A few months ago, Carlsbad residents were inundated by an L.A. developer’s two-million-dollar TV and PR campaign, asking voters to “Sign the Petition” to support his 27-acre shopping center on the strawberry fields east of I-5 at Cannon Road. Now, that same developer, Rick Caruso, is spending more money on TV commercials, asking voters to not sign a newer petition.
Clearly visible from northbound I-5, in the strawberry fields, Caruso has posted a large banner reading, “Don’t Sign The Petition.” Now, uninformed voters are probably confused.
Originally, the developer-backed, paid signature gatherers collected enough valid signatures to require the city council to either directly approve the 27-acre entertainment and shopping center proposed on the strawberry fields above the Agua Hedionda Lagoon or put the issue to the voters in a special election. The initiative process is an often-used tactic by developers to avoid lengthy environmental and regulatory review.
On August 25, after six hours of public testimony, the Carlsbad City Council voted unanimously to approve the project without a public vote.
However, a grassroots group known as Citizens for North County is now leading their own initiative petition, which would overturn the council’s action and force a citywide vote on the issue. The organization will need to collect 6500 registered voter signatures.
While the group claims their volunteer signature gatherers are being harassed at local supermarkets by pro-development supporters, the group received some good news last week. The developer has to remove the large banner: it’s in non-compliance with city sign codes.
According to a report in the Union-Tribune, Carlsbad’s code enforcement department stated the sign is too big, larger than the maximum eight square feet allowed. An enforcement officer was to have visited the property on September 11 to take a formal measurement but previously stated the sign must come down. Although it stayed up all weekend, by 11:00 a.m., Monday morning, September 14, the banner had been removed.
Caruso, the developer of the popular Grove center in L.A., proposes a "destination" center, which will include a Nordstrom, a community amphitheater, and interpretive nature trails overlooking the lagoon. Opponents say that the freeway exit to get to the proposed center — near Legoland and new hotels off Cannon Road — will carry more daily traffic than the exit for Disneyland.
The proposal will, however, also preserve the remaining 176 acres of the fields above the lagoon to permanent farm production and open up the banks of the environmentally protected lagoon in areas that have previous been off limits to the public. Ultimately, the California Coastal Commission will have the final say on the project.
(updated 9/14, 11:30 a.m.)