Carlsbad CA— The Carlsbad City Council had three choices regarding the 85/15 Caruso Affiliated backed project at their meeting Tuesday night. They could approve the Caruso plan without amendments, call a special election on the initiative without amendments, or ask for 30 days to further review the proposal. The council listened to more than five hours of comments by 133 speakers in favor of the project along with those in favor of calling for a special election and in a blow to those who wanted a vote, unanimously decided to move forward with the project.
Council members were not swayed by the number of signatures gathered by Citizens for North County requesting a vote and echoed each other in approving AB #22,073 saying they were elected to make the hard decisions.
Mayor Pro-Tem, Keith Blackburn said he was truly undecided when he spoke with about 45 people, some voicing their support for the project “The thing that resonated with me the most was probably the most simple answer that I got.” he continued, “We elected you to make these decisions. You’re the one with the staff who are there to answer every little question we have. That’s something a lot of the people in the public don’t have. They don’t have the staff nor do they have the kind of time to dedicate to this kind of a decision.”
Council Member Michael Schumacher said he felt that the Caruso plan was an exceptional project and the developer did many things they weren’t required to do. “I feel it’s our job to move the project forward. I think it’s going to be good for Carlsbad and it’s going to be a centerpiece for this community.”
Council Member Lorraine Wood said “We are so truly blessed as a community and I find this project is compatible with my vision and my values as a citizen of Carlsbad.” she added ” A true leader makes a decision based on what they feel is right, not about whether they are going to get re-elected or not.”
“We are not always going to agree, but as long as we focus on the facts, we can come to good decisions that benefit Carlsbad,” said Mayor Matt Hall. “This plan has been developed in collaboration with the community, and it goes above and beyond what is required, by ensuring the future of the strawberry fields and providing public access to open space in perpetuity. That has tremendous value and will enhance our community for years to come.”
Environmental, traffic and aesthetics issues along with the effect on small businesses in the Village were all brought to the attention of the council by people in support of a vote. Many of the speakers felt they didn’t have enough time to study the 9212 report which was released by the city just a few weeks ago.
Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Caruso Affiliated, Rick Caruso had five minutes to address the council after the comment session. “Everything we do has to be done in a way that respects the community, respects the environment, respects the open space, respects the agriculture, respects the history and respects the residents and the businesses.” Caruso said hopes to complete the project as early as 2018. “The trails, agriculture and other open space areas will be developed before the other project elements.”
City Attorney Celia Brewer began the staff’s presentation by outlining the laws governing the initiative process, including a recent State Supreme Court ruling stating that voters who amended the state Constitution to allow the initiative process “intended to empower their government to enact a qualified initiative immediately, without the need for an election and its attendant delay and cost.”
The County of San Diego Registrar of Voters has estimated that a stand-alone special election for the initiative would cost between $450,000 and $550,000. With a stand-alone election, the city would be responsible for paying 100 percent of the cost.
The plan will now proceed to the California Coastal Commission for consideration.
Before the City Council made its decision, city staff and outside experts presented the findings of the “9212 report,” which provides the city’s objective analysis of the initiative’s effects on and compliance with the city’s land use policies, including the city’s voter-approved Growth Management Program. The report also evaluates the initiative’s potential economic, fiscal and environmental impacts on the city.
To qualify, initiative proponents had to get at least 9,784 signatures from registered Carlsbad voters, which is 15 percent of the total number of registered voters. On July 8 initiative proponents submitted to the city petitions with 20,479 signatures. The County of San Diego Registrar of Voters checked 12,331 signatures before confirming the required number had been obtained.
Under the Elections Code, the city attorney is required to provide a “fair and impartial” summary of an initiative, which must appear on each page of the petition so voters can read it before signing. Brewer showed an example of the petition with her summary featured above the signature lines.
“The law is very specific when it comes to the content of petitions,” said Brewer. “Voters need to know what they are signing, and the summary clearly listed the key elements of the proposed plan, including the visitor-serving commercial component.” Still, many of the comments made at the meeting were by people who felt they were duped or misled by the paid petition signature gatherers for the initiative.
The 48 acres of land just east of I-5 on Cannon Road has an existing General Plan land use designation of travel/recreation commercial, meaning retail shops, restaurants, hotels and other similar visitor-serving commercial uses would be allowed. The approximately 155 acres east of that parcel is designated as permanent open space. The proposed initiative would allow visitor-serving retail development on about half of the 48 acre parcel and add the other half to the existing open space land and make the open space land available for public use.
The initiative was proposed on May 12 when Carlsbad residents Bill Dominguez, Carlton Lund and Maureen Simons submitted to the City of Carlsbad a notice of intent to circulate a petition for a citizen-led initiative. Caruso Affiliated is the primary sponsor of the plan described in the initiative.
Reached by email following the decision, Diane Nygaard with Preserve Calavera wrote “Some commented just after the decision thank god it’s over. But I can assure- it is not over yet.”
If approved by the Coastal Commission, various elements of the plan would be submitted to city staff as the project proceeds to construction to ensure compliance with applicable laws and development standards.
The initiative and related public documents are available at www.carlsbadca.gov/cityhall/clerk/initiative.asp and at the City Clerk’s Office, 1200 Carlsbad Village Drive.