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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Money Driving Debate Over San Diego County's Measure B

 February 24, 2020 at 10:20 AM PST

Speaker 1: 00:01 Measure B is the most expensive battle in San Diego County. Over an initiative on the March ballot with more than $11 million in the fight. KPBS reporter Eric Anderson says the measure asks County voters to support the construction of a major North County housing development along interstate 15 Speaker 2: 00:21 a developer for the Newland Sierra housing project in the North County is spending millions to get voter approval to build 2100 homes, schools, retail space, hiking and bike trails. Newland, Sierra, once voters to back San Diego County supervisors who approved the project two years ago. Opponents disagreed and pushed for a countywide vote and that's why measure B is on the ballot, but Newland Sierra argues the supervisors were right to okay the project North of Escondido Speaker 3: 00:49 voting yes on measure B creates a community that is a smart plant community. We're located less than a mile from infrastructure in the major cities. I'm in North San Diego County. That includes Vista, Escondido San Marcos. Speaker 2: 01:01 Yes. On measure B campaign spokesman Kenneth Morris says the project will preserve 1200 acres of open space. He says there's already plenty of development nearby. So building here doesn't change the character of the land. Speaker 3: 01:13 We're surrounded by existing development and existing homes. Within a three mile radius of the project, there's nearly 33,000 existing homes and when you go to a five mile radius of the project, there's about 90,000 homes that are already built. An existing Speaker 2: 01:27 and Newland Sierra is making sure voters see their message saying this land is going to be developed one way or the other. There are mailers, digital ads and television spots. Speaker 4: 01:38 Voting yes on be the better choice. Measure provides badly needed housing, affordable for San Diego counties, working family. Speaker 2: 01:45 Those ads cost money. San Diego County campaign finance disclosure documents show that Newland Sierra L L C is funding two committees supporting measure B. Newland put five point $6 million in one and about 2.4 million in another since the beginning of last year. The more than $8 million is fueling the ad campaigns. Speaker 4: 02:08 Voting no on B leaves. Unmaintained land vulnerable to wildfires and no new money for fire prevention. Speaker 2: 02:15 But the fight is not one sided resident's opposed to the plan. Have a rich ally campaign documents show that golden door properties owners have an upscale spa near the proposed community, raised three point $3 million to convince voters the project is wrong for the region. Measure B opponents are also spending on television and digital ads. Speaker 5: 02:36 The cost of housing keeps going up and measure B would make it worse. Measure B, the Newland Sierra project is a luxury development indoor Speaker 2: 02:45 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. The no one B camp says there are other locals in the fight as well. This a community against Speaker 6: 03:00 a developer, cliff Williams. Speaker 2: 03:01 This is a Newland Sierra opponent. Speaker 6: 03:03 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 I allowed this development to go forward. And so because they broke their promise, the people are taking back their right to put this on. The ballot. Speaker 2: 03:26 Mailers and television advertising are stock vehicles for driving public opinion. But the chair of the San Diego state university marketing department says there's a shift underway. Heather ho ne says, money spent on digital advertising is eclipsing the traditional ads as a way to reach voters. Speaker 7: 03:42 I think that trend will continue and to the degree that we get more and more granular information, there'll be a lot of inefficiencies. What's kind of 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'll still continue to see ad dollar spent there. Speaker 2: 04:03 Even more money could be sunk into the battle for measure B because there's more time between now and election day to make contributions a yes vote on measure B allows the development to move ahead. A no vote rejects the project. Eric Anderson KPBS news Speaker 1: 04:20 joining me is KPBS environment reporter Eric Anderson. Welcome Eric. My pleasure. Now in their ad supporters of this measure, say about two thirds of the homes in this new development will be affordable to working families the no on. Besides says two thirds of the homes will require a six figure income to afford. They both can't be right. Can they, Speaker 2: 04:42 I suppose they couldn't both be right. Could they, um, these are talking points. I think that the two campaigns are, are trying to make about their issue in their bids to get support. I think the facts on the ground will make the determination if the project gets approved and the houses start to get built, then you'll be