Pioneered by San Diego Republican ex-mayor Jerry Sanders and his allies in the local shipbuilding, hotel, and restaurant industries, big-money referendum campaigns have become the device of choice to thwart the will of San Diego's city council.
Viewed by critics as ineptly staffed — and of late a rubber stamp for Republican mayor Kevin Faulconer and his wealthy benefactors — the council now faces yet another challenge to its faltering reputation in the form of a ballot drive to be financed by Donahue Schriber.
The Costa Mesa–based real estate investment trust is seeking to overturn last month's approval of One Paseo, the commercial and residential complex at the corner of Del Mar Heights Road and El Camino Real in Carmel Valley.
The February 23 vote on the project was 7-2, with Democratic councilwoman Marti Emerald and council president Sherri Lightner opposed.
Rumblings of a referendum began shortly after the council vote, reaffirmed March 9, with reports that One Paseo developer Kilroy Realty of Los Angeles was spreading plenty of its own cash around to make sure that referendum signature gatherers wouldn't go to work for the anti–One Paseo measure.
Now the battle has been officially joined, with the launch of a political committee called "Protect San Diego's Neighborhoods, a coalition of neighborhood residents, community planners, taxpayers and small businesses. Major funding by Donahue Schriber."
According to its March 9 initial disclosure filing with the city clerk's office, the group has been established specifically to wage a referendum battle opposed to One Paseo’s approval. Donahue Schriber owns Kilroy competitor Del Mar Highlands Town Center.
As previously reported here, on December 30 Kilroy set up its own political committee, known as "Citizens for a Business Friendly San Diego,” with the stated objective of supporting "candidates to foster San Diego business investment."
During their long fight over One Paseo, both L.A.-area companies have spent big on lobbyists and lavished campaign contributions on city council members here.
Donahue Schriber's referendum gambit uses the same cash-on-the-barrelhead technique employed by chamber of commerce chief Sanders, who fronted the battle against the council's passage of a minimum-wage ordinance. Enacted under then–council president Todd Gloria, the wage-boost measure has been waylaid by a successful 2014 referendum drive that put it on the 2016 ballot.
A committee calling itself the San Diego Small Business Coalition subsequently filed disclosure statements revealing it had received $100,000 from the American Hotel and Lodging Association, a Washington DC–based industry lobbying group; $40,000 from the California Restaurant Association Issues PAC of Sacramento; and $25,000 from the International Franchise Association of Washington D.C.
Similarly, Sanders and a group of military contracting giants, including General Dynamics and BAE, killed the Barrio Logan community plan with a well-financed referendum drive that forced the council to put it on the June 2014 ballot; the barrio plan was defeated in a campaign that cost the Navy shipbuilding interests and their allies more than $1 million.
Gloria, a backer of both the minimum wage and the barrio plan, was toppled from the council presidency in December of last year by fellow Democrat Lightner, aided by the council's Republicans.