Graig Mantle

In an effort to overturn Measure J, the controversial Dalidio Ranch development initiative on last November’s ballot, two environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the county on Feb. 27.

A date for the first hearing has yet to be determined.

The groups – Citizens for Planning Responsibly (CPR) and the Environmental Center of San Luis Obispo County (ECOSLO) – filed the court action suit in what they claim to be the public’s interest. They asserted that the county allowed Ernie Dalidio, the ranch’s owner, and developers to illegally “sidestep the normal planning review process and zoning laws,” according to a recent press release.

The suit is against the county, not just Dalidio or the developer, though they happen to be the party of interest, CPR President Rosemary Wilvert said.

“Thankfully it’s in the hand of the courts now,” Wilvert said. “It’s just unbelievable that Dalidio would pass (his initiative) off as fair. It’s something that that my mind can hardly wrap itself around.”

But things are obviously different on the other side.

“(The suit) typifies the arrogance of this small group of people who want to take on the citizens of the county,” Dalidio spokesman Dave Cox told The Tribune.

“There’s no other project, other than the Los Osos sewer, that has been delayed as much as this one,” he added.

According to the 27-page petition, Measure J is illegal for several reasons, including: being inconsistent with the county’s General Plan; prohibiting normal public and environmental reviews; providing inadequate mitigation for severe problems such as traffic and air pollution; and leaving taxpayers with extra infrastructure costs.

“Developers of the Dalidio property are trying to use Measure J to get around the rules that apply to everyone else,” said Morgan Rafferty, ECOSLO’s executive director, in a press release. “Developers in San Luis Obispo County need to follow the rules, not write their own.”

The ranch, located on a 131-acre parcel of land off Madonna Road and U.S. Highway 101, has been in the Dalidio family since 1920. Increasingly, it has become a neighbor to more big-time developers.

Dalidio has said before that the initiative has been about 16 years in the making, though he has met many obstacles along the way, including it being rejected by both the City Council and San Luis Obispo residents. The project finally passed in the county-wide election last fall with a 65 percent majority.

Measure J allows for the creation of new retail stores and businesses, construction and extension of the Bob Jones trail, an organic farm and a seven-days-a-week farmers’ market, among other things.

But, Wilvert said CPR will continue to challenge the controversial measure. “The San Luis Obispo community voted essentially 50-50 to pass it, so we knew that there were an awful lot of people not happy about it,” Wilvert said.

For Wilvert and other group members, the idea is that, if Measure J goes unchallenged, other big developers may try the same “ballot-box planning” initiative processes, avoiding normal planning procedures, across the country.

CPR and ECOSLO are represented by the San Francisco-based firm of Shute, Mihaly and Weinberger, which specializes in governmental, land use and environmental law.

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