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The Riehl World: Carlsbad Land Use Plans Don’t Match Community Vision

Mayor Spins Results of City’s Public Opinion Survey

By Richard Riehl

At the California Coastal Commission’s May 11 meeting Carlsbad Mayor Matt Hall testified that the city’s General Plan, updated last September, reflects the community’s vision for its future. But the responses to Carlsbad’s 2009 Public Opinion Visioning Survey Report paint a different picture.

Hall claimed the plan “provides a policy framework  that will ensure we live up to our community vision and ensure an excellent quality of life for all who live, work, and visit our coastal city. In fact, values like small town beach community character, access to recreation and open space and multi-modal transportation are top of mind for our residents and given high priority in our General Plan.”

But when you find the General Plan’s land use changes allow mixed use commercial/residential development and high density shopping malls to be built near the Agua Hedionda Lagoon and on property where the Encina Power Plant now stands, you begin to see the disconnect with the community’s actual vision.

Hall is right about the Carlsbad Community Vision contained in the General Plan. But implying the new land uses reflect that vision suggests that he either didn’t read the findings of the 2009 survey very carefully, or he chose to misrepresent them.

In March of 2009 the survey was mailed to every household in the city. Over 7,000 residents responded, achieving a statistical 95 percent level of confidence in its results.

The following are the highlights Hall failed to mention.

Responding to what should be the city’s top priority in planning, two out of three (65 percent) chose, Protecting natural habitats in and around Carlsbad. Only one in four (26 percent) picked, Increasing revenue for the City to maintain and improve the services and programs currently offered.

Invited to make an open-ended response to The Number One Way to Improve the Quality of Life, more than half listed one of these nine, in the following order:

  1. Stop/limit development
  2. Increase parks and recreation facilities
  3. Reduce crime
  4. Preserve open space
  5. Preserve beach/improve amenities
  6. Green the city
  7. Reduce traffic
  8. Beautify the city
  9. Preserve small town feel

Only one in ten listed either Expand and improve shopping and dining opportunities, or Keep city financially strong as their top quality of life priority.

Seven out of ten respondents rated the current shopping and dining opportunities in Carlsbad “good” or “excellent.” Only one in four rated them as “fair” or “poor.”

Maybe Mayor Hall’s attention was drawn to the responses to the question of the Number One Way to Improve the City’s Economy, where one in three placed Expand and improve shopping and dining opportunities at the top of their list. But two out of three chose other ways. Attracting bio/high tech and other companies/more jobs topped their list.

And when it comes to the types of new stores and businesses preferred, four in ten chose Small, independent or specialty retail stores and services, two in ten chose Tourist attractions and services, and only one in ten preferred Large retail stores.

In a survey section titled, Opinion Closest to Own: View on Number of Stores, Restaurants, and Businesses in Carlsbad, two fictional city residents were described.

Mr. Smith believes the city should increase the number of stores, restaurants and other businesses to provide more shopping, and dining opportunities for residents, which he believes would generate more money to fund city services.

Ms. Davis thinks the  city should limit the number of stores, restaurants and other businesses to stop the increase of traffic congestion and pollution, which she says are more costly than the tax revenue generated by new businesses. Respondents were asked to select the opinion closest to their own.

Forty-six percent agreed with Davis to limit development, 40 percent with Smith. Fourteen percent were unsure.

Carlsbad’s Measure A, which would have allowed billionaire developer Rick Caruso to build his Lagoon Mall, failed at the polls on February 23 in a 52 percent to 48 percent vote, the exact spread in the make-believe contest between Davis and Smith.

Not only did Mayor Hall spin the results of the city’s public opinion survey to justify his love of developers, the survey results reveal that he and his councilmember buddies could have predicted the storm of protests over their unanimous vote to approve Caruso’s deceptive shopping mall scheme.

Had the Council called for a vote of the people at its August 25 meeting they would have saved the city the expense of a special election and the damage done to the community by the divisiveness it created.


Richard J. Riehl is a Carlsbad, California resident, retired university administrator, and award-winning columnist for the former daily newspaper, the North County Times.
Richard writes a blog titled The Riehl World
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