By Morgan M. Hurley | Editor
Conservative Carlsbad heals a lesbian activist and spawns a City Council candidate
Cori Schumacher wants change; she’s pushed for change around the world for most of her life, but now she wants the residents of Carlsbad to give her the opportunity to effect change.
Schumacher is probably most well known as a three-time world champion professional longboard surfer (2000, 2001 and 2010).
And while that notoriety and years of experience have surely framed her life, she has evolved into a force that many have already reckoned with.
In 2011, she walked away from professional surfing and received national headlines when she publicly boycotted the Association of Surfing Professionals World Tour in China, because the country “openly engages in human-rights violations, specifically those of women.” In 2013, Schumacher launched a successful campaign against Roxy for their “hyper-sexualization of elite female professional surfers,” gathering 21,000 signatures worldwide.
Today, Schumacher can be more clearly defined a myriad of ways: as the devoted wife of Maria Cerda; a North County resident; an environmental activist; an LGBT activist; an advocate for the disenfranchised; an entrepreneur; a widely published writer; a speaker; a documentarian; a minimalist; and she remains a fierce critic of the world of women’s surfing.
She recently decided to add another item to her long resume, something she never intended to do — become a candidate for political office.
Last summer, Schumacher heard rumblings that the Carlsbad City Council was planning a meeting to decide whether or not area residents should be allowed to vote on a large development being proposed for the south shore of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon, located just east of Interstate 5 off of Cannon Road and including the strawberry fields.
Carlsbad voters had already decided in 2006 — through the passage of Proposition D — that the area in question was protected as “permanent open space.” Now a decade later the City Council was considering a request by billionaire land developer Rick Caruso to purchase the land from SDG&E and put a mall on 27 of the 177 acres designated for protection.
Schumacher, 38, said she spoke at the meeting merely as a concerned North County resident and explained how her parent’s hometown of Huntington Beach had been ruined by over-development. In the end, the council decided no vote was needed and that they’d approve the development. Schumacher said the behavior of the City Council, the developer and his people at the meeting floored her.
“I walked out of that City Council meeting and just became completely invested,” she said. “It was the first time that I’ve really — I’ve lived in Carlsbad for 10 years — it was the first time that I really turned around and started really paying attention to what was happening in my own backyard as an activist.”
Already adept at signature gathering, she soon helped drive a campaign launched by the Citizens for North County (CNC) — an organized, environmentally-focused activist group— to force the City Council to put the development up for a vote and knocked it out of the park.
“I started to connect to different community members, my neighbors, people who are a part of the movement — and it really is a movement,” Schumacher said. “I started to become even more deeply invested in the heart and the spirit that I was interacting with as things rolled forward.”
No one expected them to get the signatures required for the vote, but they did.
“I think the City Council was really focused on the superficial economic value of the project when people here were really reflecting on, No. 1, how the process itself disenfranchised them and No. 2, how it would impact their quality of life,” she said.
With enough votes gathered, the situation would now be determined through a special election in February 2016.
With CNC at the lead on “No on Measure A,” filing the paperwork required while raising money to get out the vote, Schumacher actively supported their efforts for some time, until Westfield Malls dropped $75,000 into their bucket.
It was at that time that the activist stepped away from CNC. She said her past experience with corporate sponsorships in surfing and the pressure that comes along with it caused her to distance herself from that kind of leverage to keep her personal integrity intact.
Instead, she began her own parallel, grassroots effort to get out the vote and used her connections to bring some heavy hitters on board. She reached out to Jim Moriarty, the former CEO of Surfrider, who was successful in saving Trestles surf beach from a toll road; and Marco Gonzales, the preeminent North County environmental lawyer.
In November, the day after Thanksgiving, Schumacher and a dozen friends got on their surfboards and paddled out into the middle of Agua Hedionda Lagoon. Nearly 50 others also assembled along the shoreline, marking it her first public “No on A” gathering on the measure. Between November and February, Schumacher worked nonstop to educate people about the situation and get out the vote.
She was more than successful.
In a referendum campaign that saw local, seated council members first telling voters not to sign the petition, then going door to door with the developer and even had the mayor doing robo-calls in support of the measure, the people stood up and sided with the activists.
In mid-February in the days leading up to the vote, Schumacher organized what ended up being the largest political protest in the history of Carlsbad: a peaceful march nearly 500-strong down the middle of Carlsbad Boulevard.
The media, apparently nonplussed by the 50 people who assembled for the lagoon paddle out back in November, all but ignored that protest, but they couldn’t ignore the voter turnout for the special election a week later on Feb. 23.
“Normally in a special election the expected turnout is 10 percent of registered voters, 30 percent max,” Schumacher said. “Carlsbad had 64 percent of registered voters turn out for this special election. That is the largest in history for San Diego County.”
At final tally, certified March 11, No on Measure A had received 52 percent, with 20,542 votes, compared to 18,903 votes for yes.
