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Things are getting ugly — and expensive — in Carmel Valley.
One Paseo, the $650 million mixed-use project, is quickly approaching its day before the City Council, and the shopping center across the street is throwing a lot of money around to make sure the project doesn’t happen.
The Del Mar Highlands Town Center, and the company that owns it, Donahue Schriber, has paid lobbyists to fight the project and given money to the local community group that opposes the project.
In the last six months of the year, it detonated a financial bomb.
Since July 2014, Donahue Schriber spent about $1.2 million against the project. That money went to lobbying efforts and to neighborhood group What Price Main Street. That’s almost four times the amount that it spent from the project’s inception in 2010 until July 2014 in six months.
That total is particularly shocking compared with how much One Paseo’s own developer, Kilroy Realty, has spent on the fight, which Kilroy spokesperson Rachel Laing estimated at $100,000 since October.
A lobbyist retained by Donahue Schriber, though, said Kilroy’s been able to suppress how much it’s really spent lobbying in favor of the project by writing them off as part of the application process, along with logistical cost like traffic studies and other technical analyses.
Of the anti-One Paseo money, about $800,000 came directly from Donahue Schriber, while over $425,000 was given to lobbyist Southwest Strategies and to the law firm Sheppard Mullin.
Up until October 2014, Donahue Schriber spent a total of $28,200 with Southwest Strategies to oppose One Paseo. Since October, it’s spent $237,000 with the high-powered lobbyist.
Donahue Schriber isn’t required to list the amount it gives to any one person or group, but documents show money has been spent lobbying almost every City Council member, and the company has also funded mailers and brochures for What Price Main Street?
Donahue Schriber backing What Price Main Street isn’t new: The group long ago acknowledged taking some money to pay for its website. Nonetheless, What Price Main Street? members have always said they retain control of the organization.
But this fall, the group decided if it was going to be painted as in the pocket of Donahue Schriber, it might as well play to win.
“Under the marketing juggernaut of Kilroy spending unlimited funds, it became clear that our grassroots organization could not stay in the fight alone,” Ken Farinsky, a member of What Price Main Street, wrote in an email. “We recently decided that if we were going to be accused regardless of what we did, we might as well work together to get our message out.”
Donahue Schiber’s contributions paid for newspaper ads, door-knocking campaigns in the neighborhood, anti-One Paseo mailers against the project, mass emails purporting to debunk particular facts about the project and a relaunch of the group’s website.
“I don’t believe that negates the fact that the (What Price Main Street) group is a grassroots organization founded and run by community members to fight for an appropriate development in Carmel Valley,” Farinsky wrote. “We’re still the same eight or 10 local community members running the show, and we still decide the message.”
Rachel Laing, spokeswoman for One Paseo developer Kilroy Realty, said the huge influx of money is a sign efforts to thwart the development aren’t “grassroots,” at all. They’re Astroturf. She says Donahue Schriber is trying to monopolize retail space in Carmel Valley.
“This notion that the whole community is in a panic about One Paseo, it’s manufactured,” Laing said.
Kilroy formed its own political action committee, “Citizens for a Business-Friendly San Diego” at the start of the New Year.
The City Council is set to vote on One Paseo Feb. 23.