What Price Main Street
City of San Diego
Southwest Strategies assisted the “What Price Main Street” coalition with its opposition campaign for the controversial One Paseo development by developing and coordinating a robust social media strategy.
Project: What Price Main Street?
Expertise: Social Media/Digital Advocacy
Location: City of San Diego
The controversial One Paseo project, a 1.45 million-square-foot development on a 23-acre site, was first proposed in the City of San Diego’s suburban Carmel Valley community in December 2010. Shortly thereafter, a large group of concerned community members formed an informal coalition called “What Price Main Street?” (WPMS) to raise awareness about the negative impacts the proposed project would have on their neighborhood, as well as the surrounding region. At three times the density previously allowed for the site, One Paseo would have become the densest mixed-use project in California without mass transit, creating devastating unmitigated impacts to traffic, circulation and neighborhood character in the surrounding areas.
We recognized that social media would be one of the best ways to amass and coordinate opposition. Having created two new pages on the WPMS website, one that allowed users to personalize and send letters to City Council and another that collected hearing RSVPs, tools to leverage social media to influence the City Council through letters and attendance were readily available. But, to take advantage of them, we needed to cultivate a robust social media presence for WPMS beyond the fewer than 200 fans on Facebook and only two-dozen followers on Twitter it had at the time. To do so, we conceptualized and launched the multiphase #NoPaseo social media campaign, which laid out a detailed framework for reaching allies in Carmel Valley and surrounding communities, educating them about One Paseo, activating them to engage in these efforts and then issuing calls to action that could be completed quickly and easily.
We launched the social media campaign and used Sprout Social to distribute content and manage engagement. Initial outreach concentrated largely on educating members and growing WPMS’ social media audiences by demonstrating how One Paseo would impact residents’ daily lives. After a few weeks, we began incorporating calls to action into the content queue, at increasingly regular intervals. At key milestones in the execution of the plan, the team reevaluated its approach, using weekly reports through Sprout Social to examine which ads and posts had resonated most with the public and tweaking content based on the feedback. Having baseline information already generated allowed the team the flexibility to generate content on-the-fly in response to the rapidly developing situation, without losing any cadence in posts.
Our social media campaign culminated with the City Council hearing on One Paseo on February 23, 2015. Over the course of the three-month effort, our campaign received more than 1 million impressions, growing WPMS’ Facebook audience by more than 500 percent and its Twitter audience by more than 800 percent, and surpassing the size of the robust, five-year-old One Paseo supporter Facebook group in just two months. More importantly, the engagement generated by our social media efforts was directly responsible for generating nearly 2,000 letters to City Council ahead of the hearing and turning out more than 600 opponents at the hearing. That day, more than 100 opponents addressed the Council and the record-setting crowd, which packed the Council chambers and three overflow rooms to express their opposition to One Paseo. While the Council voted initially to approve the project, the robust social media presence that we generated during this campaign played a crucial role in the eventual success of the referendum effort and Council’s rescission of the project that followed.