Members of Vote Yes and Vote No sides accuse each other of having vested interests in Carpinteria measure’s outcome
The election is over. The votes are in. The ballot counting is all but complete.
And a slim majority seems to have rejected Carpinteria’s controversial Measure T.
But the finger-pointing and accusations keep on coming from both sides of the debate over the ballot measure.
And this time the allegations, made in News-Press interviews at the end of the election campaign and afterward, go beyond trading charges of misleading the voters about the issues.
This time, each side says the other withheld information that would have revealed conflicts of interests or inconsistencies between public statements and private actions.
Vote Yes on Measure T supporters say measure opponents more than likely paid for their campaign mailers, ads and yard signs from money raised by a political action committee set up by the developers of the proposed Surfliner Inn — a boutique hotel that Measure T backers wanted to stop from being built downtown.
But Jason Rodriguez, a spokesman for Vote No side, said he has no knowledge of money coming from a PAC representing developers and stresses that the fundraising was done in a legal manner.
And members of the Vote No side insisted they did not want to sway or influence voters but only to “educate” them by providing accurate information about the ballot measure.
Meanwhile, Vote Yes spokeswoman Ann Sly said Mr. Rodriguez had a vested interest in defeating Measure T because if it is rejected and the city ends up approving the Surfliner Inn, Mr. Rodriguez, owner of The Food Liaison restaurant in Carpinteria, expects to receive the contract to provide food for hotel guests.
Mr. Rodriguez countered he hasn’t been promised a contract.
Mr. Rodriguez also said Marla Daily, one of the Vote Yes group’s founders, had a vested interest in passing Measure T in that she leases land from the city for a private garden — a parcel she would lose if the Surfliner Inn is approved because the developers want to use it for parking.
But Ms. Sly of the Vote Yes side said she doesn’t see that as a major conflict of interest.
To date, it looks like Measure T has been rejected by a slim majority of voters.
On Election Night, the margin was razor thin. The Vote No side was ahead by eight votes. The first post-election update increased their margin of victory to 72. The latest figures contained in the second post-election update added seven more votes so now they’re 79 votes ahead — 2,532 or 50.79 % to 2,453 or 49.21 %.
The vote count remains unofficial until the county certifies the results, which is expected to happen Dec. 8 at the latest. A third post-election update could be posted before then.
About 2,000 mail-in ballots still need to be counted or “cured” in case they’re damaged or lack a voter signature, an elections division staffer said Monday.
Mr. Rodriguez said Monday he personally is unaware of any PAC being used to raise money for Vote No campaign costs. “Lots of people donated money, but I don’t know where the money came from.”
He said the Vote Yes side has raised the PAC allegations a few times and has been asked to elaborate on them and they never do.
“The money we raised has been done legally and in the ways the law allows for campaigns to be done,” he said.
“It comes down to whether the information (provided by Vote Yes) was truthful and honest. We felt our job was education on what was being written (versus) what was being said. My position was to show the community as a reputable name and trust my involvement in representing our side, which was to not let Vote Yes pull the wool over the city’s eyes.”
But Ms. Sly said it’s obvious the developers were involved actively in working to stop Measure T.
“If Measure T passed, then the zoning on Lot 3 would be changed, and that would preclude the Surfliner Inn from being built,” she said.
The only reason a campaign forms a PAC is to raise money to help their side win, she said. “We’re all trying to influence people to vote the way we want them to vote.
“Who contributed to it I don’t know, but the assumption is that the developers would have. That makes common sense to me. I’m sure they did everything legally they could to collect money.
“Who else would have paid for three double-sided, multi-colored glossy mailers? Each one of these mailings cost several thousands of dollars. Yard signs are expensive. The ads are expensive. All of that costs money. They formed the PAC so that they could fund the money.”
Regarding Ms. Daily’s lease, Ms. Sly said she does not view her colleague’s involvement in the Vote Yes campaign as a conflict of interest.
“I don’t see it as a big deal,” she said. “If that was her motivation to get involved, so be it. It’s not a major conflict of interest. Jason will get the contract to do food at the hotel. If he stands to benefit financially, that’s a big conflict of interest. She’s not benefiting financially. She stands to benefit from keeping her garden plot. I don’t see those things as the same.”
Mr. Rodriguez, however, flatly rejected Ms. Sly’s assertion that he has been promised the hotel’s food contract if the hotel project comes to fruition.
“If there’s a promise or a contract for me to occupy the restaurant space, then I’m not aware of it,” he said.
At this point, he noted, the hotel is strictly a concept on paper and nothing more.
“Nothing exists legally right now,” he said. “I don’t bet on something that doesn’t exist. Today’s a long day, and getting through it can be quite difficult, let alone tomorrow. Why would I commit to something for a contract that might be five to 10 years from now? That makes no business sense at all.”
