Developers attempting to bypass Mendocino County?s planning process by taking their shopping center project to voters in the Nov. 3 election have outspent their grassroots opponents almost 10-1.
Ohio-based Developers Diversified Realty and Texas developer David Berndt have spent $724,600 on a campaign to gain voter approval to construct up to 800,000 square feet of commercial buildings on 80 acres just north of Ukiah. It would be the county?s largest commercial development.
They?ve contributed $800,000 toward the effort, according to campaign finance reports submitted last week.
Their local opponents ? Save Our Local Economy ? had spent $75,124 to defeat Measure A, according to campaign finance reports. They?d raised $91,815.
Brian Sobel, a spokesman for the proposed project ? dubbed Mendocino Crossings ? said the campaign isn?t paying attention to its opponents? expenditures.
?Our goal is to get to each voter and give them information,? he said.
The opponents are concerned about the expenditure imbalance, but note that corporations have previously attempted to sway Mendocino County voters and failed. The most recent example is a 2004 campaign by agribusiness companies that failed to defeat a ballot measure banning genetically modified organisms in the county.
?They?ve spent the dough and it might impress some people,? said Potter Valley farmer and winemaker Guinness McFadden. But ?I think most people are seeing through it.?
Both sides have numerous reasons their side should win and there has been much mudslinging as Election Day approaches.
But at the center of the debate is whether the county?s economic destiny should be decided through the ballot box or the traditional planning process.
Measure A would rezone the former Masonite wood-products plant from industrial to mixed-use and force the county to accept the developers? building plan, which is fluid. While the proposal includes big and small stores, restaurants and residences, what actually gets built depends on market forces, the developers admit.
Proponents say it would give the county a much needed economic boost and provide jobs.
Opponents say the project may be nothing more than a big-box shopping center that provides low-paying jobs. They?re hoping to attract better-paying industrial-based jobs to the location.
Unlike most development projects that wind up on ballots, Mendocino Crossings has yet to go through the county planning process.
The developers say they went directly to voters because the county?s process is slow and flawed and their project had little chance of being approved under the current board of supervisors.
Opponents say it?s a bad project that would not have passed planning muster. If approved by voters, it would be built without county, public or environmental review.
As the two sides continue to spar, voters are casting ballots.
About 11,000 absentee ballots ? accounting for almost a third of the county?s registered voters ? have arrived at the county?s elections office, said County Clerk-Recorder Sue Ranochak. More than 70 percent of Mendocino County?s 35,920 registered voters vote by mail.
The number of ballots cast for the Nov. 3 election already exceeds the number cast during the last election devoted primarily to schools and special district elections, Ranochak said.
?There seems to be more interest in this election. I?m going to assume it?s because of Measure A,? she said.