Ordinarily I don’t post very much on this blog about issues outside of Nipomo; however, there are times when I make an exception. This is one of those times. What gives this story its local flavor now is a recent voice vote by our locally elected Nipomo Community Services District against Measure J. Below I will comment on that vote as well as why I am recommending that San Luis Obispo County voters vote YES on Measure J, the Dalidido Ranch Project.
This weeks’ Adobe Press (not yet appearing on their website–but give it time) ran a front page story with the headline “NCSD takes vocal stand against Measure J.” The same story appeared in the Santa Maria Times here. The Adobe Press story begins quoting Ed Eby, local environmental activist and NCSD board member:
A unanimous Nipomo Community Services District board took a vocal stand Wednesday against the proposed Dalidio Ranch project based on fears that it could open the door to unplanned growth and divert funding from the Willow Road interchange project in Nipomo.
“As people who have to look out for the welfare of (Nipomo) residents, this is a logical stance,” said director Ed Eby.
Well, that may be logical from Mr. Eby’s perspective; but, that’s not what the voters of Nipomo have elected him or other board members to do. In other words Mr. Eby, it’s not your job as an elected official of the Nipomo Community Services district to look out for my welfare, as a Nipomo resident. Rather, your job as an elected official of the NCSD is to make policy in the areas over which the NCSD has power: Water, Sewer, Lighting, Solid Waste, and Street Sweeping. Noticeably absent on the list of NCSD’s powers is land use planning, not only within the Nipomo community, but certainly not on the outskirts of San Luis Obispo some 25 miles and several independent city governments to the north.
What on earth would prompt our local NCSD board to take a political stand on a issue so obviously and completely outside of their governmental responsibility? Well, let’s take a look at the primary reason as outlined in the NCSD board packets available on their website here, a portion of which states:
OPPOSE MEASURE J
Consider opposing Measure J-06 on November 7, 2006 Ballot (Recommend Adopting Oppose Position).
Attached is a copy of the Text of Measure J-06, County of San Luis Obispo’s Impartial Analysis of Measure J-06, and the arguments for and against measure J-06 published in the County of San Luis Obispo’s Sample Ballot and Voter Information Pamphlet.
Staff believes that Measure J would result in highway improvement funds needed for the Willow Road interchange being diverted to the Prado Road interchange. It is recommended that your Honorable Board adopt an Oppose Position on Measure J-06.
Well, is that true? Would Measure J result in the diversion of highway improvement funds needed for Willow Road? Will that happen? Surely the NCSD board and staff would have investigated that proposition before making it a political issue, over which, by the way, the NCSD has absolutely no control! The answer to this question is a resounding NO! Our Fourth District Supervisor Katcho Achadjian sent out a special letter dated 10/25/06, apparently to all 4th District residents to set the record straight, and correct the incorrect statements of the NCSD on the Willow Road exchange. You can read Katcho’s entire letter here: Katcho’ Letter About Measure J’s Impact On Road Funding. A portion of the letter stated:
The San Luis Obispo Council of Governments (SLO COG) Board makes the decision on how Federal and State money for road projects will be allocated. SLO COG Board is made up of all five County Supervisors and a member from each of the City Councils. We all work well together and we each make a great effort to gain the support of other Board members for projects that are of great importance to our own districts.
The fact is that Measure J will not take funds away (emphasis added) from, nor change the priority of existing county road projects such as Willow Road or other South County road improvement projects because Measure J generate its own funds, possibly a Mello Roos tax district. A Mello Roos tax district would apply to the developed Dalidio property for traffic improvements if Measure J is approved. It is a separate project with a separate funding source for traffic improvements.
Clearly, the rationale upon which the NCSD relied to enter the political fray over Measure J was false. Still, the more troubling question is why the NCSD Board of Directors is taking any position at all on this issue. In my opinion the NCSD Board was way out of line in taking on this issue. Their job, is not land use planning. They should not be taking political sides on a land use issue pending on the outskirts of San Luis Obispo City. I normally support the local NCSD Board in what they do. On this issue I part company. First, it is way outside their job description. Second, they are wrong on the merits of Measure J.
