By Roberta Millstein
In his most recent apologia for the Yes on Measure H campaign, David Greenwald suggests that it is inevitable that developers will spend “exorbitant amounts of money” to promote their projects.
But nothing forced the Yes on Measure H campaign, led by “Honorary Chair” Councilmember Dan Carson, to outspend the No on Measure H campaign by more than 14-1, as Alan Pryor reported.
In 2020, the Yes campaign spent around $323,000 to promote the DISC project. Let’s consider how the developers might have reacted to that loss. They might have talked to voters to find out what, in their eyes, would make for a project that was better for Davis and modified the project accordingly.
Instead, they polled Davisites to find out what would “sell” to voters and rushed a virtually unchanged project to voters (just cut in half) only a year and a half later. Apparently, voters like parks, greenbelts, environmental sustainability, and affordable housing, so those are the features that they poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into highlighting, even though these aspects were at best incidental to the project and at worse deceptive. The graphic of the stand-up paddleboarder was perhaps the most egregious example of this.
And they dumped in almost three times the amount of the previous campaign – a campaign that had itself had spent large sums of money – in order to sell the project. That includes over $200,000 on a heavy-handed free-speech-squelching developer-funded lawsuit, which, bizarrely, Greenwald says is not a campaign expenditure issue.
Greenwald implies that “no” campaigns have a built-in monetary advantage – they can, he says, use “volunteer precinct walkers and canvassers” and “do their own in-house mailers or drop pieces, they can print off their home computer and copy it at Copyland or FedEx office and get away with it.”
So, let me get this straight. Not having money is a huge campaign advantage. Got it.
Here’s the thing: nothing is stopping developer-led campaigns from having unpaid volunteers (these need not be students, as Greenwald suggests) who are willing to dedicate their time and skills to crafting a message, walking precincts, talking with folks at the Farmers Market, spreading the word on social media, etc. Nothing. Nothing, that is, except for an apparent lack of enthusiasm about the project.
Perhaps there is an expectation that mailers and ads look a bit more “slick” from the developers, but it is just as likely that the slickness backfires. Davis voters are smart and they know when they are being sold a bill of goods.
And they know when someone is trying to buy their vote: as Pryor documents, $136.27 for every "Yes" vote. They know that that doesn’t pass the sniff test, and they get suspicious.
The bottom line is that the campaign was mismanaged, not just in terms of its tactics, but also in terms of its finances. Voters in District 1 who think that one of Dan Carson’s strengths is his financial acumen should take note.