County of San Luis Obispo Dalidio Ranch Initiative, Measure J (November 2006)
Measure J amended the land use plan of San Luis Obispo County in support of the Dalidio Ranch project, the objective of which is to develop the San Luis Obispo Marketplace on a 131-acre site along Highway 101.
The Dalidio Ranch project, if it moves forward, involves developing 530,000 square feet of retail space, a hotel, a business park, soccer fields and housing.
In October 2009, the California Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from Measure J opponents on a lawsuit that opponents filed immediately after voters approved the measure. As a result, the Dalidio Ranch development is set to move forward, three years after voters approved it.
Measure J overturned
Immediately after the Dalidio Project won approval from the county's voters, two environmental groups -- Citizens for Planning Responsibly and Environmental Center of San Luis Obispo County —- filed a lawsuit to stop it. Their legal claim was that the subject matter discussed in Measure J is not allowed as a proper subject for the initiative process.
In February 2008, Judge Roger Picquet ruled in their favor, saying, "Measure J is not a proper subject for an initiative...The ability of the people of San Luis Obispo County to use the initiative to enact legislation is an extremely important constitutional right. Nonetheless it is not unlimited.” 
Backers of Measure J appealed Picquet's decision to California's Second Court of Appeals.
Measure J re-instated
In August 2009, the appellate court re-instated Measure J, overturning the decision of the lower court. The higher court said, "… our review of this appeal is also strictly circumscribed by the long-established rule of according extraordinarily broad deference to the electorate’s power to enact laws by initiative. The state constitutional right of initiative or referendum is ‘one of the most precious rights of democratic process.’ These powers are reserved to the people, not granted to them. Thus, it is our duty to ‘jealously guard’ these powers.”
The appeals court also ruled that Citizens for Planning Responsibility and the Environmental Center of San Luis Obispo must pay the legal costs that have been incurred by those who have been defending Measure J in the courts against their lawsuit.
Citizens for Planning Responsibly (CPR) appealed the Second Court of Appeals' decision to re-instate Measure J to the California Supreme Court, which denied their petition. According to attorney James McKiernan, Measure J now has "a permanent green light."
Russ Brown of CPR expressed surprise and disappointment with the court's decision. He predicted that Measure J "will have ripple effects for municipalities, counties and governing agencies throughout the state".
In his remarks, Brown alluded to recent remarks by California Chief Justice Ronald George condemning the initiative process.
Campaign finance violations
In October 2010, the California Fair Political Practices Commission said in a report that includes 1,414 pages of documents that 16 campaign finance violations had been committed by the opponents of Measure J, and levied an $80,000 fine against Tom and Jim Copeland, and banker David Booker for the violations.
Tom and Jim Copeland have commercial interests in San Luis Obispo that "directly compete with" the Dalidio Ranch development. The FPPC in their ruling on the matter determined that the Measure J campaign was "sponsored" by Responsible County Development, an LLC controlled by the Copelands. Other developers in the area also participated in the campaign against Measure J, according to California Coast News:
- Developers and commercial property owners, many with financial motives to stop Dalidio, provided the bulk — more than 80 percent — of the funding for the committees opposing Dalidio. And while some developers donated funds using their name and legal addresses, others, such as the Copeland brothers and former North County developer Kelly Gearhart, who contributed $20,000, hid their identities behind company names and post offices boxes.
- The Political Reform Act requires that contributors provide a street address and their full legal name.
- Local clerk recorder employees are responsible for inspecting campaign filings to make sure laws are being followed. These employees said they repeatedly told Dalidio’s opponents that they were breaking campaign laws and that they needed to correct the filings and provide addresses and not post offices boxes."
Jan Marx, mayor of San Luis Obispo, was closely involved with the campaign against Measure J, according to the FPPC's documentation. According to a recounting of the FPPC investigation in California Coast News:
- "A trail of receipts, credit card statements and reimbursement checks shows that Marx handled everyday campaign duties from the start of the fight in 2004 through the second election in November, 2006.
- She also printed campaign flyers, purchased campaign supplies and handled some advertising with local media. As late as August, 2006, just months before the election, the campaign phone service was paid with Marx’s credit card and not yet listed in the campaign’s name, according to FPPC documentation."
- 1994: The City of San Luis Obispo General Plan was updated to allow for retail development on the Dalidio parcel, even though the parcel is not in San Luis Obispo. This action was taken because the city had hopes of eventually annexing the parcel because it would then financially benefit from sales taxes generated by any retail development on the land.
- 2003-2004: The City of San Luis Obispo deliberated and agreed on a plan to both annex the land and approve the development proposed by the owner of the parcel.
- 2005: Voters in the City of San Luis Obispo collected signatures on the veto referendum to overturn the decisions that the city made regarding annexation and development. When the vote was held, voters narrowly denied the marketplace development plans.
- 2006: Ernie Dalidio collected signatures on Measure J, a county-wide initiative to approve the Dalidio development. Measure J wins. Opponents immediately sue to have Measure J overturned.
- 2007: Ernie Dalidio filed a complaint with the California Fair Political Practices Commission, alleging that the group "Responsible County Development LLC", which provided 81% of the funding for the campaign against Measure J. The substance of his complaint is that the corporation violated the law by hiding the names of its members and failing to disclose the purpose of the $220,944 loan it gave to the "No on J" campaign. According to Dalidio's complaint, the only purpose of the corporation was to give money to the "No on J" campaign while hiding the identity of donors. Dalidio wrote, "Someone was using the LLC to funnel funds to the No on J Committee without disclosing the true source of the funds."
- February 2008: A Superior Court judge rules in favor of Measure J opponents, nullifying Measure J. Dalidio files an appeal.
- August 2009: A California appellate court overturns the superior court decision and re-instates Measure J.
- October 2009: The California Supreme Court declines to review the lower appellate court decision. This gives Measure J a permanent victory, enabling the Dalidio Ranch development to move forward as per voter's 2006 approval of the development.
- Full text of Measure J
- Measure J election results (Scroll to page 5)
- Dalidio Ranch Project Controversy
- No on Measure J, a website that opposed Measure J in 2006, retrieved on August 5, 2009
- Unmasking Dalido's mysterious foe
- Pacific Coast Business Times, "Dalidio Project Wins Measure J Victory", August 4, 2009
- IStockAnalyst, "Dalidio Foes Say Court Set a Bad Precedent: They Say a Standard Has Been Set for Ignoring Planning Rules", October 17, 2009
- The Tribune of San Luis Obispo, "Appeals court OKs Dalidio’s Measure J", August 4, 2009
- KSBY Action News "California Supreme Court sides with Dalidio in Measure J battle", October 14, 2009
- California Coastal News, "State probe casts a shadow on new San Luis Obispo mayor", January 6, 2011
- San Luis Obispo Tribune, "State still probing Measure J opponents", October 16, 2009