Please visit the Measure J website for a good overview of this project, and its impact on San Luis Obispo County. The County’s paper of record, the Tribune has endorsed The Dalidio Ranch Project, Measure J:
EDITORIAL: From planning to traffic, Measure J passes the tests. It will fulfill the vision conceived by smart planners more than a decade ago
Opinion of The Tribune
To hear the opponents of Measure J tell it, Ernie Dalidio is trying to foist an environmental and traffic disaster on the community.
Unfortunately, his opponents are not letting facts get in the way of their arguments.
Here are the facts, and why The Tribune urges voters to support Measure J:
Measure J will approve a master-planned development that will include shopping, homes and offices, farmers market, organic farm, sports fields, habitat preservation and an extension of the Bob Jones Trail.
This development will generate new sales tax revenue that will help pay for construction of the critically needed Prado Road overpass. And Dalidio will kick in $10 million in property and cash to help fund the overpass and other traffic improvements. No other funding exists on the horizon.
One of the arguments opponents of Measure J use is that the ballot process sidesteps the planning process, and that we have land use planning voters. This is actually quite amusing, because many of those who currently oppose The Dalidio Ranch Project, Measure J on these grounds actually supported a similar ballot land use planning measure years ago. For those who were here in 2000 there was a ballot measure called SOAR, save our open spaces and agricultural resources. For those in our community who oppose Measure J because it is land use by ballot, but also supported SOAR, then you have a short memory.
In this case, the Tribune points out the hypocrisy of this argument:
Ballot box planning
Opponents contend that Measure J circumvents the normal planning process.
We don’t like land-use planning decisions being made through the initiative process; yet, having seen Dalidio whipsawed for 14 years, we understand his frustration and why he chose that channel for project approval.
Dalidio opponents stepped outside normal planning channels when they used the referendum process to defeat the city-approved Marketplace last year. To say that Dalidio can’t seek his day in the court of public opinion using similar tools is nothing less than shameful hypocrisy.
Because of the high costs of the initiative process and the uncertainties involved, it’s doubtful that this will set a precedent for developers to line up and use the same approach.
In fact, ballot box planning has already occurred in the county, but only once in the last quarter century: Voters approved the Williams Bros. shopping center in Paso Robles in 1980 after the city denied the project.
Opponents also claim that to approve measure J would increase the traffic nightmares in the area. The Tribune has a very thoughtful and persuasive analysis on the traffic issues:
Opponents allege that Dalidio’s project will generate an unacceptable level of traffic, and that his offer of $10 million for traffic impacts, including $8 million to get an overpass off the drawing boards, is insufficient and doesn’t cover his fair share of interchange costs.
Studies — and common sense — show that traffic problems already exist at the Madonna-101 and Los Osos Valley Road-101 interchanges. These arteries will become unacceptably clogged in another decade regardless of whether a Dalidio project is built.
The answer to that dismal eventuality is to build a Prado Road overpass, a project that’s been on planners’ radar screens for a quarter century. It was a solution that was to be underwritten with sales tax receipts under Dalidio’s 2005 Marketplace plan.
Dalidio’s current proposed project is conservatively projected to generate $3 million a year in property, sales and bed taxes. As in the Marketplace plan, a special taxing district can be created by the Board of Supervisors with bonds secured by the Dalidio property and repaid through those taxes.
We like this approach for three reasons:
• It wouldn’t take money from other county traffic projects because the overpass pays for itself with new Dalidio Ranch tax revenue.
• It wouldn’t cost taxpayers a dime.
• It proactively addresses a 25-year plan for decreasing traffic pressures on the south side of San Luis Obispo — pressures that will lead to gridlock within a decade if not addressed now.