Schumacher is still smiling. And while she was poked and prodded during the process about whether she would run for City Council, she kept those thoughts at bay while focusing on the task at hand. Once the measure was defeated, however, the words of former Rep. Barney Frank “kept drumming” in her head and she thought long and hard not only about a conversation she’d had with him a year before but also the situation that had just unfolded in front of her.
“[Congressmember Frank] said to me, ‘you’re either going to be somebody who stands out on the grass and tramples the grass, or you’re going to walk into the institutions that create policy and be a part of the change within those institutions making policy and setting policy.’
“I’m a full blown activist, I’ve never wanted to get involved with politics before because I just thought the whole thing was warped,” she said. “But this whole entire process has shown that an engaged community, even with millions of dollars and a system that nobody trusts, that a community that’s fully engaged with high voter turnout can actually work — that the system does work.”
After the vote was certified and the opponents of the measure were celebrating together, Schumacher announced her candidacy and thanked the community of Carlsbad, not only for helping to defeat Measure A, but helping their new candidate to heal a heavy wound.
“You have to understand that back in 2008, I would drive home every day on the coast and the ‘Yes on Proposition 8’ posters that were in Carlsbad were everywhere. Everywhere,” said Schumacher, who had married her wife during the five-month period that same-sex marriage was first legal – which had initiated the proposition in the first place. “I had such a deep sense of being heartbroken in the place where Maria and I lived. And from this feeling of being a complete outsider and hated, to be on this side as a member of this very diverse group of people who got together — Republicans, Democrats, environmentalists, pro-mall people — everybody came together and nothing else mattered but this issue overcoming this giant obstacle.”
Schumacher said she’d never discussed her sexuality or feelings about Prop 8 during the six-month effort, but it was a powerful moment when she shared her backstory with the crowd that day in March.
“I felt that it was important to acknowledge that this had been a really huge healing experience for me, being in Carlsbad working alongside these people and accomplishing something miraculous,” she said.
Gonzales — who said he has known Schumacher since 1998 when they were hanging out alongside each other waiting between sets in the water off of Cardiff Reef — said he immediately admired Schumacher, not only for her surfing skills, but because she didn’t have the same “attitude” of the other professional surfers he’d met.
“I often say each of us is just one small disaster away from becoming an activist,” Gonzales said. “Measure A was Cori’s ‘tipping point’ disaster in my opinion. While she has been involved with other issues in the past, I believe this was the one that really gave her a taste for public service and a target for her inner desire for helping achieve societal justice.”
Gonzales said Schumacher and the others “pulled off the impossible,” defeating Measure A and considers her personal efforts “critical to the outcome.”
“She showed up when it was most necessary and stayed engaged as part of the core leadership all the way along,” he said. “I’m very proud of what she accomplished, as well as her willingness to jump into the greater political fray.”
Richard Riehl, a freelance writer and Carlsbad resident who followed Measure A and wrote about it for the San Diego Free Press, called the defeat “truly a David vs. Goliath story.”
“For a group of volunteers to organize within weeks to put together a successful referendum campaign to demand a vote of the people after the developer spent $5 million in his deceptively-named ‘citizen-led’ dishonest initiative campaign to bypass voters was incredible in itself.
“Cori Schumacher was a leader in the effort, a gifted public speaker who did her homework on the deceptive claims trumpeted by both the developer and Carlsbad’s elected officials,” Riehl said. “Her candidacy for the council brings a much-needed youthful voice to the longtime, mostly ‘good old boys,’ network of city leaders.”
There is still much to be debated regarding the ethics behind this initiative and the mayor of Carlsbad has since apologized, hoping to salvage some of his legacy. But what is important to note about Schumacher’s candidacy is that not only will she be the first openly gay candidate in the history of Carlsbad, but the city has not had a Democrat on the City Council in over 50 years.
“When I sat with it and really looked at ‘how is this going to reshape my life?,’ I realized it’s just doing the work that I already do — which is activism, research, writing and advocating on behalf of people who tend to be shut off in corners and silenced. But it will be taking that one step further.”
Schumacher doesn’t plan on having rallies and meet-and-greets, but she will reach the voters the way she always has reached people, by including and engaging them. She plans on establishing think tanks and scheduling a host of workshops between now and November to focus on the issues important to Carlsbad residents.
“If I am equivalent to tens of thousands of people, sitting on City Council, that far outweighs the three people who are representing their own self interests and the interests of a few in Carlsbad,” she said.
While Cori for Council has officially launched, she said the website will not be up and running until June. Meanwhile, Cori for Council and Cori Schumacher for Carlsbad City Council pages have both popped up on Facebook and each are sharing news, videos and photos regarding the activist’s candidacy.
For more information about Schumacher, visit her State of Flux blog at corischumacher.com.
—Morgan M. Hurley can be reached at email@example.com.