Pro-Burlingame the big spender this time around
Pro-Burlingame forces outspent their opponents by more than 2-to-1 in the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s election – a reversal of the cash outlay in August 2000, when the project’s opponents were the bigger spenders.Although final campaign contribution and spending reports won’t be filed for nearly another month, the pre-election reports that were due last Friday indicate the two issue committees dedicated to getting the annexation of land for Burlingame passed at the polls spent $41,459 on their cause.Opponents of the housing project, meanwhile, spent about $17,586 trying to defeat the annexation measure.In all, that’s close to $60,000 for a ballot measure that drew 2,280 votes. Spending on the Burlingame issue in this week’s election totaled about $25.79 for every vote cast on the annexation question.In 2000, the campaign cost $18.97 per vote. In that election, voters were asked to endorse a pre-annexation agreement between the city and the Zoline family, owners of the Bar/X Ranch, that set the groundwork for the planned 236 employee housing units at Burlingame.”I think clearly the stakes were very high for the community,” said Councilwoman Rachel Richards, who was active on the pro-Burlingame side. “It surprises me in one sense, but considering how high the stakes were, not so much.”The value of the volunteer time that was put into the campaign – on both sides – probably exceeded the spending, she added.”It’s a tremendous amount of money,” agreed Bert Myrin, a mayoral candidate who worked on the anti-Burlingame campaign. “I think what it represents, on this one, is what the other side had to lose.”For the Zolines, he contends, at stake was a deal for a multimillion-dollar, free-market development on their land.But Richards said Burlingame supporters were merely bracing for a formidably financed opposition campaign after Councilman Terry Paulson alluded last fall to a $100,000 war chest to fight the project at the polls.What was actually spent on legal fees for a pair of housing-related initiative petitions that Burlingame opponents began circulating last fall didn’t have to be reported as campaign spending, she noted. While the initiatives weren’t specifically focused on Burlingame, foes of the project used them as a platform to attack the project.The hotly contested project prevailed at the polls on Tuesday, when voters endorsed annexation of the Bar/X Ranch into the city, including about 21 acres that will become part of the housing site.The campaign coffersBy far the single biggest contributor to the pro-Burlingame side was the Zoline family, through the Bar/X LLC, which provided virtually all of the money that was spent by the Zoline Family Ranch Issue Committee – $32,416 as of last Friday’s report. The Zolines have plans to develop 12 luxury homes on their ranch as part of the overall development plan for the combined lands.What the family spent on the campaign was probably minuscule compared with what they have invested in planning and legal fees for their development, which also hinged on the outcome of Tuesday’s vote, Richards theorized. John Lifton, spokesman for the family, could not be reached for comment.Also pushing the passage of Burlingame was HOPE (Housing Our People Environmentally), which reported spending $9,043 on its campaign. Its biggest contributor was the Aspen Skiing Co., which provided $2,500 to the cause, the group’s reports show.Citizens for Smarter Housing and Responsible Planning spent $10,586 campaigning for the defeat of the Bar/X annexation question – more than $7,000 came from Starwood resident Anna Marie Dulaney, its reports show.”I just thought that land was worth protecting,” Dulaney said. “This land wasn’t really going to have anybody in its corner.”In addition, Burlingame foe Dwight Shellman estimated he spent some $7,000 of his personal funds on the campaign, though his expenditures do not have to be reported.He was not the only private individual spending money in the fight. For example, Aspen resident Bill Wiener ran “No to Burlingame” advertisements that he paid for personally.A full-page newspaper ad touting Dee Malone’s council candidacy, paid for by Patricia Nichols, was also critical of Burlingame.On the other side, Councilman Tim Semrau was financing pro-Burlingame messages in the pages of local papers.The spending for those sorts of individually financed ads don’t have to be reported on campaign-spending summaries, as citizens have a First Amendment right to make their opinions known on an election issue.For all the money spent, it was actually directed at a relatively small group of voters, Myrin reasoned. It was all about convincing the undecided voters, not the many individuals who were already in one camp or another.”I don’t know what the message is,” he said. “If you would ask me if your vote can be bought, I’d say ‘no.’ I think people vote what they think is the right thing.”I think the voters can figure things out,” Myrin said. “I think the money just helps get the message out.”Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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