Desmond campaign finance fraud alleged

Accused of taking illegal campaign contributions from San Marcos Highlands project developers, Jim Desmond, left, announces his run for county supervisor in February 2016 at San Elijo Hills. "I’ll bring fiscally conservative values to the county and build a better future for all county residents," he said./San Elijo Life

San Diego County supervisor candidate and San Marcos Mayor Jim Desmond committed campaign finance fraud, taking $2,150 in illegal campaign contributions from San Marcos Highland project officials seeking to do business in San Marcos since 1981, a Twin Oaks Valley Community Sponsor Group member alleged Wednesday.

Desmond is considered the leader in the June 5 primary being held to replace District 5 Supervisor Bill Horn, who had his own dicy relationship with campaign spending and ethics laws for 20 years in office and is term-limited out of the race.

Horn, perhaps unsurprisingly, has endorsed fellow Republican Desmond in the North County district covering 1,800 square miles from Carlsbad and Oceanside east to Imperial County.

Rancho Santa Fe, Fairbanks Ranch, 4S Ranch, San Marcos, Vista, Valley Center, Bonsall, Fallbrook, Rainbow, De Luz, Pauma Valley, Warner Springs, and Ranchita also comprise the district whose major issues have revolved around development questions in recent years.

Desmond’s challengers include Jacqueline Arsivaud, a Democrat, and member of the San Dieguito Planning Group and chairwoman of the Elfin Forest/Harmony Grove Town Council; longtime Oceanside City Councilman Jerry Kern and Michelle Gomez, a legislative analyst and longtime volunteer. The district is heavily Republican in voter registration.

Latest campaign financial filings showed Desmond with over $73,000 in campaign donations to go along with $193,000 already in his coffers. He had spent about $55,000 on the campaign as of the last filing period ending in April, leaving almost $220,000 in his campaign coffers as of the most recent reporting period

Arsivaud has raised $27,000 in campaign contributions, including a $5,000 loan from herself to the campaign. She has spent about $19,000, has $10,000 in debts, and has an $18,000 cash balance.

Kern had $85,000 cash on hand. He raised $17,100 this election cycle to add to a beginning balance of over $111,000. He had spent around $43,000 as of April 30. Gomez reported spending $500 of over $5,000 in contributions raised.

A 2003 LAFCO site meeting at proposed San Marcos Highlands project site. Development officials are accused of giving San Marcos Mayor and San Diego County District 5 Supervisor County candidate Jim Desmond illegal campaign contributions/Smart Alliance

Twin Oaks Valley Community Sponsor Group member Ana Rosvall filed notice with the San Marcos City Clerk Phillip Scollick and City Attorney Helen Holmes Peak alleging that developers with San Marcos connections had contributed nearly $2,000 to Desmond’s 2018 supervisorial campaign despite having dealings with the city of San Marcos.

Those contributions violated Chapter 2.16 of the city of San Marcos Municipal Code that prohibited “participating in making, or attempt to influence any government decision or action within 12 months of receiving those funds,” Rosvall said.

Alleged violations relating to the proposed, and highly controversial, San Marcos Highlands project supported by Desmond included:

Farouk Kubba of Vista San Marcos LLC — property owner of San Marcos Highlands project — donated $800 on June 6, 2017 to Jim Desmond for Supervisor 2018 campaign. The city council vote for San Marcos Highlands was Nov. 15, 2016.

William Everett, Environmental Consultant on San Marcos Highlands, donated $250 to Jim Desmond for Supervisor on May 7, 2017.

Robert Dentino, Excel Engineering, contributed $550 to Jim Desmond for Supervisor on May 16, 2017. He worked on San Marcos Highlands.

Michael Levin, Excel Engineering, contributed $550 to Jim Desmond for Supervisor on May 17, 2017. He worked on San Marcos Highlands.

A spokesman for Desmond, told Escondido Grapevine partner inewsource he didn’t believe San Marcos’ campaign finance rules applied to a county race.

“The rules that govern our campaign are the county of San Diego rules,” spokesman John Hoy said. “We’re quite certain that we adhere to both the spirit and the letter of the law as they apply to the county supervisor race.”

