The counting isn't finished yet, but it appears that San Luis Obispo voters have rejected the controversial Dalidio Marketplace project.
By 11 p.m. on Tuesday night, Measures A and B were losing by about 370 votes; Measure C was behind by 740 votes. Over the rest of the week, city officials will verify and count the estimated 600 absentee and provisional ballots that still remain.
If it does indeed fail, the developers have the option of bringing the project to the county board of supervisors for approval. Developer Ernie Dalidio was unavailable for comments as of press time, but in previous interviews, he's said he would do just that if the project didn't pass.
Officials started counting votes at City Hall at around 8 p.m. and around town, pro and anti groups gathered in two locations: the Embassy Suites near the proposed project and downtown's Mission Grill.
It was an older crowd at the "Yes" party on Madonna Road; revelers munched on food from a buffet, sipped on drinks from an open bar, and hobnobbed with developer Dalidio, his wife Kristie, and Mayor Dave Romero. Over at Mission Grill, councilmember Christine Mulholland stood with a martini glass in one hand, cheering along with the back-slapping crowd when the bar's television showed a narrow lead for the "No" votes.
But it was in the Council's chambers at City Hall where the real excitement was. The city clerk's staff had decked the room out with flags, bunting, and red, white, and blue banners. City Council members Paul Brown, John Ewan, and Allen Settle, along with a handful of city staff and reporters, watched as an assembly line of election officials verified and counted ballots as they arrived in special boxes from precincts around the city.
City Clerk Audrey Cooper flitted from station to station, keeping SLO's first-ever city-run election running smoothly, while City Attorney Jonathan Lowell watched solemnly in the background. After officials tripled-counted each stack of ballots, the unofficial count flashed up on a giant screen.
And right from the start, the count was surprising: Until about 9:30, Measures A and B - which would have allowed the city to change its growth plans and the zoning of Dalidio's land - looked like they would pass, but C - which would have allowed the city to reimburse developers for an overpass at Prado Road - would not.
As more ballots arrived, A and B fell slowly behind.
With only one precinct left to count, a very stressed-looking Brown stood next to an equally stressed-looking Ben Romo. Brown has been a very vocal supporter of the project while Romo managed the anti-Marketplace campaign.
"What a nail biter," Brown said.
"Yeah. See that?" Romo replied, holding up his well-chewed fingertips.
Minutes later, the last vote tally of the evening flashed on the screen and the no proponents cheered. Romo left City Hall at a brisk pace for the party at Mission Grill, and along the way fellow
revelers stopped him and offered hugs and
Standing outside of the bar, Romo described the thousands of hours, tens of thousands of dollars, and blood and sweat the two sides had put into the campaign. But, he said, you have to do that kind of work in a "small turnout campaign" - every vote has far more power than it does in the presidential campaign, "every vote you turn out can double your [lead]. That's something money can't buy."
At one point in the evening, New Times expressed surprise that voters didn't simply vote yes or no across the board; that this was a pretty informed populace, one that took the time to fully research the issue.
Romo said it didn't surprise him in the slightest: "It's faulty to think the electorate is dumb. Anybody who thinks the electorate isn't smart is dumb." Â³
- Abraham Hyatt