The day before San Diego city councilmembers Chris Ward and Barbara Bry rolled out a sure-to-be-controversial proposal to ban so-called expanded polystyrene food and beverage containers in the city, an American plastics heavyweight weighed in with its money.
Dart Container Corp of Mason, Michigan anted up $10,000 on May 30 for the cash-strapped group of hotel interests and labor unions trying to mount a successful signature drive for a ballot measure to raise the tax on room-stays, with the proceeds earmarked for convention center expansion and putative homeless relief.
The pro-tax group has spent heavily on public relations and political consulting firms with ties to Republican Mayor Kevin Faulconer, but just $136,585 was paid to signature-gathering company Arno Petition Consultants of Gold River, California, which was still owed $37,653 at the end of the April reporting period, per disclosure filings.
The final estimated cost of fielding a corps of high-priced signature seekers has ranged from roughly $900,000 to more than $1.2 million, based on the recent spending records of similar efforts in the city, putting the convention center tax seekers in serious catch-up mode.
In addition to its spending binge on consultants, fundraising for the convention center tax effort has thus far appeared to suffer from less than avid financial backing by Mission Valley and Mission Bay hotel concerns, along with uncertainty created by the as-yet-unresolved status of a rival plan to develop a hotel on the bayside expansion site.
All of which has ballot measure promoters scurrying for cash from a mixed bag of political special interests located outside the city, including $25,000 provided last month by Baton Raton-based GEO Group,an operator of private prison and a day facility for felons said to be looking for possible expansion here.
Dart Container, a longtime opponent of polystyrene bans, has over the years funded an array of San Diego city candidates, including Faulconer's 2014 election campaign with $15,000.
In January, the company was at the fore of a successful lobbying drive to tank passage of a California Senate bill that would have banned polystyrene food service containers in restaurants.
In San Diego, Dart uses the services of Falcon Strategies, an influence peddling outfit run by Clarissa Falcon, per a February 6 disclosure filing with the city clerk's office, which says the company seeks to include "recycling polystyrene containers in the city's Zero Waste plan."
Dart paid Falcon $15,000 during the first three months of this year, an April 24 disclosure shows. Between January 1, 2015, and March 31, 2017, says a report by WasteDive, Dart paid Falcon a total of $125,000.
Last June, San Diego's city council voted unanimously to allow polystyrene containers to be deposited into the city's residential curbside recycling program, at an added yearly cost to the city of $90,000, the Union-Tribune reported at the time.
But polystyrene opponents, including Ward and Surfrider Foundation chairman Michael Torti, now contend the Dart-favored recycling program hasn't adequately reduced polystyrene debris on beaches and in the ocean, per the paper's account.