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The Riehl World: Will 2018 Election Curb Carlsbad Cronyism?

By Richard Riehl

There’s a sign that “times they are a-changin” in North County’s little Village by the Sea after Cori Schumacher was elected to the Carlsbad City Council in November. A leading activist in the successful campaign to stop a billionaire LA developer from despoiling the natural beauty of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon, Schumacher has already established a new model for a council member’s responsibilities.

In the absence of a job description, Schumacher has written her own. Her newsletter to constituents within days of each meeting describes the issues that were up for a vote, gives background from her research on each, and explains her support or opposition. She hosts town hall meetings to invite feedback on the issues, as well as her decisions. You can subscribe here: https://www.facebook.com/CoriSchumacherforCarlsbadCityCouncil/

It’s not too early for voters to begin thinking about the three open positions for the 2018 election. In January Mayor Matt Hall and councilmember Michael Schumacher (no relation to Cori) filed forms with the city clerk, announcing their 2018 campaign fund. The mayor has $50,000 left over from his 2014 campaign. Schumacher has a balance of $13,000. Mark Packard has not yet filed, but has $8,000 left unspent.

Since we only get brief comments on their positions on the issues at council meetings, it often appears they either didn’t do their homework, are going along to get along, or are simply reflecting the wishes of their most generous campaign supporters.

Take Mayor Hall, for example. He assured Carlsbad residents that he had carefully considered Rick Caruso’s plan for developing the Agua Hedionda Lagoon property before giving it his full support, accusing opponents of being outside agitators. After voters stopped the project he admitted he had not read the plan carefully enough.

And here’s what we learned from a newspaper article a year earlier, (“Carlsbad begins analysis of strawberry fields,” Phil Diehl, San Diego Union Tribune, May 31, 2015). “Carlsbad Mayor Matt Hall said last week he hadn’t seen enough information yet to take a position for or against the project, but he likes the way the developer has worked to gain residents’ support.”

Developer Rick Caruso’s representative, Janette Littler, boasted, “We also continue to meet with Carlsbad residents to listen to their wishes and input several times a week through community meetings, bus tours to The Grove, at-home coffee discussions, and various other ways.”

It came as no surprise to Mayor Hall that Caruso’s representative was so good at her job. Hall had paid her, the President and CEO of Callidus Consulting Group of San Diego, a total of $13,000 in consulting fees, $4,000 of which was a “Victory Bonus,” for his successful 2014 election campaign.

So much for the mayor’s claim of an unbiased consideration of a plan being put forward by his campaign consultant’s employer.

A review of the mayor’s 2014 election campaign contributions raises more questions about the transparency of his decision making.

Hall received a total of $78,000 in contributions, including a non-monetary donation of $20,000 from Russell Grosse, a real estate developer who funded a “Celebrate Carlsbad Party and Fundraiser” for the candidate.

Six members of the Feuerstein family, their occupations each listed as “Principal: Mesa Centers,” in Newport Beach, LaJolla, and San Diego, contributed $200 each to Hall’s campaign. That’s not a lot of money, but curiosity about the mayor’s connection with this organization, located in three cities outside of Carlsbad, prompted an Internet search.

My first hits on “Mesa Centers” led me to private schools and a senior center. Were the Feuerstein’s a family of school principals? Looking further I discovered the “Mira Mesa Shopping Centers.” Was the mayor working with another out-of-town developer on a bid to add another Carlsbad shopping center?

Then I found the “Mira Mesa Shopping Center LLC,” a real estate and development firm in Newport Beach that listed four Feuerstein’s as “members.”

Finally, I came across a July 2, 1993 LA Times story with the headline, “Developer Fined for Illegal Campaign Funding,” by Eric Bailey.

The development company was owned by one of Hall’s campaign donors, Arnold D. Feuerstein. The California Fair Political Practices Commission fined him $10,000 for laundering campaign contributions to a variety of candidates in city, county and statewide races. Feuerstein denied the charges, claiming, “some temporary help misapplied a reimbursement.”

Maybe the Feuerstein’s are simply family friends of the mayor’s but the mysterious way they are listed in his campaign funding statement raises questions about the extent of their influence on this elected official.

Half of Mayor Hall’s total of $78,000 in monetary and in-kind support for his 2014 campaign came from just seven individuals.

Corporate executives of Grand Pacific Resorts: Tim Stripe, David Brown and Tim Schinkel kicked in a total of $3,400. James Ukegawa, owner of the Strawberry Fields, listed by Hall only as a “farmer,” was good for $5,000. Chuck Smith, founder and CEO of PayPros, and his wife Maryanne, each contributed $5,000. Russell Grosse, the Real Estate Developer who hosted the $20,000 fundraiser,” brought Hall’s total financial support from the Deep Pocket Seven to $38,400.

In her most recent newsletter, Cori Schumacher raised the question of cronyism in city Council appointments to commissions. This followed concerns expressed by her constituents about Mayor Hall’s appointment of Lisa Rodman, an outspoken supporter of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon property development plan (featured in TV commercials for the mall project), and a High-Noon Rotarian, to the Carlsbad Planning Commission.

Schumacher points to the city municipal code requiring planning commission members to be appointed by a majority of the city Council, unlike appointments to other commissions, which only require a mayoral appointment to be made with the concurrence of the Council. She goes on to say, “Carlsbad’s High-Noon Rotary is largely acknowledged as the central, local institution for Carlsbad’s power elite, Carlsbad’s “in-crowd.”

Schumacher points out there were 10 applicants for the Planning Commission appointment, but none, other than Rodman, the mayor’s choice, were seriously considered. “I have requested Council examine our lack of a nomination process in an upcoming agenda. This should be done before we fill the next position on the Historic Preservation Commission.”

Cori Schumacher is working hard to eliminate cronyism by bringing more transparency to Carlsbad’s elected leadership. But for that to happen voters will need to make the right decisions in the 2018 election.


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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