Campaign finance rules in San Marcos say City Council members can’t vote on an issue that financially affects someone who gave them a campaign contribution of $100 or more during the previous 12 months. Council members also can’t receive contributions of $100 or more in the 12 months after casting a vote that affects that donor. The mayor is part of the council.

The city is obligated to review all election law complaints, according to the San Diego Union Tribune, and has retained Shawn Hagerty, an attorney with Best Best & Krieger Attorneys at Law, to investigate the charges, city spokeswoman Sarah Macdonald said.

“The investigation will involve whether or not the contributions violated the city’s campaign contribution limitations, and will review whether or not his county campaign contributions conflict with his position on city council, per the San Marcos City Council,” Macdonald said.

San Marcos City Attorney Helen Holmes Peak told inewsource Shawn Hagerty, an attorney with Best Best & Krieger, has been hired to investigate Rosvall’s complaint. Hagerty specializes in municipal and water law and is Santee’s city attorney, according to his law firm’s website.

The state Fair Political Practices Commission also confirmed it also received a complaint from Ana Rosvall and declined to comment further. The agency’s enforcement division reviews all complaints before deciding whether to investigate.

Timeless tale of San Marcos Highlands

While deeply unpopular with many San Marcos-area residents, the scaled down 189-home San Marcos Highlands project on 265 acres at the northern end of Las Posas Road, and promoted for 20 years by Desmond and Kubba, passed the San Marcos City Council with one dissenting vote on Dec. 13, 2016.

The Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) also has to approve the project because it requires the annexation of about 121 acres from the county into the city limits. LAFCO oversees boundary changes such as annexations.

A lawsuit, filed in January 2017 by the Endangered Habitats League, said San Marcos relied on an outdated environmental impact report when it approved the project.

Opponents said the project would harm protected ridge lines, bring unacceptable traffic increases, contribute to school overcrowding and add to demands on the water supply as the state emerges from a lengthy drought. They also said the development would anchor an extension Las Posas Road all the way to Buena Creek Road, turning it into a backdoor commuter thoroughfare to San Marcos’ north side.

Kubba, an Orange County developer, and company, has been trying to build the project ever since Ronald Reagan’s first year as president. He bought the land in 1981, and won approval to build 275 homes on the site in 1989. The economy stalled as did the project in the early 1990s.

Jump to the George W. Bush presidency in 2002-2003, when the San Marcos City Council agreed to let Kubba build 230 homes. No work was done and that approval expired.

Kubba shrunk the project to its current 189 homes during its 2013 revival. He was required to write a revised environmental impact report.

The smaller houses in the project, with minimum lots of 5,000-square-feet, would sit to the west of Las Posas, and could sell for upwards $600,000. The larger homes, with lots that could reach up to nearly 20,700-square-feet, would be in the foothills on the east side of the road, and could go for upwards of $800,000 to start.

Arsivaud weighs in

Jacqueline Arsivaud, a Democrat, and member of the San Dieguito Planning Group and chairwoman of the Elfin Forest/Harmony Grove Town Council.

“After 24 years of Bill Horn and his coziness with developers, either Jim Desmond or Jerry Kern would be more of the same,” Arsivaud, the Democrat challenger said. “They too have significant portion of their campaign contributions coming from building industry. They both endorsed the “Yes on B” campaign for Lilac Hills which was defeated by 64% of County voters, and they continue to support General Plan Amendments in extreme fire danger zones because they have drunk the BIA Kool-Aid – and taken its money.

“The perception of ‘pay for play’ is a major cause of decline in public trust with the institution of supervisors for the residents of the unincorporated area,” Arsivaud continued, “who feel the supervisors put the interests of developers ahead of the interests of residents and taxpayers.

“To fix that we need new leadership, but also experienced, knowledgeable and competent leadership with someone who understands the County land use issues and processes in order to fix them. We can start by closing the revolving door – instituting a moratorium for County planning staff to go work for developers, and we need to enact an ordinance preventing supervisors from voting on matters brought by campaign contributors,” Arsivaud said.

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