After 35 years in public education as a high school English teacher and university administrator, I began my second life as a freelance writer, winning San Diego Society of Professional Journalist awards for my opinion columns in the former San Diego daily North County Times and the San Diego Free Press.
Will Challengers in Carlsbad Council Race Change City Politics?
Evidence of Big Money Guiding Council Decisions
Five candidates have declared their intention to challenge the
two at-large incumbents in Carlsbad's city council election in November. If they
want to bring real change, beyond the addition of new faces, to the city's go-along-to-get-along
political cronyism, they should also lobby for a new city ordinance to limit
the amount and source of campaign donations from individuals, business
interests and special interest groups, beginning with the 2018 election.
when the three other council members, who did the most damage to the council's
credibility in the last two years, will be up for reelection. There's plenty of
evidence big money, much of it from out of town, guides the decisions of these
Mayor Matt Hall's 2014 campaign collected $9,500 from five
donors who ponied up at least $1,000, the largest a $5,000 donation from Jimmy
Ukegawa, the owner of the strawberry fields and the one person, other than billionaire
L.A. developer Rick Caruso, who had the most to gain from a shopping mall on
the Agua Hedionda Lagoon. Hall's four other deep pocket donors were executives with
connections to the city's Grand Pacific Resort hotels.
Councilmember Michael Schumacher (no relation to city
council candidate Cori Schumacher) was the King of Collections from high-roller
donors to his 2014 campaign, amassing $23,760 in contributions of $1,000 or more from eleven donors.
Jimmy Ukegawa was his greatest benefactor at $4,260. Brian Rupp, the President
of Shopoff Realty Investments, based in Irvine, California, kicked in another $2,650.
That's the firm with its eye on property east of Ponto Beach in south Carlsbad,
where Rupp proposes to build 191 apartment and luxury townhomes, a public
plaza, shops, and restaurants. Cameron Hulse, a Carlsbad orthodontist, added another
$2,500 to Schumacher's campaign war chest.
Schumacher's eight other deep pocket donors included: Sharad
Khandwala, the Solana Beach investor who brought the Holiday Inn and Staybridge
Suites to Palomar Airport Road; the California Association of Realtors; and an
assortment of other commercial real estate owners and managers of property throughout
Councilmember Mark Packard received a total of $3,500 in
donations of $1,000 or more from three individuals to his 2014 campaign. His largest was $1,500 from
Sharad Khandwala (see above). The other two included a San Diego Commercial
Real Estate Services firm and a San Diego General Building Contractor.
Carlsbad's not alone in North San Diego County in attracting
big money from out-of-towners. There's no limit to campaign contributions in
Oceanside, either. Jerry Kern, a candidate for re-election to the city Council in
2014, collected $5,000 from L.A.'s California Real Estate Political Action
Committee and another $3,500 from the Building Industry Association of San
Diego, among his supporters who gave $1,000 or more to his campaign.
Another Oceanside city council member, Gary Felien, got $5,000
from the California Real Estate PAC and another $5,000 from Ure Kretowics, a
LaJolla real estate developer, for his 2014 re-election campaign.
Meanwhile, Carlsbad's three neighboring cities to the south
and east all have campaign contribution limits. Vista's $440 limit applies to
all contributors, whether they are a business, committee, group or individual.
San Marcos and Encinitas limit campaign donors to no more than $250.
Kristin Gaspar's 2014 Encinitas mayoral campaign raised about
$30,000. I didn't count the number of her donors, but the city's $250 limit
means she had to have at least 120 to produce that amount of money. It took the
Carlsbad Three a mere 18 donations to raise almost $37,000.
To Carlsbad's credit, its website
is the most accessible and transparent of any other North County city to campaign donations and statements of economic interests of elected officials.
You can get there with
only three clicks, beginning with the homepage tab labeled, "City Hall."
Click on "Open Government," then "Disclosure and Ethics," then
choose from either "Statement of Economic Interests Filings" or "Campaign
Financial Disclosure Statements" to examine official reports of a given public
official or candidate.
The Carlsbad citizen activists who defeated a billionaire developer
at the polls despite being outspent 100 to 1, should turn their attention now, not
only to replacing the council's old guard beginning in November, but to reforming campaign
financing that invites corruption.
They can begin today by lobbying for limits
to the dollar amount allowed and source of support of the city's political
campaigns. Leaders who owe their success to big money from a few out of town
interests can hardly be expected to act in the best interests of the majority
of their constituents.