able to see where the affordability index is until that happens. I think it's really hard to tell. Speaker 1: 05:08 You say developers are spending about 8 million in advertising to support measure B. Is that a lot less than they expect to make if the development is approved by voters? Speaker 2: 05:18 Well, there's no question that if this development does get built it, it carries with it, you know, it's going to be $1 billion project, a multibillion dollar project possibly. Uh, it's a very large project. There's a lot of money at stake. Um, certainly you understand why the interest is there for Newland Sierra LLC to go ahead and get this project approved. There is a potential to make a lot of money building these homes and, and the amenities, uh, in this area. Again though I think that the interesting thing here is the fact that the voters actually get a chance to weigh in on an issue that they've never had a chance to weigh in on before. There has been an instance in San Diego County where the supervisors have approved a housing development and that approval got challenged by the voters. And this is the first case like that. What about the golden door spa spending 3 million on the other side, the measure B ads, say the spa is doing it because they don't want neighbors. Speaker 2: 06:17 What reason does the golden door give for spending all that money? I think that's actually a fair assessment. You know, they're not interested in having all that additional traffic. They're not interested in having a, all that construction. Uh, they have a spa in that area that has been there for some time. And so yeah, I don't think that they are, I think it's a fair, fair assessment to say that they're not interested in having a all this activity and all these extra people in their immediate vicinity. It might hurt their product and that's why, uh, you see them bank rolling the opposition to measure B. The thing to understand though is in fairness, it's not just the golden spa, although they're pro providing the bulk of the financial support. There are other community members that are in that area that worry, uh, about what's going to happen if this project is approved. Speaker 2: 07:07 Tell us more about your conversation with SDSU marketing professor Heather ho ne in addition to the TV and radio ads, where else is this measure be battle playing out? Of course there are a very visible television ads. There are mailers that are going out that's kind of like the traditional one two punch for political campaign. But there are also a lot of digital ads out there. And I T was asking her why she thought that was the case. And I think it's a matter that those ads can be targeted much more specifically than you could hope to do with a broadcast ad or even a mailer ad that relies on a zip code. You can know so much more about the person you're trying to reach and what might influence them through digital ads. And I think that's why you're seeing this national shift in funding away from some of the traditional political tools like broadcast, like mailers to this more specific digital tool. Speaker 2: 08:03 Has there been any polling done on measure B? Um, there has and I think, uh, some of the polling that was done by, uh, 10 TV shows that, you know, the measure was behind about a month ago. But the interesting thing about that poll I think is the fact that 45% of the people were undecided. So there was still a lot of decision to be made even though it was running 10 points behind. Among those who had decided 45% is a pretty big chunk of undecided voters. And I think that's why you see some of the, the media response. That's why the ads are out there trying to convince voters to back one side or the other. And I know on Bay is a no for the project itself. A no on B basically says to the County supervisors, no we don't agree this project should not be approved and it will be rejected. Speaker 2: 08:47 A yes on measure B essentially says, yes, it's fine. Go ahead and build Newland Sierra with the designs that you have, what volume of advertising on this issue do you think we should expect to see in the final week before the election? I think what you'll see is very much what you've seen up to this point now. There is the possibility that um, if one side feels like they're close and they might just need an ad or two more, that we could see some additional money put into the plan, uh, into the campaign in the next week or so. But much of the media buy and the chance to gain impressions or, or change minds as has already been in the works and it's already kind of been there and this issue will be decided in next week's primary. It's not going on to November, right? That's correct. Hey, I've been speaking with KPBS environment reporter Eric Anderson. Eric, thanks. My pleasure. Speaker 8: 09:46 [inaudible].

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The battle over a North County housing development called Newland Sierra is attracting big money ahead of San Diego County's election day.
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