The slow growth campaign, which started this summer as an issue-oriented debate over vested building rights and the slope of hillsides, has increasingly turned toward personal attacks and allegations of distortions.
Campaign observers and leaders say that the tactics appear to be typical of a high-stakes electoral battle in an age when political operatives at local, state and federal levels have concluded that negative campaigning works.
"I don't think it's the exception to the rule in politics anymore," said political consultant Sara Katz, who works for the Coalition for a Balanced Environment, which backs propositions B and H. "It seems to be the direction politics has been heading the last few years."
Nevertheless, the campaign has hit some low points during the past few months, including the following:
- On Sept. 20, James Schmidt, managing officer of Great American First Savings Bank and a leader of the group backing propositions B and H, wrote a letter to Rep. Jim Bates that Bates called an attempt to "muzzle" aide George Stevens. Stevens has been an active campaigner for rival citizens-sponsored propositions D and J.
"I think it is important that you become aware of the fact that your assistant, George Stevens has taken positions in support of the group that is trying to 'lock up' San Diego by pushing the no-growth initiatives," Schmidt wrote. "George is out of step with 99.9% of the minority community . . . How can your assistant support measures that will increase unemployment in San Diego?"
"I was surprised," Bates said. "Just, you know, within Great American they have different viewpoints and I don't call them and say everyone has to think alike."
Schmidt said that the letter was not meant as an attempt to quiet Stevens, and added that he and Stevens have mended fences over the allegations. Stevens agreed that "the pressure has been applied," but added that he has reconciled with Schmidt over the letter and declined to discuss the matter.
- Two weeks ago, San Diego City Council members began to claim that Citizens for Limited Growth Co-Chairman Tom Mullaney, who owns 17 apartments outright and a 4% interest in 24 others, stands to profit if his Proposition J wins Nov. 8.
"There is no question that the owner of existing units is going to benefit," said Councilman Ron Roberts. The claim is now frequently repeated at public forums.
Roberts also scored Mullaney for a "Joan Kroc-sized" loan of $68,000 to the campaign.
Mullaney, who says that the allegations are smear tactics, said that he has sold two-thirds of his apartments during the past two years without buying any new ones. "Does that sound like someone trying to make money?" he asked.
In a subsequent interview this week, Roberts conceded that he believes Mullaney's efforts on behalf of propositions D and J are motivated by his belief in the need for growth management, not profit.
"I honestly think Tom is committed," Roberts said. "He got wrapped in this growth management. He believes in it and I honestly believe he's not doing this for personal gain."
The San Diego Apartment Assn., made up of owners and managers of apartment buildings, is opposed to the slow growth measures, a position that appears to undercut the assertion that it would be in the economic interest of apartment owners to support growth controls.
- From the start, a major campaign tactic of Citizens for Limited Growth has been to link the city council with developers.
That approach may have reached its zenith when Peter Navarro, a University of San Diego economist and adviser to Citizens for Limited Growth, publicly accused Roberts of placing an exemption in council-sponsored Proposition H that would allow Newland California to build on a plot of land in Sorrento Hills as pay-back for campaign contributions.
"$200,000 from the development industry, Ron, and the Newland (California) Corp. for Sorrento Hills," Navarro taunted at an Oct. 5 council meeting.
Navarro said that the claim is based on an analysis by former Common Cause member Mark Zerbe that 66% of the $303,000 in campaign contributions for Roberts' 1987 council race came from development industry sources and allied businesses. Some of the money was from Newland employees, Navarro said.
Roberts said that there is no link between the exemption and the campaign contributions, noting that city voters had agreed to give the land to Newland as part of a land swap.
"We exempted Newland because they have already been in a city-wide vote," Roberts said. "The citizens already decided that we should make that change."
- San Diegans for Regional Traffic Solutions, the builders' campaign committee, has developed something of a record of playing fast and loose with some facts in the campaign.
The group has been forced to retract a claim from one piece of literature that the Sierra Club endorsed Proposition B--it didn't--and another from a direct mail piece that "rents would double" if propositions D and J were passed. In fact, the study quoted by the builders said only that the rate of increase in rents would double under the terms of the measure.
Despite an admission that the claim was inaccurate, the same message appeared in a subsequent direct mail piece received by hundreds of thousands of residents. Jean Andrews, a political consultant for the organization, said that the second mailer was already at a printer when the error was pointed out by a reporter and could not be changed.
Proposition H: Backed by the San Diego City Council; would cap home building at 7,590 annually in the city of San Diego for the next three to five years. Contains language protecting environmentally sensitive lands and single-family neighborhoods.
Proposition J: Sponsored by Citizens for Limited Growth; would limit residential construction in the city of San Diego to 7,000 to 9,000 homes in the first year after passage, and gradually decrease the number to as few as 4,000 by 1991. Contains language protecting environmentally sensitive lands and calls for limits on economic growth.
Proposition B: A measure affecting San Diego County, backed by the county Board of Supervisors; would cap home building at 20,225 units over five years. Contains language restricting development on environmentally sensitive lands.
Proposition D: A measure effecting San Diego County, sponsored by Citizens for Limited Growth; would cap home building at about 2,800 units during the first year, declining to 1,500 annually by 1991. Includes language protecting environmentally sensitive lands and calls for limits on commercial and industrial growth.