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The ground beneath your feet


Whenever I hear the word "developer," my first thought is always about photography. What with the newfangled digital cameras these days. I'm sure that half of you have no idea what I'm even talking about. I'm looking at the younger half of you.

Back in the days before you could just click a button and see what the picture looked like on your computer or a little glowing screen, you had to wait and wait and wait until you could finally see the results of your photographic efforts. You took a picture.

Then you had to lock yourself into a little tiny closet away from sunlight and mix together chemicals and get all dizzy from the fumes, and after some alchemy, then you got to see what your picture looked like.

The whole process took a really long time, and if you got to the end and found out that there was a problem like you had forgotten to take the lens cap off or something you had to start all over again.

Are you still with me? Good. I do have a point to make.

Whenever I hear the word "developer," my second thought is always about, well, developers. The kind who plan things. Build things. Cut things down and erect new things in their place.

We certainly have our share of them on the Central Coast you've heard of the Copelands, I'm sure, and Hamish Marshall and others and they're a lot like the photographic developers of yore. They take a picture in their minds of what they want something to look like like a fancy house or a fancy neighborhood or a fancy shopping plaza and then they wait and wait and wait until they can finally see the results of their efforts.

Some people, as you might notice in this week's cover story, aren't exactly the biggest fans of developers. A few of them maybe more than a few are known as NIMBYs, which is an acronym for "Never Implode My Backyard, Yo" or something like that. Wait, I've got it written down here somewhere. Ah, here it is. I was close. It's "Not In My Backyard."

See, some folks are happy with what they've got and they don't really like that other folks, who don't have anything yet, are still trying to get some. In other words, they don't want new houses or stores to spoil the views or tax their infrastructure or crowd their neighborhood, which already has all of the houses and stores it needs, thank you very much. If people want to live here so bad, let them figure out a way to live somewhere else. Or at least have the decency to buy a used house.

What am I, you ask? Am I a GUMBY or a NIMBY or whatever?

Well, I can tell you that I'm a big, big fan of Alex Madonna. I suppose around here that's about as original as saying that I really, really am beginning to wonder if the Iraq war was a good idea. Still, I just really dig that guy's style. Now that he's passed into the great Jungle Room in the sky, however, I'm not so sure about some of the things that are being built these days in the Madonna family name.

I speak specifically here of the Irish Hills Plaza, the shopping mall that's been popping up around San Luis Obispo's Home Depot.

Have you seen it?

Somebody told me it was designed to be "western European style," but on my globe, that's England, so I'm pretty sure that must have been a mistake. Because the style of this development can best be described as Turkish middle school an odd mash of mosaics, domes, and claylike roofs, all painted in soothing pastel colors like the kind you find in mental hospitals.

When people around here say they like Spanish style, they actually mean they like Santa Barbara. They don't mean they like to find boulders inexplicably suspended in the middle of retaining walls. It's a very strange style, and not strange in that quirky-but-endearing way that Alex Madonna achieved. Just strange strange.

I'm sure you remember Irish Hills Plaza. It's one of the developments hardly anybody complained about that sprung up while everybody else was busy complaining about one that would go in across the street.

Hey, I'm talking about Ernie Dalidio's land now! How's that for a transition? Yeah, I've been practicing. Anyway, Ernie's no Alex. I don't even think Ernie likes pink. And people don't treat Ernie like a saint. Opponents to his development project have thrown up wall after wall, and now he's lashing back. I understand why. He has to be as frustrated as a guy trying to push a big rock up a hill, only the rock keeps rolling back down all the time. Hey, that's a good image. I'm going to remember that one.

I even get who he's calling onto the carpet: SLO's Downtown Association and a group called Responsible County Development, neither of which have exactly fallen over themselves to welcome his development to the neighborhood. He wants the Fair Political Practices Commission to look into whether those groups practiced politics fairly back when he was trying to convince voters that it was a good idea to let him put more than plants and butterflies on his property, because he's been waiting and waiting and waiting so long to start building.

His beef with the Downtown Association dates all the way back to when he was trying to woo just the city. He obviously won later when he wooed the county as a whole, but that doesn't mean he's happy. I mean, it looked like Old Navy was going to set up shop on his land, but now one just opened over at Irish Hills Plaza. Somebody's got to take the blame for why the process has taken so long that retailers are wandering elsewhere, and I think Ernie wants it to be the association and whoever it is pulling the strings for Responsible County Development.

Who's to blame? I dunno. I think that it's just harder to be a developer these days, certainly harder than back when Alex Madonna would just rip boulders out of hillsides with his bare hands and create wildly popular tourist stops to the delight of locals. But what do I know? I can't even use a digital camera.

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