Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Will Mendocino County be an Epicenter of Corporations vs. Local Citizens in 2009?

By Steve Scalmanini, Ukiah, California
One of the battles between corporations and local citizens is heating up in rural Mendocino County, CA, and will almost certainly come to a head on November 3rd of this year. That is when voters will decide whether to approve an initiative on the County-wide ballot to change the zoning of a former industrial plant site to mixed-use so a developer can build the County’s first large retail mall. The battle has been brewing since 2005 when real estate investment trust ("REIT") Developers Diversified Realty, Inc. ("DDR") of Beachwood, Ohio, purchased an industrial plant site that the Masonite Corporation had used for 50 years to make molded siding and doors from sawdust and resins, and which it closed in 2001. The plant is located just a quarter mile outside the City of Ukiah.

DDR's efforts in the ensuing years to have the zoning changed met with resistance from several local interests who want the site to remain zoned industrial for future industry, and who want to direct large chain-store retail development to the south end of the City of Ukiah, adjacent to the few other similar stores like Wal-Mart, Staples, Food 4 Less, and a few regional chain stores.

In last year’s election for the County Board of Supervisors, all three winning candidates were against the proposed zoning change. Likewise for the two candidates reelected to the Ukiah City Council. (Unopposed, actually.) So the developer was headed for defeat in their effort to get their desired zoning changed through normal government processes.

So DDR funded a petition circulation in April to garner enough signatures to qualify an initiative to change the zoning to their desired mixed-use. The campaign was the talk of the County as petition circulators from outside the County badgered the public outside groceries and other businesses more aggressively than anyone had ever seen before to sign the petition. Moreover, the pitches of the circulators were misleading to say the least – downright deceptive to many. The most commonly reported lie to gain signatures was that the petition was "to clean up the Masonite site", which of course appealed to many voters in this environmentally conscious County. But this is not true. The site is required by California State law to be cleaned up before it can be reused for any purpose. Some of the public questioned the circulators about this claim, and pried further into the true intent of the petition, which let to plenty of exchanged words. One of these even led to a fist-fight after which the circulator involved was served with a restraining order.

Within a few weeks their aggressive, deceptive signature gathering had garnered enough signatures to qualify the initiative for an election. On June 9th the County Elections Officer informed the Board of Supervisors that enough signatures were confirmed as valid to qualify the initiative for an election. For what it’s worth, the invalid signature rate was 19%.

Weeks after this invasion of the corporate-funded circulators I found a rational explanation for what they had been up to. The deceptive activities of corporate funded initiatives are explained at www.stopballotfraud.com. You’ll find there a list of the infamous companies that do the bidding of corporations to get initiatives on ballots for the benefit of those corporations. These include Arno consulting, the outfit hired by DDR to do the deed here in Mendocino County.

DDR has already funded their campaign with over $180,000, which is over $2 per voter, and the election is still five months away. If you want to see the latest version of what corporate America is throwing at the public to charm them into supporting sprawl, have a look at www.mendocinocountytomorrow.com and www.mendocinocrossings.com. If you wonder why the former of those two Websites doesn’t even mention the initiative, its "Links" page has no links, its "FAQ" page has no FAQ’s, and members are accepted only as "Recommended By", so do I. Yet their organization sponsored the petition drive. The latter Web site will show you the latest in green-washing a pig-in-a-poke.

The Web site for the "Home Team" defending our local community and economy, known as "Save Our Local Economy" ("SOLE"), is at www.nomegamall.com. Donations are welcome, of course; SOLE is up against big money. Look for an update on the campaigns in next month’s AfD E-Newsletter.

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