Though the planned Spanish Springs mega-development in unincorporated Price Canyon has long been on the back burner, an unexpected recent surge of survey phone calls to local residents has the Pismo Beach community worried and perplexed.
New Times confirmed that at least six Pismo Beach residents have received survey calls from California public opinion research corporation FM3 regarding Spanish Springs between Jan. 10 and 15.
When asked to describe the phone calls, all six residents said a woman from FM3 called their homes and aggressively tried to convince them to support the development.
“It really surprised me,” said Pismo Beach resident Elizabeth Cole, who received the call on Jan. 10. “I thought it was going to be a nonpartisan survey, but it turned out to be propaganda for the whole project.”
Cole said the female caller rattled off a long list of pros: that Spanish Springs would bring jobs to the area, build a new senior center, provide property taxes for schools, and add vineyards and golf courses.
“She must have asked me five times if I was now more likely to vote for the project, and I kept telling her no,” Cole said. “She said she’d been getting a lot of the same answers from people she’d been calling.”
Pismo Beach resident Alan Ormsby, who is opposed to the project, said his mother and he both received the call. Ormsby directly asked the survey caller who was funding the survey, but he said the caller refused to answer his question.
Pismo Beach City Manager Jim Lewis and Community Development Director Jon Biggs both said they were completely unaware of and surprised by the survey calls.
Lewis said that the Spanish Springs development is “not moving forward at all” and that he hasn’t spoken to the developers in months.
Developer Darren Shetler, who owns the adjoining Pismo Ranch property, said he’d heard about the calls secondhand, and was surprised he’d been kept out of the loop.
David Sokolove, a researcher associate at FM3, confirmed the corporation has been “very recently retained by supporters of the Spanish Springs project,” but was not comfortable identifying a specific client.
Sokolove defended the survey calls, saying FM3 was using “message testing” strategy, which is “standard fare” in polling.
FM3 Principal Researcher Richard Bernard directed New Times to prominent local political consulting firm Meridian Pacific for further comment.
“I don’t discuss strategy, and I don’t have any comment,” Meridian Pacific Partner John Peschong told New Times.
Spanish Springs developers Stephen Hester, David Watson, and Carol Florence didn’t return repeated phone calls from New Times.