardly anyone within the realm of local politics who hasn't already dealt with the project in one of its incarnations. Through Measure J, the project wasn't subject to an environmental impact report. As a city project, it had two.
Within the 26-page complaint filed by CPR is a list of grievances that include the alleged unlawful nature of Measure J in that it violates state and county zoning guidelines and that such land-use decisions are beyond the power of initiative. Because Measure J was put on the ballot, it never received a California Environmental Quality Act evaluation to asses the environmental impact. Opponents to the project cite specific conflicts with airport land use plan and the flood hazard designation for the area.
Warren Jensen, chief deputy county counsel, said that due to the preliminary nature of the recent proceedings, the most significant developments in the suit would come in November. The first hearing is set for Nov. 2. If the opposition group is successful, the development project would halt, although the decision could be appealed. According to Morris, taking the project back to the city isn't going to happen.
"It would be foolish," he said, adding that taking the vote to the county was the best option and one within the law.
"We expect to prevail at this point," Morris said.
Contributor Kylie Mendonca can be reached at email@example.com.