Correction: An earlier version of this story gave the wrong location for Peter M. Kardel's office; it was at Marsh and Santa Rosa streets.
A longtime San Luis Obispo attorney, Peter M. Kardel, died April 19 at the age of 83.
Deeply involved in property and tax law, he was known for defending small-business owners and farmers against the heavy hand of the IRS, as well as championing economic development in downtown San Luis Obispo.
“He was one of the first people to practice here who had a well-developed and nuanced sense of the tax law,” said San Luis Obispo lawyer Warren Sinsheimer.
Kardel began practicing law locally in 1961. His son and namesake, Peter K. Kardel, remembers that his father walked to work at the corner of Marsh and Santa Rosa streets many mornings with his imposing but gentle Danish Rottweiler.
“In a way that symbolizes my dad. He had a very intimidating presence and bearing — he was a fighter — but he was really a tender, sweet man.”
Kardel’s powerful presence served him when representing the Lopez family of rural Arroyo Grande. The state of California was attempting to seize Lopez Canyon by eminent domain to build a dam, and the proposed payment to the Lopez family was not fair considering the acreage, said Dan Krieger, a San Luis Obispo historian.
“Peter fought tooth and nail,” and with the help of geologists discovered what was later to be named the Hosgri earthquake fault. Though the area would later be purchased by San Luis Obispo County for a higher payment to the Lopez family, evidence of the fault deterred the state’s initial plans to build a dam on the site.
Kardel also spent time as the city attorney for Morro Bay and Pismo Beach.
He was chairperson of the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce in 1965, and put pressure on what he saw as complacent downtown business owners to support development of the Mission Plaza and tree-planting. This was necessary to rival the up-and-coming commercial center at Madonna Plaza, Krieger said.
Krieger remembers many nights debating politics with Kardel, who was “conservative in the best sense of the word,” he said. “He valued nature, and keeping the county rural and agricultural, but he also wanted things in the city to move along in a well-paced fashion. But you could argue against him, and he would still want you as a friend."
Kardel was born in Michigan but spent his earliest years living in Denmark, where his father was born.
He was always proud of his Danish heritage, remembered Kardel’s neighbor Ken Schwartz, a former mayor of San Luis Obispo who regularly flies flags of other countries outside his home.
“Whenever I flew the Danish flag, that prompted a special toot on the horn,” Schwartz said.
Kardel is survived by his children, Kristi Knudsen (Robert), Kari Blackburn (Bill) and Peter K. Kardel (Amy), and eleven grandchildren.
A celebration of his life is set for 2 p.m. Saturday, April 27, at the San Luis Obispo Church of the Nazarene.