San Diego City Councilman Ron Roberts, perhaps the most ardent supporter of the city-backed slow-growth Proposition H, Friday joined the growing list of city leaders willing to embrace rival Proposition J in the face of an advertising blitz from the construction industry that has threatened the passage of both measures.
A day after Mayor Maureen O’Connor and Councilman Bob Filner called on residents to vote for both measures, Roberts--who led the committee that wrote the city’s measure and has stumped most vigorously for it--went almost as far.
Saying that he still hopes voters will cast ballots only for Proposition H, Roberts called on residents “confused” by development industry advertising to vote for both Propositions H and J.
‘Take My Chances’
“I’d rather see something adopted than nothing adopted. . . . I’ll take my chances, even if it is J at this point,” Roberts said.
The statements by O’Connor and the two city councilmen represent an extraordinary departure from the anti-Proposition J message that they have been delivering during the past three months of what has become a bitter three-way campaign. Filner, for example, published an opinion article in The Tribune on Friday explaining why he felt that Proposition H is a better growth-control plan than Proposition J.
Citizens for Limited Growth, which sponsored the competing Proposition J, reacted cautiously Friday. When the citizens’ group co-chairman Tom Mullaney was asked if he, too, would suggest that city residents vote for both measures, he answered, “I don’t know.”
“I’m waiting for a clarification of the mayor’s position,” Mullaney said. “I just don’t have enough information.”
All three city leaders said their change in policy, which came less than a week before voters go to the polls Tuesday, is prompted by the huge campaign budget amassed by the developers’ political committee and the “distortions” contained in the builders’ advertising.
The construction industry committee, San Diegans for Regional Traffic Solutions, reported Friday that it had collected $265,000 more in campaign contributions and returned $110,000 to a Canadian firm, which, under federal law, is not allowed to contribute to U.S. political committees. The donations brought the builders total campaign budget to more than $1.93 million.
The Coalition for a Balanced Environment, which backs city Proposition H and county Proposition B, also filed documents stating that it had collected an additional $28,000, bringing its total contributions to more than $146,000.
Donations of more than $1,000 collected during the final days of the campaign must be reported within 24 hours under state election laws.
Citizens for Limited Growth has collected $17,000 since the most recent campaign finance disclosure deadline Oct. 22, including seven contributions of more than $1,000, Mullaney said.
But he claimed that, because Citizens for Limited Growth is formed as a “general purpose recipient committee,” it is not bound by the same reporting laws as the other political committees, and is exempt from having to report last-minute donations within 24 hours.
John Kern, a political consultant for the Coalition for a Balanced Environment, said that Mullaney’s contention about being exempt from the reporting law is “outrageous.”
Both slow-growth propositions would cap home building in the city and restrict residential construction on much of the city’s “environmentally sensitive lands.” Proposition J, sponsored by Citizens for Limited Growth, also calls for corresponding limits on economic growth and is considered the stricter of the two measures.
The builders committee seeks to defeat both city measures and two other slow-growth measures, Propositions B and D, which would apply to the county’s unincorporated areas.
Building industry political leaders did not return repeated telephone calls to their offices Friday. Leaders of Citizens for Limited Growth also did not return numerous telephone calls.
Roberts joined the angry chorus aimed at developers’ direct-mail and television advertising, which he called “scandalous.” Like O’Connor and Filner, he said that the builders’ strategy is to divide the large majority of voters who support growth controls into two camps to ensure the failure of both measures.
Cites Need for Growth Plan
“What we’re seeing is an attempt by at least some developers, and I would underscore ‘some,’ to disrupt the city to the point that we won’t have any growth-management plan. And I really feel that it’s important that we have something,” Roberts said.
Roberts predicted that the advertising tactics, even if successful in winning the election, may turn moderate council members against the development industry.
“This fraudulent advertising will reap its own reward, if not during the election, then afterward,” he said.
“We’ll settle our accounts later,” he added.
Like O’Connor and Filner, Roberts suggested that the council will adopt some elements of the growth-control program even if voters defeat both propositions Tuesday.
Roberts and O’Connor were most angered by a direct-mail ad that states that Proposition H is a “quick fix riddled with loopholes and exclusions for greedy developers. No surprise it was written by the politicians.”
Despite its disparaging reference to developers, the ad was financed by the developers’ political committee.
Paul Downey, O’Connor’s press secretary, said that the mayor also took exception to a direct-mail piece that claims, “Your rent increase could be 100% due to Propositions D and J.”
In fact, one study suggested that the rate of rent increases could double under growth controls from about 9% to 18%. The builders, who admitted that a previous mailer claiming that rents would “double” under growth controls was erroneous, now claim that the current mailer corrects that error.
“C’mon,” Downey said, “it’s out-and-out garbage that they’re trying to pawn off on people.”
Dominant Local Issue
Leaders of the various campaigns differed Friday on whether attempts to focus media attention on the builders’ advertising tactics would influence the outcome of Tuesday’s vote on the slow-growth measures, the dominant local issue of this election.
Speaking of O’Connor’s call for an affirmative vote on both measures, Councilwoman Abbe Wolfsheimer, who is working for rival Proposition J, said: “I wish she had decided to do this earlier because she could have influenced a lot of people earlier.” Now, Wolfsheimer predicted, “it can confuse people further.”
Downey, however, said that “you need someone with the prestige of the mayor to stand up to a $2-million attack (by the building industry). “You need the big guns, and the mayor is the biggest weapon you’ve got in relation to controlled growth in San Diego.”
With at least one poll showing support for both measures slipping in recent days, O’Connor said Thursday: “I don’t know if I can carry them over the top.
“I want the people to understand what’s going on out there,” O’Connor said. “I want them, when they receive their deceptive mailers, not to read them; when they see the deceptive TV advertising, to know what’s going on.”