Mailer urging support of big-box stores riles SLO residents

acornejo@thetribunenews.comSeptember 11, 2013 

In a view from the hill adjacent to Laguna Lake Park, Ernie Dalidio’s property reaches from the edge of the SLO Promenade to Highway 101.

LAURA DICKINSON — ldickinson@thetribunenews.com

A mysterious, shoddily constructed mailer sent to San Luis Obispo residents touting the benefits of big-box stores has irked some residents and left others questioning its true intent.

The colored pamphlet, postmarked in Oakland, began arriving in mailboxes two weeks ago. A picture of Cerro San Luis, a shot of the downtown farmers market and an unidentified photo of a sprawling Walmart line the top of the flier.

A short message, which starts by misspelling “Obispo” as “Opispo,” states that national big-box stores are looking to the city for expansion and would provide “exciting possibilities for local residents for large retail job creators along Prado Road east of Highway 101.”

The script urges residents not to miss an opportunity for “good paying retail jobs.”

However, no big-box stores are planned for the city.

“It is very mysterious and definitely got a lot of tongues wagging,” said Councilman John Ashbaugh, who called the mailer “the job of an amateur.”

The bottom of the flier lists the email addresses for all five council members, encouraging people to write to them asking for more retail.

“This is generally not useful and boorish in content,” Ashbaugh said. “If you want to engage San Luis Obispo in a conversation, you’ve got to be a little savvier than this.”

In response to the mailer, dozens of residents have emailed the council urging members to take a strong stance against bringing big-box stores to the city.

“The response being elicited is so negative,” Mayor Jan Marx said. “It is crudely done and shows a lack of understanding of our community.”

Marx asked other city leaders whether anything similar had been mailed elsewhere in San Luis Obispo County; it has not, she said.

“My first thought was maybe they got the wrong city,” said Councilman Dan Carpenter. “Then I started to wonder if somebody is trying to undermine the Dalidio project by making people think that Gary (Grossman) is bringing in big-box retail.”

Grossman, who is in escrow for the Dalidio Ranch in San Luis Obispo, recently began circulating plans for the 131-acre ranch. Those preliminary plans include mostly housing, farmland, open space and about 200,000 square feet of commercial space. A big-box store has not been discussed as an option.

“Or maybe someone is just playing with us,” Carpenter said.

Carlyn Christianson, who did not receive the flier in the mail, said recipients appear to have been chosen at random.

“It seems like some kind of hoax or something,” Christianson said. “It literally doesn’t even make sense.”

The flier was sent using stamps, not as a bulk mailer, making it nearly impossible to trace.

“It definitely has money attached to it,” Councilwoman Kathy Smith said. “Whoever came up with the idea had to pay quite a bit to make it happen. I would not be surprised if it was someone trying to rile people up.”

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