On Jan. 31, after three months of deliberation, Judge Roger Piquet overturned Measure J, effectively killing the voter-approved initiative that allowed development on Ernie Dalidio's ranch. But the decision won't necessarily halt the push to build the controversial shopping center.
The decision on Measure J came almost one year after ECOSLO and the grassroots group Citizens for Planning Responsibly filed a lawsuit against the county over the issue. The basis for the suit was that Dalidio had misused the initiative process--wherein citizens can vote to pass legislation. Additionally, the group alleged that Measure J violated state environmental laws.
Measure J, which created a specially zoned development area, independent of the county's general plan, was found to be beyond the power of an initiative.
Rosemary Wilvert, president of Citizens for Planning Responsibly, said she was very pleased with the decision.
"The developers have received a message," she said, "that they have to play by the same rules as everyone else."
Dalidio's lawyer, Michael Morris, said that he disagrees with the verdict, but so far he hasn't said that he'll appeal it. He maintains that he doesn't have to appeal for a Dalidio ranch project to move forward.
According to Morris, the group can simply resubmit a project to the county for approval. Measure J, which appeared on the November 2006 ballot, was seen as a faster route to develop the property after a similar project was overturned by city voters in 2005.
Morris said that Dalidio would have had to wait at least one year before resubmitting plans, and that the ballot initiative was seen as a way to fast track the project. Yet the current suit has already delayed the project almost a year, and the lawyer noted that an appeal would only drag it out further.
Besides, Dalidio has already started down the path to obtaining building permits. Last November, Dalidio submitted a map to the county to subdivide the property. Such a move automatically triggers an Environmental Impact Report.
Morris said that any plan for developing the 131-acre ranch, located off of Madonna Road, would be very similar to the Measure J development, which county voters approved.
"Any project that we submit will be substantially the same," Morris said. "It's obviously what the people want."