The debate over Measure T wasn’t always about trading accusations.
Early in their campaign, the Vote Yes group said it was organizing to stop the hotel to prevent downtown private commercial development on public property, maintain the “small town” feel and charm of Carpinteria’s downtown and prevent the uprooting of the Community Garden, which sits adjacent to Parking Lot 3, the designated hotel site.
The Vote No side surfaced later. The opponents of Measure T quickly focused on their main issue: that land-use decisions should be made by the Carpinteria City Council following the usual review process and adhering to the city’s General Plan. They objected to residents making those decisions instead by resorting to ballot initiatives.
Then came allegations that the “other side” was misleading voters.
For example, the Vote No group said passing Measure T, which would change Parking Lot 3’s zoning to open space/recreation, would open that lot and all other city lots zoned the same to high-density residential development.
Ms. Sly denied this, saying Measure T was only about stopping the hotel from being built. If approved and someone wants to put housing on Parking Lot 3, they would only be allowed to build one. And all the other open space lots in the city lack a housing overlay and wouldn’t be affected, she said.
Measure T opponents also insisted that the developers changed the hotel’s design so that the Community Garden would be spared, but Vote Yes supporters noted no such changes have been filed with the city.
One of them was Marla Daily.
“In last-ditch efforts to salvage their hotel project, the developers are now alleging they will leave the Community Garden alone,” she wrote in an Oct. 20 letter to the editor in the local weekly newspaper. “Talk is cheap and completely unsupported in planning documents on file.
“We need our Parking Lot 3; we want our Community Garden and we cherish our legally designated open space south of the tracks and the meandering trail it will provide through the downtown beach neighborhood. A yes on T vote is a no to the Inn.”
The second lot eyed by the developers — the one Ms. Daily leases from the city — sits on the south side of the tracks at 399 Linden Ave.
Her original lease was signed in March 2004 between then-owner Union Pacific Railroad and Uppo’s Garden, LLC, which Ms. Daily signed as director.
After the city purchased the lot from Union Pacific in December 2013, it renegotiated the lease, changed it from year to year to month to month, and charged her $150/month.
The lease between the city and Uppo’s Garden was signed May 6, 2014. The city later raised her rent to $172.84/month.
City staff told the Carpinteria City Council in an Oct. 11, 2021 report that Uppo’s Gardens uses the fenced lot at 399 Linden Ave., known as Lot No. 4, for hobby gardening, although the group can also keep animals there. The lot includes 15,750 square feet, and measures 45 feet wide and 350 feet long.
The property is mostly unimproved, although staff noted in its report that there had been some unauthorized amenities, including fencing, a storage shed and a horseshoe pit.
The city has used the lot from time to time — special event parking to support the July 2019 regional junior lifeguard championships and an October 2019 public festival to promote environmental sustainability. But staff reportedly also has been busy “doing planning work for various improvements including a public parking lot, public restroom location and a multi-use trail connection as part of the public improvements associated with the Surfliner Inn project.”
The Vote No people say Ms. Daily, president of the Santa Cruz Island Foundation, was aware of this and helped launch the drive to put Measure T on the ballot to stop the developers from building their hotel and seizing her lot.
What’s unclear is how many Carpinterians outside of city officials and staff knew that Ms. Daily leases the lot when she campaigned for Measure T without mentioning her involvement with the property.
Mr. Rodriguez told the News-Press that the opposition has misled voters.
“I show an undecided voter the measure (with ‘hotel’ nowhere in the text), and then I show the voter the way the opposition has been promoting the measure on yard signs (‘no hotel’ are pretty much the only words they use). The educated voter who knows better very quickly connects the dots and then starts asking who is the special interest behind Measure T?
“In fact, the Yes on T argument ‘keep our public property available to the public’ doesn’t ring true when one of the people behind Measure T, Marla Daily’s own behavior doesn’t conform.”
Mr. Rodriguez said Ms. Daily leases Lot No. 4 from the city of Carpinteria for $150 a month and has it fenced off for her personal use.
In response, Ms. Sly said she believes Mr. Rodriguez “has gotten a little carried away, and is making a mountain out of a molehill.
“Marla has been leasing land from the city for a long time and uses it for gardening. She clearly wants it, and the city is happy to do it. Nobody ever cared. It’s never been an issue for anybody.
“If the hotel is built, she would lose her garden plot, but it’s not the end of the world,” she said. “It would affect her life, but it’s not hugely disappointing. It’s inconvenient, but it won’t cause her to sell her property and move.”
Ms. Sly said the Vote Yes side became involved because the Measure T supporters don’t want private development on public land. “A hotel does not fit in the character of Carpinteria. We absolutely don’t think it should be built.”