So many people showed up for the meeting, seating extended to the outside
  • So many people showed up for the meeting, seating extended to the outside
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Over 350 people turned out for the Carlsbad City Council meeting on August 25. The hot-button issue was the proposed shopping center on 203 acres of the Ukagawa family's strawberry fields, above the Agua Hedionda Lagoon, off I-5 at Cannon Road.

Map indicating proposed area of development

Map indicating proposed area of development

The council’s usual 6:00 p.m. start time was pushed up to 4:00 p.m. to accommodate the 117 speakers who signed up to address the council. Each speaker received two minutes, and six community groups had a spokesperson who could use ten minutes each. Most people had to sit outside and watch on video monitors.

Public vote vs. none

After six hours of public testimony, the council approved the plan, which came to them in the form of a voter-signed initiative. The council could have chosen to call a special election for a public vote. The public gathering of several hundred people outside seemed evenly split between those wanting a public vote and those supporting moving forward.

Last month the county registrar of voters certified enough valid signatures of some 20,000 residents who signed the developer-backed petition. Opponents say signature gatherers misled uninformed voters as a plan to save the strawberry fields.

Money over manner

Reportedly, developer Rick Caruso spent over $2 million on the signature drive and PR campaign, including full-page newspaper ads and TV commercials touting the agricultural fields. (The project calls for development on only 27 acres, with the remainder allowing the Ukegawas to continue with berry farming.)

As reported here on May 29, the developer used the initiative process as a possible end-run around city hall and Carlsbad citizens, thus avoiding a costly environmental review.

Linda Schlesinger said the project was “too big for five people [the council] to decide."

Linda Schlesinger said the project was “too big for five people [the council] to decide."

Linda Schlesinger, joining numerous others wearing a red, white, and blue “VOTE” sticker, said the project was, “too big for five people [the council] to decide." She said she wasn’t opposed to development, just the way this one proceeded.

Fran Nitale said, “I respect the man behind this plan.”

Fran Nitale said, “I respect the man behind this plan.”

Fran Nitale said she has been waiting for 30 years to be able to enjoy the serene setting over the lagoon. (Caruso’s project will include hiking areas above the lagoon, which has previously been off limits to the public.) “I respect the man behind this plan,” she said. “His centers in L.A. [The Grove] and Thousand Oaks are great places to just go and sit. You don’t even have to shop. They’re just beautiful places to be,” Nitale added.

The battle lines have now been drawn; the plan will proceed to the California Coastal Commission for approval. Supporting the project are the city, the chamber of commerce, the Agua Hedionda Lagoon Foundation, and the Ukegawa family.

Opposed to the project are community groups such as the Batiquitos Lagoon Foundation, Buena Vista Audubon Society, Friends of Aviara, League of Conservation Voters, San Diego Coastkeepers, Sierra Club, and Surfrider Foundation.

Bread and meat

Interesting to note, and probably unbeknownst to the throng of opponents who couldn’t fit into the council chambers, most partook of a free dinner of deli sandwiches, coleslaw, and cookies, the provider of which remained unknown. Originally the caterer said the city was picking up the tab, but a city employee said absolutely not.

“We don’t do that,” she said. A member of the media who had been to other community meetings on the issue said Caruso always provides food.

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Comments

DonBurton Aug. 27, 2015 @ 9:38 a.m.

Nothing like good old fashioned dirty local politics. Some people are bought off cheaply...just a free meal, maybe a bus ride up to LA, and Voila...it's done. This entire affair has shown just how low some will go just to make a buck. Truly disgusting. America is being destroyed from the inside and the ironic part is that it is being done by people who claim to represent "American" values.

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AlexClarke Aug. 28, 2015 @ 7:15 a.m.

Amazing what a Big Mac and a six pack ill buy.

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Visduh Aug. 27, 2015 @ 11:16 a.m.

Today's U-T ran a piece that had Caruso quoted as saying that they went the approval route that they did because the conventional one would have taken longer. No doh! It did require Caruso getting all those signatures to put it on the ballot, or to force the council to approve it, and that was an expensive proposition. At this point the opponents just want a vote of the people in the city. If this vote stands, there will be no vote.

I have a hunch that some or all of those council members will find themselves in very hot water when reelection time rolls around. They could have avoided that by just putting it on the ballot. One piece of specious logic I saw recently was a claim that many folks signed the petition "so that it would be voted on", and not because they favored the development. If that's true, anyone who did that needs a pair of classes, one in basic local civics, and the other one in basic common sense. Hey, if you sign a petition it has to be because you favor the issue (or at least favor what you think it at stake.)

What would good old Big Bad Bud Lewis have thought of this? After the city allowed Price Club to put in that warehouse (Costco for you youngsters) at I-5 and Palomar Airport Road, no more big box retail was approved while he was mayor. I don't know just why he didn't like big box, but inasmuch as he ran that city, he was the one who said no.

We also need to consider what's happening at Plaza Camino Real, now undergoing massive redevelopment. It hosts only three majors now, down from a peak of five, and none of the three is a strong operation. Sears has been skirting with bankruptcy (which would be its second BK.) Penney's is supposed to be on the mend, after its own near-death experience, but it will need years of improvement to be really healthy again. Macy's isn't doing all that well either. Add a Nordy's to the city, and it might siphon off enough dollars from PCR to put it under. Does any of this make much sense, in this era of flagging bricks-and-mortar retailing?

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Ken Harrison Aug. 28, 2015 @ 6:19 a.m.

Hey Visduh, Your point was well taken, exactly the same that I had about the possible end of the political careers for some on the council. However I didn't see the fire and anger that I used to see at these types of meetings. I think most realized it was a done deal. That's what Prop D promised, some commercial on those fields, when voted in a few years back.

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dwbat Aug. 27, 2015 @ 5:16 p.m.

I wonder if they played the Beatles song before the council vote? "Nothing is real and nothing to get hung about; Strawberry Fields forever"

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Ken Harrison Aug. 27, 2015 @ 9:49 p.m.

Then ASCAP should have received a royalty.

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Visduh Aug. 27, 2015 @ 10:27 p.m.

dwbat, your references always amaze me. But they show y(our) age. Oh to be 19 again and hearing those songs for the first time!

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dwbat Aug. 28, 2015 @ 9 a.m.

Hard to hide our ages these days. But I'll only admit that I'm "Younger Than Springtime." I always enjoy this age joke: "He's so old that he beta-tested dirt! And he found a few bugs in it."

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AlexClarke Aug. 28, 2015 @ 7:14 a.m.

If, and it is a big if, the "people" have the power then the "powers that be" will be recalled or voted out. If not the powers will stay and the people will be relegated to the dust bin of history.

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