Pared down Dalidio Ranch project a let down

jtarica@thetribunenews.comAugust 3, 2013 

There’s a new destination on the horizon for the long and winding road that is development on the Dalidio Ranch, one its conceivers hope is more acceptable than the last.

From the first word, it was clear this new plan for the property wouldn’t be as grandiose as the original.

But to see it pared down from a major shopping hub with sports fields and a full Prado Road interchange to a development heavier on row homes and offices was a little bit of a letdown.

My initial response, however, was mitigated substantially by word that the reduced commercial segment would finally provide the large, upscale retailers currently missing in San Luis Obispo.

That jubilation lasted all of two days.

Then developer Clint Pearce straightened out partner Gary Grossman and dashed the hopes of many by explaining that, actually no, there would be no names like Macy’s or Nordstrom’s adorning the proposed buildings.

Pearce clarified that instead of top-shelf retailers, this development would feature affordable shopping options, and so I must only assume that the folks in Atascadero have been sharing their Kool-Aid with him.

If it’s one thing we don’t need more of in this county, it’s so-called “affordable” shopping options, especially when two of the three examples given were stores we already have here.

I’m pretty sure the developers will not be seeking T.J. Maxx or Bed Bath & Beyond, and the fact that they would choose to mention these names may indicate how few sensible options of this type and size are actually out there.

And don’t get me started on how two guys can supposedly work so closely together, yet one is imagining a shopping experience one step below Santa Barbara’s open air mall and the other is imagining a shopping experience one step above Ross.

If we’re going to add shopping, why on earth must we add more of this same retail tier?

Unless it’s because this tier is the only shopping sector that won’t raise the ire of the powers-that-be downtown.

And that definitely seems to be what’s at work here.

Said Pearce on Monday: “Neither Gary or myself want to fight anybody on this. We want a great project for the community with minimal controversy.”

While I appreciate his effort to create a plan that might actually get built, he sounds quite conciliatory for someone with the backing of the Madonna name who brought Costco and Target to San Luis Obispo.

But maybe that’s to be expected, because this is Dalidio.

Unlike the Madonnas’ Froom Ranch, the Dalidio property has always sat square in the crosshairs of the downtown forces, who are convinced it could spell the demise of the city’s core if ever allowed to realize its full potential.

Not that you can get them to come out and say it.

One of the more remarkable aspects of the longtime Dalidio saga is how strong feelings can apparently be in contrast to words actually spoken — or not spoken.

In the mid-2000s, the Copelands and banker David Booker helped thwart Ernie Dalidio’s proposal, quietly doling out money to the opposition in such sneaky ways they ended up getting fined by the Fair Political Practices Commission.

What role might they be having in today’s discussion? Is the project the way it is because it can clear their objections? Or might it still pose enough of a potential threat to generate a new outcry?

It would be nice to know the answers to these questions, but so far, the Copelands aren’t talking.

For her part, Deborah Cash, executive director of the Downtown Association, is also withholding judgment until her organization can learn more about the project. But at least she came out and said so.

To be sure, the road ahead for this latest plan will have its share of bends and curves.

We will just have to wait and see whether any of them become another U-turn.

Joe Tarica is the presentation editor for The Tribune. Reach him at jtarica@thetribunenews.com or on Twitter @joetarica.

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