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The Riehl World: Follow the Money in Carlsbad’s Pay to Play Politics

By Richard Riehl

Carlsbad voters who wonder why their elected officials unanimously supported an L.A. developer’s failed attempt to bring a shopping mall to the city’s Agua Hedionda Lagoon last year may find an answer in the August 1 Financial Disclosure Statements filed by incumbent city council candidates Keith Blackburn and Lorraine Wood. Follow the money they’ve already raised this year, combined with their 2012 campaign stashes, to see why city leaders get along so well with developers.

There’s a lot of overlap in the special interest groups supporting Blackburn and Wood. Topping the list is one of the few local residents with a financial interest in winning the favor of council members, James Ukegawa. He’s the owner of the Carlsbad Strawberry Company. Other than the billionaire developer, he’s also the single individual who had the most to gain from the lagoon mall project.

Ukegawa contributed $9,260 to the 2014 re-election campaigns of Mayor Matt Hall and Councilmember Michael Schumacher. He’s added $1,500 in gifts so far this year to the Blackburn/Wood combo. I’m guessing he’s eager to see a return on his two-year investment in sitting city council members.

The other special interest groups supporting both candidates include:

Joseph Charest, Vice President of Katz and Associates, the San Diego public affairs consulting firm hired by the city to help build a consensus on public participation through community interviews, surveys and outreach materials. The paid consultant served on the Envision Carlsbad Phase 1 team;

Mike Howes, of Howes, Weiler and Associates, a Carlsbad land use planning/consulting firm hired by the city to review developer Rick Caruso’s 85/15 Plan (aka the Lagoon mall project), producing the city’s debunked 9212 Report. Howes served on the 2009 Envision Carlsbad Citizen’s Committee. Among the firm’s other clients and projects are the Robertson Ranch Master Plan, the Shopoff Group, and the Gunther Guns indoor shooting range;

Planning Systems Carlsbad lists among its clients and projects the Agua Hedionda Retail Specific Plan, City of Carlsbad Environmental Processing and Monitoring (2012 – 2015), and preparation of Robertson Ranch and Quarry Creek Master Plan documents for city permits (2011-2015);

Gromet and Associates, the Irvine attorneys representing Shopoff  Realty Investments in the purchase of 50 acres for a planned Ponto Beachfront project, to include 76  luxury townhomes, 42 townhome lofts and 73 apartment homes, and 50,000 square feet for commercial and public space;

ConAm Apartment Management, a San Diego corporate donor of special importance to Keith Blackburn. On his Statement of Economic Interests (SEI) Form 700, filed on February 19, 2016, Blackburn checked the box reporting his gross income last year from his investment partnership with ConAm Tradition Homes exceeded $100,000;

Carlsbad Research Center Association (a client of Meissner Jacquet, a San Diego commercial and property real estate management firm);

Techbilt Construction Corporation, San Diego;

Evan Gerber, Gerber Group, LaJolla restaurant developer;

Wave Crest Hotels and Resorts, Encinitas;

Shea Homes, Encinitas and Vista.

Wood received separate donations from:

Ocean Park Estates, LLC, Irvine, CA;

Holly Springs LLC, San Marcos;

Tim Stripe, Rancho Santa Fe, Corporate Executive Grand Pacific Resorts.

Blackburn received a separate donation of $3,000 from the California Real Estate Political Action Group based in Los Angeles.

With friends like these is it any wonder Blackburn and Wood were eager to join Mayor Matt Hall, Michael Schumacher and Mark Packard last year in their unanimous support of Measure A, despite the strong opposition of the majority of their constituents, who had to launch a referendum drive to force a vote to defeat the Council’s pet project?

And is there any question about how council members Blackburn and Wood would vote on future issues of interest to donors to their campaigns, like land use and open space, growth management, the Ponto beachfront, and the Village and Barrio plans?

From January 1 to June 30 this year the two raised $29,675 between them. A total of $13,300, or about 45 cents of every dollar, came from special interests, predominantly from out of town.

Blackburn had a cash balance of $122,000 left over from his 2012 campaign to add to the $13,330 he’s raised so far this year. Wood had a $12,000 nest egg to add to her $16,345 in fundraising this year.

It appears Carlsbad’s pay to play politics is now a job market for lobbyists and candidates, where those without deep pockets need not apply.


Richard J. Riehl is a Carlsbad, California resident, retired university administrator, and award-winning columnist for the former daily newspaper, the North County Times.
Richard writes a blog titled The Riehl World
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