Almanac

News - October 13, 2010

Ballot measure campaigns better funded than candidates

by Sandy Brundage

Measure T, the ballot measure that would allow the Bohannon Menlo Gateway complex to be built, has a supporter with deep pockets, possibly to the envy of the six candidates running for Menlo Park City Council.

According to the finance report for the "2010 Citizens Committee for Menlo Gateway, Yes on Measure T," David Bohannon has sunk $150,000 into getting the measure passed — more than 10 times as much money as any council candidate has raised on her or his campaign.

Mailers, volunteers, public relations, and $25,225 telephone polls are expensive, even when the polls indicate 68 percent of the 400 people surveyed would probably vote in favor of Measure T. Another $48,064 in bills remain outstanding.

Mr. Bohannon plans to build Gateway, a roughly 950,000-square-foot hotel and office complex, on 16 acres located east of U.S. 101 that span Independence Drive and Constitution Drive.

The opposition, "Measured Growth for Menlo Park" (also known as "No on Measure T") is running a less costly campaign. Of the $4,050 donated by people including David Speer, Andy Cohen, and Paul Collacchi, less than half has been spent — $1,262 for pamphlets, copies, and postage. That leaves a couple thousand dollars still in the piggy bank.

Pension reform

The financing of the opposition to Measure L, the pension reform initiative, remains murky. The initiative seeks to raise the minimum retirement age for new public employees, excluding police officers, by five years to 60, and also decrease their maximum pension benefits by 0.7 percentage points to 2 percent of their highest annual salary averaged over three years

The "No on Measure L" website reveals no names, although Councilmember Kelly Fergusson and former mayor Gail Slocum have publicly decried the measure. Two local unions, which lost a lawsuit in August to keep the measure off the ballot, likely funded a citywide telephone poll conducted in September that attempted to discredit Measure L. So The Almanac asked the Service Employees International Union Local 521 (SEIU) for a copy of the "No on Measure L" committee's Form 460 finance report.

"We don't have a 460 available because our committee didn't incur any expenses before October," said Jerry Jimenez, communications specialist for SEIU. "Our committee was formed October 1, which was the cutoff for the filing period. Our next 460 form will be filed when due on October 21."

On the other hand, the "Yes on Measure L" crowd got a jump on the competition by forming an official committee in February. Its latest finance report shows $23,994 in contributions since then. Council candidates Chuck Bernstein and Russell Peterson each donated $100. Local certified public accountant James Benzel gave $2,500, as did banker Colin Stewart.

Those screaming yellow "Yes on Measure L" signs spattered across Menlo Park yards cost the committee $2,750. But the biggest expense by far was the cost of defending the ballot measure against the unions' lawsuit — $8,450. Those convinced Measure L will face a post-election legal challenge if it passes may be consoled by the $6,100 remaining in the committee's bank account that could go toward a second court fight.

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