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Money Driving Debate Over San Diego County's Measure B

An artists rendering of the proposed Newland Sierra Town Center in North County is shown in this undated image.
Newland Communities, developer of Newland Sierra
An artists rendering of the proposed Newland Sierra Town Center in North County is shown in this undated image.
The battle over a North County housing development called Newland Sierra is attracting big money ahead of San Diego County's election day.

Measure B is the most expensive initiative battle on San Diego County’s March ballot with more than $11 million in the fight.

The measure asks county voters to support the construction of a major North County housing development along Interstate 15.

A developer for the Newland Sierra housing project in North County is spending more than $8 million to get voter approval to build just over 2,100 homes, schools, retail space, hiking and bike trails.

Newland Sierra wants voters to back the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, who approved the project two years ago.

Project opponents disagreed with the county and pushed for and got a countywide referendum. That is why Measure B is on the ballot.

But Newland Sierra argues the supervisors were right to OK the project north of Escondido.

RELATED: San Diego County Voters To Decide Fate Of Newland Sierra Housing Project

VIDEO: Money Driving Debate Over San Diego County’s Measure B

“Voting yes on Measure B creates a community that’s a smart-planned community, we’re located less than a mile from infrastructure in the major cities in the North San Diego County. That includes Vista, Escondido and San Marcos,” said Kenneth Moore, spokesman for the Yes on B campaign.

The project, he argued, will preserve 1,200 acres of open space since there is already plenty of development nearby, building there doesn’t change the character of the land.

“We’re surrounded by existing development and existing homes,” Moore said. “Within a 3-mile radius of the project there are nearly 33,000 existing homes and when you go to a 5-mile radius of the project there are about 90,000 homes that are already built and existing.”

Newland Sierra says on its web page that the land will be developed one way or another. And they are making sure voters see their message. There are mailers, digital ads and television spots.

“Voting yes on B, the better choice measure, provides badly needed housing, affordable for San Diego County’s working families," suggests a feminine voice in a highly produced TV ad.

And ads like these cost money.

San Diego County's campaign disclosure documents show that Newland Sierra LLC is funding two committees supporting Measure B.

Newland put $5.6 million in one and about $2.4 million in another since the beginning of last year.

But the fight is not one-sided.

Residents opposed to the plan have a rich ally. Campaign disclosure documents show that Golden Door Properties, owners of an upscale spa near the proposed community, raised $3.3 million to convince voters the project is wrong for the region.

Measure B opponents are spending that money on digital and television ads.

“The cost of housing keeps going up and Measure B makes it worse. Measure B, the Newland Sierra project is a luxury development cooked up by developers who have given thousands in campaign contributions to local politicians,” said an announcer reading a No on B advertisement.

Golden Door Properties is footing most of the bill to fight Newland Sierra, but one anti-sprawl group has spent just under $3,000 on yard signs.

RELATED: Measure A Would Dramatically Change How Rural Land Is Developed In San Diego County

And the No on B camp said there are other locals in the fight.

“This is a community against a developer,” said Cliff Williams, a Newland Sierra opponent. “This is a community, also, that participated in a process where they were told that this land was not going to be developed in a significant way. And the county broke its promise. And allowed this development to go forward. And because they broke their promise, the people are taking back their right to put this on the ballot.”

Mailers and television advertising are stock vehicles for driving public opinion during public battles over an issue like this.

But, Heather Honea, chair of San Diego State University’s marketing department, said there is a shift underway. Honea said money spent on digital advertising is eclipsing the traditional ads as a way to reach voters.

“I think that trend will continue and to the degree that we get more and more granular information, there will be a lot of inefficiencies with this broadcast model of communication. I don’t think it's ever going to go away entirely because it is a mechanism to create basic awareness and I think we’re still going to see ad dollars spent there,” Honea said.

More money could still be spent in the battle over Measure B because there’s more time to make contributions before election day.

A yes vote on Measure B allows the development to move ahead. A no vote rejects the project.

Money Driving Debate Over San Diego County's Measure B
Listen to this story by Erik Anderson.