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.
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, 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 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.