Marin County ballot measure campaigns heat up

Measure D – San Geronimo Valley Golf Course

A long-running disagreement over the fate of a former Marin County golf course is going in front of voters in the ballot box on March 3.

According to the County Counsel’s summary, Measure D would require that “prior to the County approving any change in use for the property formerly operated as the San Geronimo Golf Course, the County must undertake certain studies regarding the proposed change of use, and the proposed change must be approved by a majority vote of the electorate of Marin County.”

At issue is the sale of the San Geronimo Golf Course to the Trust for Public Land, a San Francisco-based nonprofit. After the sale, a group called the San Geronimo Advocates sued the county over the deal. The same group gathered signatures to put the issue on the ballot.

According to a report in the Marin Independent Journal, the supporters and opponents of the ballot measure disagree on basic facts. 

“In 2018, with no public disclosure, County officials developed a backroom deal with Trust for Public Land, a private corporation. TPL would purchase the property, and then Marin County would use taxpayer funds to buy out TPL and change the use,” an argument in support of the measure alleges.

But Brendan Moriarty, a project manager at the Trust For Public Land, told the Independent Journal that there is “no chance” the group will attempt to sell the land back to the county due to a legal agreement reached with the county and the San Geronimo Advocates last April.

In any event, the trust does have some interest in the outcome. County election filings show that the “no campaign’s largest backer is the California Trust for Public Land Action Fund. As of Feb. 15, the group had contributed $47,679.61 in cash and staff time to the cause.

Campaign committees tied to Marin County Supervisors Katie Rice and Dennis Rodoni contributed $5,500 and $5,000 respectively to the “no” campaign.

As of Feb. 15, the ‘no’ campaign had spent $86,916.49 on its campaign. The “yes” campaign had spent $35,854.

Measure I – SMART Ballot Measure

Spending on Measure I, an item on the ballot in Sonoma and Marin counties, to extend a quarter-cent sales tax from 2029 to 2059 has continued to balloon as the March 3 election approaches.

With consecutive waves of voter mailers, radio reads and Facebook advertisements from both sides inundating North Bay residents, money in support of the ‘no’ campaign is approaching $1.7 million, while money gathered in support of the measure is $1.2 million and change, according to news reports.

In some ways, the campaign has become a war of the media. The editorial board of the Marin Independent Journal opposes Measure I, while the Santa Rosa Press Democrat’s editorial board supports it.

And, last week, the ‘no’ campaign, funded almost entirely by Molly Gallaher Flater, a 35-year-old business executive at Sonoma County’s Gallaher Homes and Poppy Bank, shipped mailers to North Bay voters calling into question the impartiality of the Press Democrat’s editorial board.

For those who don’t know, Darius Anderson is an investor in the Press Democrat’s parent company, Sonoma Media Investments, and owner of Platinum Advisors, a prominent Sacramento lobbying firm.

In 2015, SMART hired Platinum Advisors to lobby for the agency’s interests in the state capitol. The rail agency paid Platinum Advisors $590,000 for its services through Feb. 1, according to records from the California Secretary of State’s office.

The Flater-funded fliers, emblazoned with the flashy headline “A Serious Conflict of Interest?”, reached mailboxes last week. The document states in part that “It appears that neither SMART nor Sonoma Media Investments, which owns the Press Democrat, have disclosed this relationship [between Anderson and SMART] to the public.” 

Apparently, Press Democrat readers took notice of the mailer. On Feb. 20, a few days after the mailers arrived, the Press Democrat’s editorial board ran an article responding to the allegations laid out in the mailer.

“Some of our readers are asking about a scurrilous flier that implies a connection between The Press Democrat’s endorsement of Measure I, the SMART rail sales tax extension on the March 3 ballot, and other business interests of one of the paper’s owners,” the editorial states in part. “There is no connection.”

The editorial later acknowledges that the board “probably” should have mentioned that Anderson’s firm lobbies for SMART in their Feb. 2 endorsement of Measure I, but stops short of the next step: enacting a similar disclosure policy for the paper’s reported content.

The generally-accepted practice in the news business is laid out in the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics: “Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Disclose unavoidable conflicts.” 

The Press Democrat doesn’t disclose Anderson’s clients in its reported content—as shown in a Feb. 22 article about spending levels in the Measure I competition—or, until now, their editorials. 

Will Carruthers
Will Carruthers is a news reporter for the Pacific Sun and North Bay Bohemian. Email tips to [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @Carruthers_W.
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