Domaine Pacific Grove, LLC, the company behind a proposed Pacific Grove hotel, is under investigation by the California Fair Political Practices Commission, according to FPPC spokesman Jay Wierenga.
Months before the presidential election season began in earnest, there was a special election April 19, 2016 in Pacific Grove. Measure X asked voters to approve a zoning change from retail to hotel, to pave the way for replacing the American Tin Cannery with a 160-room luxury hotel with the interim name Project Bella.
During the campaign, Domaine Pacific Grove financed Pacific Grove Friends of Project Bella, the committee that promised voters that a yes vote would pave the way for a luxury, eco-friendly hotel to replace the ailing American Tin Cannery outlet mall.
Measure X passed with 60 percent of the vote.
The FPPC launched its investigation based on claims made by Carmel hotel developer Michael Crall that Domaine Pacific Grove spent two to three times more than was reported on the election, and never reported the $80,000 reimbursement it paid to the city of Pacific Grove in August of 2016 for election expenses incurred by the city.
In campaign reporting statements filed with Pacific Grove’s city clerk on Aug. 3, 2016, Domaine reports it spent $168,000 between Jan. 1-June 30 of that year. During all of 2015, the company reported spending nearly $70,000.
Besides reporting money spent on campaign items like printing and mailings, campaign committees must also report the estimated value of in-kind work.
Crall alleges that from the time Domaine signed a lease option with the American Tin Cannery landowner, Foursome Development, for Project Bella in July 2015, through the April 2016 election, Domaine’s employees were spending a minimum of 50 percent of their time on campaign activities, and the value of that work was not reported.
Within seven months the partners behind Domaine Hospitality Partners, which created Domaine Pacific Grove, had a falling out and Crall resigned as development director in November, claiming the co-managers of Project Bella, Ronald Meer and Gen. Wesley Clark, were engaging in questionable practices. Meer denies any wrongdoing, and says Crall was removed from his duties.
Domaine spokesman David Armanasco says that the campaign reporting was done by the Sacramento law firm Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk, and he doubts there are any discrepancies, but he understands the FPPC is obligated to investigate based on a letter sent by Crall.
“There’s really nothing to this, that’s what will come out of it,” he says. “It’s grabbing at straws.”
Since November, Crall has contacted several regulatory agencies about his allegations of Domaine’s practices, including the FPPC.
Wierenga would not comment further on the investigation; he says it could take from several months to a year or more for the FPPC to complete its work.