Carlsbad CA— The Carlsbad City Council decided Tuesday to put the decision about whether to approve The Agua Hedionda South Shore Specific Plan to the voters at a special election Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016.
The City Council released the following statement about its decision:
“We have thoroughly reviewed this plan, including extensive technical and environmental studies, and continue to believe the benefits are far greater than any other commercial development that would eventually be built on this land. We also respect the referendum process and support Carlsbad voters having an opportunity to make a final decision at the first available opportunity.”
The plan, dubbed “85/15” because of the split between the land that would be preserved as open space and the land that would be developed, was submitted to the City Council Aug. 25 through a citizen-led initiative. The City Council approved the plan, citing benefits that would not likely be offered by another developer, including lagoon water quality improvements, creation of an extensive trails and open space preserve, investments in new traffic technology and permanently safeguarding the locally run strawberry farm.
In the days following the Aug. 25 City Council approval, a group called Citizens for North County launched a successful referendum effort to overturn the City Council’s decision. The referendum left the City Council with three choices, to repeal the ordinance approving the plan, call a special election or let voters decide at the next general election, Nov. 8, 2016.
The Agua Hedionda South Shore Specific Plan 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 initiative, which is a comprehensive plan for future land uses on a 203.4 acre property located east of I-5, between the south shore of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon and Cannon Road.
The plan would conserve approximately 176.7 acres for open space, continuing and supporting strawberry farming and coastal agricultural, preserving natural habitat, and providing for publicly accessible trails and open space, while allowing for development of up to 585,000 square feet of new visitor-serving commercial, shopping, dining, entertainment, and recreational uses on the 26.7 acres designated for retail development.
About 48 acres of the land included in the plan are already designated for retail uses. The plan proposes developing about half of what is allowed.
According to the County of San Diego Registrar of Voters, the cost for a special election would be between $450,000 and $550,000. The city will pay these costs from its general fund, which currently has in excess of $80 million in reserves, or, money that the city has set aside for one time, unplanned expenses.
As part of its decision Tuesday, the City Council authorized its members to submit an argument in support of the ordinance, to appear on the ballot. Referendum proponents may submit an argument against the ordinance. The Council also authorized the city attorney to prepare a 500 word impartial analysis of the ordinance, which would also appear on the ballot. This eliminates the need to include the lengthy ordinance on the ballot materials. The ordinance is available on the city’s website and at the City Clerk’s Office for review. Voters may also request a copy be mailed to them at no charge.
The ordinance needs a simply majority to pass, which is 50 percent of the vote, plus one. If the ordinance passes, the plan will proceed. If it fails, the ordinance will be repealed. Proponents may submit the plan to the city for approval through the development review process, which includes submitting an application to the city along with environmental and technical reports, passing various levels of review by city staff and then presenting the plan to the city Planning Commission. If the project meets city requirements, the Planning Commission would recommend its approval to the City Council.