October 2021 “Cha-Ching”

Is the money machine on pause?

Cecil Pendergrass’s campaign war chest grew to $155,133 in October with a $2000 donation from a married couple, who each donated $1000.  And now with a Democrat opponent, Jared Wray, we are watching to see if Cecil will fire up his fundraising machine once again, notwithstanding the amazing amount already collected.

Looking at the totality of Pendergrass’s fundraising, with almost $7 of every $10 coming from developer-related interests, we note how the pace of development in the county continues to quicken.  Coincidence? 

Recently, ECCL (aka Estero Council of Community Leaders, a nonprofit, nonpartisan civic advocacy organization) reported on the current state of development in its corner of the world.  According to ECCL, 26 residential and retail developments in the greater Estero area have been approved, are recently operational or soon to be built.  These range from a new Publix-anchored shopping center to a daycare facility to a gas station, as well as the required infrastructure amenities such as a fire rescue unit, or, as once planned, since cancelled, a new school.

According to the July 2021 Estero Life magazine, 13,000 single family homes in the greater Estero area will be coming on line soon; omitting the multitude of condos and rental units also under construction or approved, we estimate that just these single-family homes will put an additional 20,000 cars on our roads, assuming 1.5 cars per single family house. 

Of course, all this residential development requires a retail infrastructure to support it.  Developers and planners frequently rationalize retail construction as environmentally beneficial since new residents do not have to travel far to find needed services.  But it is a two-edged sword — strip malls and shopping centers create impervious surfaces that contribute to dirty run-off, deteriorating water quality and threats to wildlife habitats, as well as traffic gridlock, increased air pollution, and higher county costs for building the needed roads, parks and schools.  Since our discounted county impact fees on developers pay only a fraction of the cost of these collateral amenities, the Lee County taxpayer winds up footing the bill.  

WFBL recognizes that construction is an important driver of the county’s economy and that the industry contributes to the overall prosperity of Lee County.  We support smart, responsible development that respects the environment by utilizing low-impact design, furthers a goal of increasing affordable housing, and at the same time provides well-paying jobs in the county.  If we are to achieve any of this, we must demand vision and leadership from our county commissioners to point the way forward. 

But in our county, special interest campaign contributions are the tail wagging the dog.  While our county commissioners frequently mouth the words that donors do not influence their votes, in view of the massive and continuing contributions to Cecil Pendergrass (who had no opponent until early November), it would be reasonable to wonder if this is the case.  As we analyze these contributions, the picture of what is actually happening in our community is coming into sharper focus. 

Our vote is our voice.  If you share our concerns, we urge you to forward our newsletters and encourage those around you – friends, family, colleagues, neighbors – to join with us to let our county commissioners know that not only are we watching, we will be voting.

If you wish to get a better idea of the development coming to the county:  edo-leegis.hub.arcgis.com/pages/developmentactivity

“Cha-ching” brings you monthly info and analysis of campaign financing trends in our county political races.  ALL information we report is publicly available and donors’ names can be found at http://www.lee.vote/Campaign-Reports/Campaign-Finance-Reports.