Real grass roots or just astro turf?

Pasadena Star-News report Alfred Lee has a profile running in Monday’s paper on Arcadia First!, an organization that is fighting the mall project proposed by developer Rick Caruso at the Santa Anita Park race track parking lot.

Here’s a sneak peek:

ARCADIA — Bernetta Reade knows her organization isn’t loved by everyone in town.

“There were people that would come up to me and point their finger at my face and call me all kinds of names,” she said. “It got personal. Some people took disagreeing with the project very personally.”

Reade is the executive director of Arcadia First!, an organization that has long worked to stop the upscale mall proposed by developer Rick Caruso at the Santa Anita Park racetrack parking lot.

It is made up mostly of Arcadia residents and business owners. But it is bankrolled by Westfield Corp. — which manages the Westfield Arcadia shopping mall next to the Caruso project, and has sued to stop it.

Reade herself is a paid consultant who lives in Reseda. That fact, along with the group’s association with Westfield, has led to its dismissal by some as an “AstroTurf” campaign.
“Fake grass-roots,” Mayor Robert Harbicht said. “There are a lot of people who have legitimate concerns. It’s just that Arcadia First! is essentially a front organization.”

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Despite its high visibility, little is known about the group, which claims about 5,000 supporters. It will not disclose exactly how much money is given by Westfield, nor make public the names of all the members of its decision-making executive committee.

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Tax returns filed by the group for the two-year period from October 2005 to September 2007 indicate the organization received $1.38 million in direct public support during that time — most of it, officials said, coming from Westfield, in addition to hundreds of other donors.

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The group declared it spent about $425,000 on consulting fees; $372,000 on legal fees; $174,000 on printing and publications; $131,315 on postage and shipping; $39,330 on conferences, conventions and meetings; and $37,704 on advertising.

In addition to those revenues and expenditures, the organization declared it received in 2007 $1.2 million worth of donated “postage and printed material in support of community events and public hearings.” That was paid for directly by Westfield, Reade said, including the costs of citywide mailings of three different DVDs.

We see stuff like this all the time, where groups opposing big development projects get significant financial backing from the same business organizations that would compete with those developers….

What’s your take?

  • Anonymous

    NOW YOU CATCH ON TO THE IDEA OF ASTRO-TURF (AS OPPOSED TO GRASSROOTS) LOBBYING CAMPAIGNS.

    I practically had to light my hair on fire to get you people to get you to recongize that this was what Gregg Industries (an iron foundry) was doing in El Monte.

    Now that you seem to recongize the term, could you please cover the story of Gregg in El Monte. You know the one where the Rose & Kindel P.R. firm is making it seem like the residents (who aren’t exactly residents of the Gregg neighborhood) WANT to have a polluting foundry in their midst.