As Election Day nears, many may have noticed the surfeit of ballot-related content stuffing their mailboxes. Goleta has turned into a veritable battleground as city council candidates reach the end of the campaign trail, with independent political action committees (PACs) ramping up the mudslinging. From an ad published by the Friends of Goleta PAC caricaturizing Jean Blois as a bulldozer operator ready to develop Goleta, to yet another television ad run by the Coalition for a Healthier Goleta disparaging Margaret Connell - and to some extent, Ed Easton as well - smear tactics are being fully employed in this election’s denouement. “The 30-second spot announcement does the same kind of hatchet job on Margaret Connell that was done in the last election,” Easton said.
The ad calls the City’s revenue neutrality agreement “Margaret Connell’s Bad Deal. Connell responded by asserting that Jean Blois made the motion to adopt the agreement. It also accuses her of giving away city land to developers, but doesn’t mention that the land swap to which they seem to be referring led to the establishment of the Sperling Preserve on Ellwood Mesa. Other out-of-context references in the spot include a previously-used photo of the UCSB graduate school housing development under construction. Grad housing is not located within City limits.
The Goleta City Council candidates deny having had anything to do with the negative campaign ads, instead attributing them to independent organizations. Connell and Easton held a press conference on October 28 in which they alleged that the originator of some of the nastiest material - Coalition for a Healthier Goleta - has failed to file financial reports as required by the California Fair Political Practices Commission, despite having spent approximately $20,000 on television and printed ads.
“This kind of flouting of the Fair Political Practices Commission makes a sicker, not a healthier Goleta,” Connell said “The source of the attacks on me and Ed Easton are hidden from the voting public.”
Blois denied any knowledge of the recondite PAC or any involvement with Roy Zbinden, who is the PAC’s only known officer. Fellow Goleta City Council candidate Don Gilman made the same denials and promptly removed Zbinden’s endorsement from his campaign website.
Referencing the Blois caricature put out by Friends of Goleta, Gilman accused Connell and Easton of running a dirty campaign. “This is not what Goleta is all about,” he said. “They need to take ownership of those ads.”
Although both Connell and Easton received campaign contributions from Friends of Goleta, they said that the PAC operates independently, and that candidates have little control over the ads put out by such organizations. “It’s negative and I think it’s a shame that the campaign has moved into this phase,” said Connell of the “Blois the Bulldozer” ad.
Gilman went a step further, pointing out that both Connell and Easton have received sizeable donations from existing hotels in and around Goleta. “It is unconscionable to me that Margaret Connell and Ed Easton have received $46,000 from three major hotels in the last two weeks before the election,” he said.
In an e-mail to the Independent, current City Council member Eric Onnen asked what the hotels expected in return for the donations. Connell said that she didn’t actively solicit the contributions, and both she and Easton said that no promises have been made as a condition of accepting the funding. “I think Mr. Gilman is trying to divert attention away from what we had our press conference about today,” said Easton. Both he and Connell called themselves independent decision makers who are not swayed by special interests.
After weeks of head-scratching by candidates and voters alike, all that is known about the Coalition for a Healthier Goleta its connection with Zbinden, a Goleta resident who made an unsuccessful bid for City Council in 2006. Although the address given on the mailers is for a post office box in Goleta, the address and phone number associated with the non-compliant PAC in its registration information belong to Zbinden, who has remained elusive. Numerous calls placed to the phone number have not been answered, although the Daily Sound reported speaking to a woman claming Zbinden is out of town and not taking messages. A couple of visits to Zbinden’s house failed to yield an interview.
The only other information available about the Coalition is that their treasurer is David Gould of the Los Angeles-based David Gould Company. Michelle Sanders, who, according to Gould, is in charge of the Coalition’s account, declined to comment on the PAC when asked if she was aware of the FPPC investigation that Connell and Easton alleged they would initiate.