“It used to be the Village by the Sea. But it’s not a village anymore when you can build buildings that are four stories tall…really five when you count the top deck.”
DeeDee Trejo was born and raised in Carlsbad. She operates Lola’s Seven-Up Market on Roosevelt Street. It was founded by her family in Carlsbad’s first neighborhood, the so-called Barrio, a historic residential area between I-5 and the Carlsbad Boulevard/101 just south of Carlsbad Village Drive. Lola’s opened in 1943, nine years before Carlsbad became a city.
Trejo’s family lives near the market. “I can’t even have a BBQ at my house and have people over because they can’t find a spot to park.”
The Carlsbad city council last week made some changes to its Village and Barrio Master Plan approved last year. But unchanged is the fact that four-story buildings (45 feet maximum) can still be built in the downtown Village business district. Village parking regularly overflows into the adjacent Barrio district.
Consider the under-construction State Mixed Use 30 development, a four-story mixed-use project on the corner of State and Oak streets. It sits on the border of the Village and Barrio districts. The first floor is designated commercial while the second, third and fourth floors will be 27 condos (14 for sale, 13 time shares). The project is being built with 33 on-site spaces dedicated to the residents. Any overflow residential parking and all the commercial parking will have to find parking space in the already overwhelmed streets of the Village and Barrio districts.
How was this development allowed to happen? Carlsbad senior planner Scott Donnell says the city planning commission signed off on it after the developer agreed to pay for 20 “in lieu parking fees.” This means that instead of providing adequate parking as mandated by law, the city allowed the developer to pay approximately $11,000 for each space into a city fund. That pot of cash is to be used by the city to acquire property for parking and/or build a parking structure.
Donnell says at present he is not aware of any plans for Carlsbad to buy property or build a parking structure.
Lifelong Carlsbad local Simon Angel remembers when streets in Barrio Carlos weren’t paved. He says the house he lives in, once purchased for $6,000, could get $700,000 now.
Angel is a mild-mannered retiree who has never run for public office but is stepping up to run for a special election to replace councilwoman Barbara Hamilton who resigned after only one year in office. She represented District 1 which includes the Village and Barrio.
“There is no parking and it keeps getting worse,” says Angel. “It gets impossible around here when we have 5K runs or the Village Fair.” He says it got so bad that the city painted over some red curbs in a desperate move to allow more parking on street corners. “That decreased the line of sight which made it unsafe for pedestrians and drivers alike who tried to cross the street.”
He says the Village/Barrio parking menagerie helped encourage him to run. “When he was mayor, Buddy Lewis would have never allowed there be buildings higher than two-stories,” says Angel of the late mayor. “It would have been ‘over my dead body.’…We don’t want a complete moratorium on building. We just don’t want to see Carlsbad turning into Manhattan or Redondo Beach. We don’t need more luxury apartments that are not affordable to the average Carlsbad resident.”
He says the encroaching upscale Village business district is choking the life out of his neighborhood. “The Barrio is shrinking,” says Angel. “I know many people in the Barrio who are property rich but cash poor.”
Angel says there is an increasing divide between the “elitism” of the new Carlsbad and the down-to-earth approach taken by his Barrio neighbors. “To slow down traffic on Roosevelt and Madison [Streets] they are talking about traffic circles. Many of us are just say ‘how about you give us four-way stop signs and speed bumps.’”
Angel says he knows his underfunded city council campaign makes him the decided underdog against his two challengers who have both run citywide elections. But the fact that Carlsbad is now divided into four districts could help. “We have never had a Mexican from the Barrio elected to anything in Carlsbad.”
There are about 1,000 voters in the Barrio which is about six per cent of the total 16,500 voters in Carlsbad’s District 1.
“I can’t overestimate my chances,” says Angel. But he says he can count on help from the same street team that helped Hamilton get elected last year. “My Barrio precinct would always vote in the 30 percent range. Then last year, for the first time ever, we got it up to 67 percent.”
Council member Cori Schumacher is also running for the District 1 seat (her current city-wide seat is being phased out next year due to the arrival of districting). She says she has voted in the minority against Carlsbad’s in lieu parking arrangement which favors developers. “The city [staff] says we have plenty of parking and yet we know we don’t,” says Schumacher. She adds that she wants to make sure the amount of the in-lieu fee parking fees gets increased, and that that fund collected by the city actually gets spent on a specific parking facility.
She says the four-story State Mixed Use 30 project was approved at the planning commission level, but never made it to council. “The planning commission completely kept us out of the loop. That’s why I just voted last week to change it so that anything like this must also come before the council going forward.”
Schumacher agrees with Simon about Barrio misrepresentation. “The Barrio has been invisible with past councils.”
Angel sees one of the biggest challenges for Carlsbad is that the city council won’t stand up to its own city staff. “If the council tells them to do something they don’t want to do, they can come up with a million reasons not to do it. Sometimes the staff hears what it wants to hear.”
Tracy Carmichael, also running for the District 1 seat, did not respond to a request for comment.
Angel points out Carlsbad’s District 1 has not been represented on the council since Hamilton resigned in October and will not have a representative on the city council until April.