Quarry developer’s PR company may be “astroturfing” Pacifica mailing list

Posted by
Tue, August 29, 2006

A couple of participants in the Pacifica-L Internet mailing list claiming to be Pacifica residents who support the Pacifica Quarry development appear to be employees of the developer’s public relations firm in Santa Barbara. This has raised serious questions about the degree to which the developer is astroturfing—conducting a fake grassroots campaign.

Beginning August 16, a member calling herself Susan appeared on the list for the first time supporting the project and saying that those who oppose developer R. Donahue Peebles, who is black, are racists:  "I like that he is tough and strong and speaks his mind.  I like the man and I will not turn away as some of the racist have stated here earlier."  Susan’s emails came from a T-Mobile network in Los Angeles and an email server belonging to Davies Communications, Peebles’s Santa Barbara PR firm. One of Davies’s specialities, according to their website, is winning approval of developments:

We overcome neighbor and community fears with scientific persuasion principles that cement commitments from supporters to take action. Our proven process—the Entitlement Accelerator—engineers positive perceptions for projects in the toughest environments, including brownfields and other controversial sites. At DAVIES, we say opposition is never insurmountable—our 95% winning track record speaks for itself.

The next day, a new Peebles supporter calling himself Jimmy appeared on the list. Although Jimmy used the same Hotmail return address as Susan, his emails came from an entirely different network: an internet service provider that doesn’t serve Pacifica. The group tumbled pretty quickly to the fact that Susan and Jimmy were not who they claimed to be and the evidence was posted on the list.

Jimmy took the offensive, noting that one of his accusers—a resident of Montara—lives in, um, Montana. This compounded the impression that Jimmy and Susan were unlikely to be residents of Pacifica.

I spoke to John Davies, the eponymous CEO of Davies Communications, to get his side of the story.  Davies said that the firm had conducted an investigation and that there was no way to determine whether anyone inside the firm had posted the emails. He told me he thought the Pacifica list readers were mostly negative thinkers with too much time on their hands.

I asked him if it would be an ethical violation if someone at his firm had done this and he replied, "I don’t know what the ethical standards of a chat room are." After I pressed him on whether it violate his professional ethical standards, he acknowledged that the behavior was inappropriate, but wouldn’t suggest a penalty if Jimmy and Susan turned out to be one or more of his employees.


This is hilarious. Barry - great reporting on this one. The guy obviously had nothing to say for himself.

People like that stop at nothing.

It reminds me of this skit I saw on Mr. Show where a long time local grocery stored gets smeared in ads by an incoming chain. They say things like, “Your child won’t get abducted in our store like those other grocery stores.”

Yes, I think the entire community of Pacifica should be VERY concerned about all those people from Montana coming here and ruining everything. Next thing we know, all those negative thinking Wyoming and Idaho folks with time on their hands will be saying stuff. It’s only a matter of time before every single mountain state is involved in this matter. Domino effect and all. I for one will not stand for residents of states with lots of outdoor recreation coming here and telling us what to do. Florida maybe, but not no mountain state.

Montan…uh, I mean, Montara

From the article:

One of Davies’s specialities, according to their website, is winning approval of developments:
“We overcome neighbor and community fears with scientific persuasion principles that cement commitments from supporters to take action. Our proven process—the Entitlement Accelerator—engineers positive perceptions for projects in the toughest environments…”

The “Entitlement Accelerator” calls to mind another famous “scientific persuasion” method: the Ludovico Technique.


There are zero novel references to “entitlement accelerator” in Google. That’s quite an achievement in phrase-making.

The phrase makes me wonder: “Whose entitlement are they accelerating?”

Are they trying to convince Pacifica that Peebles is entitled to a rezoning?

...or that Pacifica is entitled to 355 housing units in the quarry?

Comment 4
Tue, August 29, 2006 8:12pm
Carl May
All my comments

Lori Jesper’s comments have me very, very worried. Recalling that the paid (caucasian) out-of-towners collecting signatures at shopping centers on the petition for a vote on the quarry development looked a bit rugged and possibly on the dirty side, I now realize, belatedly, they were most likely terrorizing recreationists from economically depressed areas of the Rockies.

Can it be a coincidence that people from a region pock-marked with abandoned open-pit mines—many of them Superfund sites—are drawn to the quarry area of Pacifica? Those dang Montanans should demonstrate they can fix Butte first before having the temerity to suggest they know what is good for Pacifica.

Carl May

I have a question about the email list. The link in the article takes you to a Google Groups list (Pacifica-L), which must be the one the article refers to.

Under the links on the left of the page we are on at this moment (if you are reading this at coastsider.com) is: Coastsider Guide> Coastside Media (see it at https://coastsider.com/more/37_0_1_0_M/ ) is a link to another email list called Pacifica-L. This one is at san.mateo.org. Is this the same as the other one or is it out-of-date information? Or are there two lists?

Reason I’m asking is that some folks have had trouble joining the Midcoast-L list that is also at sanmateo.org. Not sure if that ever held true for the Pacifica list at sanmateo.org. If the Pacifica-L list is still acitve at sanmateo.org that could really lead to confustion: Pacifica-L at google vs Pacifica-L at sanmateo.org. If the sanmateo.org one doesn’t exist anymore, Coastsider and a few other places need updating.

This is from the google Pacifica-L page for folks who are not yet members:

You cannot view or post messages because you are not currently a member.  Members must be approved before joining.

On a related list matter, I just tried to join the Midcoast-L and got a returned emai:

——- The following addresses had permanent fatal errors——-
<[email protected]>

Anyone (besides Susan and Jimmy) been able to join any of these lists lately?

It’s the same list. I needed to update my info.  I’m considering dropping those info directories because it’s so hard to keep them up to date.

I believe that the Pacifica list was moved to Google when a new admin took it over, but you should check with the list itself.

I did some checking around and found this out:

To join Midcoast-L, go to montara.com and click the link.  The Midcoast-L-on address has been retired because of spam.

If you have problems, you can email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)