Is $8 million in seed money to get an overpass project started enough of a commitment by Dalidio?
There was no similar offer with the Marketplace plan, and there’s no viable alternative being promoted by government agencies.
Whether the county or the city of San Luis Obispo initiates a tax district, there is zero risk that taxpayers will pick up the bond’s cost. Dalidio’s property will be on the hook as collateral. If the property is sold, the bond goes with it as a lien.
Will Dalidio agree to such a tax district? Yes, for two reasons: One, it’s in his own best interests that Dalidio Ranch have optimal traffic flow. Two, Dalidio has had talks with supervisors about creating such a district. He has said he wants one, they have said they would allocate the sales tax to a bond because the overpass would be of overall benefit to the county.
Finally, for those who question the use of Dalidio Ranch sales tax to finance a much-needed overpass, we answer: Improving roads and traffic is a perfectly legitimate use of tax dollars.
Next are the environmental arguments:
Opponents say Measure J means the project will avoid the scrutiny of environmental regulators.
That’s simply not true.
What is true is that city and county planners won’t be able to judge the project on its environmental merits. But that doesn’t mean Dalidio Ranch would get a free ride if voters approve Measure J.
The project will be subjected to the stringent nuts and bolts of county plan checking and building permit processes and the project must fully conform to myriad state and federal environmental regulations on everything from asbestos, to air and water pollution issues, to highway concerns and more. Measure J, if approved, locks into place 103 conditions that were taken from the original certified environmental impact report on Dalidio’s 2005 Marketplace proposal.
Bottom line: Measure J doesn’t circumvent environmental review at all.
I think one of the stronger arguments in favor of The Dalidio Ranch Project is that it previously went through the planning process in San Luis Obispo. The City Council approved the prior project by a vote of 3 to 1. Ernie Dalidio has paid his dues. This project went through the planning process in its earlier incarnation. It was approved by the San Luis Obispo City Council. Ernie Dalidio has come up with a well planned project. He owns the land. He has rights as a private property owner to be able to develop that property without having special interest money spreading lies about his future:
Yes on Measure J
Measure J didn’t materialize from the ether regions over night. Its genesis goes back to 1994 when an environmental-oriented SLO City Council decided that commercial growth — subject to annexation — should be allowed as infill on Dalidio’s 131-acre island of county land.
By 2004, the city had approved the zoning and development of The Marketplace. A subsequent referendum reversed that decision.
Dalidio then sought input from an advisory group of community leaders. Vic Montgomery, a principal of RRM Design Group, redesigned a master-planned project, adopting many of the group’s suggestions. We believe the newly designed project is an excellent fit for a parcel that’s surrounded by a shopping center, subdivision, highway and auto malls.
Yet, hyperbole-whipped emotions run high among opponents that Ernie Dalidio and, by extension, his team of architect Vic Montgomery, attorney Michael Morris and public relations director Dave Cox are trying to subvert democracy.
We counter: Why would they? These are good people with deep roots in the community and outstanding reputations. Why would they associate their good names with a less than well-planned and designed project?
• • •
Measure J deserves voter approval because it will fulfill the longstanding vision conceived by smart government planners more than a decade ago.
The Dalidio Ranch project will help finance a substantial portion of the critically needed Prado Road overpass — without it, there is no funding. The project offers amenities that will be a good fit and much appreciated by the community.
Other sources to which I recommend my fellow voters on Measure J:
Dalidio Ranch Measure J Website (Note, there are several excellent links on this site you should also follow).
KVEC Podcast on Measure J Debate
To the NCSD Board, I suggest that we get back to work. Let’s keep our eye on the issues truly facing Nipomo. We have a water pipeline from Santa Maria with which we must deal. We have the issue of studying out and developing a plan for a possible desalination plant in Nipomo. In short, there are a myriad of real Nipomo issues with which you should be dealing. Let’s keep our eye on the ball here folks.