Third district county supervisor candidate David Smyser recently received some criticism after it was announced that his campaign accepted large donations from companies linked to a New York land developer.
Smyser, a former mayor of Solvang, has garnered $76,000 in donations since January and currently leads the five-candidate race in campaign funding. He is followed closely by Doreen Farr whose campaign received $58,000 in contributions in the same period. In recent weeks, however, community members have voiced concern in local publications concerning some three contributions.
Three $5,000 donations from San Francisco-based companies – G&G Marco, Stevenson Streets Associates, L.P. and Western Market Co. – and another $5,000 gift from the ADCO group in New York have raised particular concern, as it is unusual for out-of-county entities to take interest in county supervisor elections. In addition, all the donations were made on December 20 of last year.
The revelation that these entities were all affiliated with a political action committee headed by Alvin Dworman, a New York developer and owner of the Bacara Resort in Goleta, provoked outcry from community members who said they resented the lack of transparency surrounding the contributions and the interference of out-of-town developers.
Gaviota Coast Conservancy President Mike Lunsford said that the possible connection to any large development firm in this election is particularly worrisome to him, especially in light of Dworman’s personal interest in developing in Tecolote Canyon – a lot of protected land located just uphill from the Bacara. Dworman’s efforts in July of 2005 to develop a 26-home “Wallover” project on the Tecolote Canyon site failed after surrounding residents and local conservationists protested.
In an interview with the Santa Maria Times about his connection to the elusive out-of-county donors – three of the companies do not have Web sites or contact information – Smyser was quoted as saying, “I don’t know who those folks are. I’m not familiar with these companies.” However, in a phone interview, Smyser’s campaign manager Marlene King said his quote was misrepresented.
According to King, the companies donating money are all affiliated with a political action committee composed of Bacara Resort investors, including Dwormin.
“He didn’t know specifically the people in the PAC, but he found out later who the investors were,” King said.
King added that Smyser, who is openly supportive of developing new tourism opportunities, would be happy to have the support of investors from the Bacara, which is the second largest generator of revenue for the district.
“The county relies on tourism dollars and [Smyser] recognizes this and supports hotels as economic entities,” King said.
However, she also said Smyser would prefer that all future contributions donated by supporters were made under their own names, noting that “he wants [financial contributions] to be transparent.”
Meanwhile, Lunsford alleged that Smyser’s interests go beyond tourism potential, claiming that as Planning Commissioner, Smyser supported residential development at the expense of environmental interests, citing in particular his support of the Ballantyne Project by Rancho Embarcadero.
“Smyser has shown a willingness to support development – not just of hotels – on the Gaviota coast and that is alarming,” Lunsford said.
Political opponents have seized this opportunity to criticize Smyser’s affiliation with out-of-town development firms. Candidate Dr. David Bearman addressed the issue in a letter to the press yesterday.
“Mr. Smyser owes it to the people to be forthright and honest about what he really wants to do to Santa Barbara County’s precious green resources,” Bearman said.
Additionally, Doreen Farr representative Chris Henson said his candidate is more careful with regards to donations.
“Doreen makes it a policy to know the background of her contributors,” Henson said.