Undercover video targets signature gatherers over Escondido development

Posted at 5:58 PM, Oct 12, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-12 21:11:28-04

ESCONDIDO, Calif. (KGTV) — New undercover video appears to show signature gatherers pitching falsehoods to voters get them to sign petitions that would force the massive Newland Sierra development to a public vote.

The County Board of Supervisors approved the project last month. It calls for more than 2,000 new homes on nearly 2,000 acres north of Deer Springs Road in Escondido. 

Opponents, backed by the exclusive Golden Door Spa, launched a signature drive to collect about 68,000 signatures from registered voters before Oct. 26. It would delay the project so the public can weigh in at the polls. 

On Friday, Newland released undercover video purportedly showing the signature gatherers making claims that the development would raise taxes, force people out of their homes, and encompass 430,000 acres. 

"What they're doing is basically putting in a bunch of homes, stores, casinos, hotels," one petitioner says in the video (the plan does not call for casinos or hotels).

Steve Inscoe, who lives in Escondido, said signature gatherers told him that plans called for one million square feet of commercial space (it calls for 81,000), and that there was no plan to mitigate traffic (Newland Sierra says it will spend $56 million on traffic improvements).

"We are at a time when we need a whole lot of housing," said Inscoe, who supports the project.

But the committee behind the petition says the real story is what's not in the video. Newland Sierra has deployed so-called truth teams that are allegedly the aggressors - an attorney for the committee says they even surround signature gatherers to block them from doing their jobs. 

It has led to confrontations, plus restraining orders and cease and desist letters from Vons/Albertsons. 

Rita Brandin, a vice president at Newland Sierra, said the signature gatherers are the ones who get confrontational.

"When a signature gatherer who is being paid says 'this project will raise taxes,' our truth teams can say 'that's inaccurate.' So because the signature gatherer is the one that signature by signature is making his paycheck, they get aggressive," she said.

Newland Sierra sent the committee a cease and desist letter, reserving its right to litigate.

In a response, Sean Welch, the attorney for the committee, warned Newland Sierra against any legal action. He noted that the signature gatherers are trained and that the First Amendment provides wide latitude for political expression. 

"It is beyond dispute that the Newland Sierra Project is extremely controversial, and that a large number of voters throughout San Diego County has long been opposed," Welch wrote. "Voter awareness of this issue is particularly high."

As it stands, Newland Sierra plans to break ground in 2020, with first move-ins in 2021.