Point of View: Call ‘85/15’ what it is, and let Carlsbad vote on it


A development and open-space plan on the south side of Agua Hedionda Lagoon in Carlsbad is the subject of intense debate in the community. (Google Earth image)

Roman S. Koenig

2013_COLUMN_KOENIG_RThere is no such thing as a shopping mall in harmony with nature.

No matter what slick pseudo-campaign advertising tells you, such development is not in harmony with its environment. Yet that’s what the proponents of Carlsbad’s so-called “85/15 Plan” for the Agua Hedionda Lagoon area want you to believe, despite their preposterous assertion in recent television campaign commercials (for something that wasn’t even on the ballot and, frankly, was never intended to be).

This is not an anti-development or anti-commerce rant, though.

Carlsbad needs a new shopping mall? Fine. There’s an opportunity to preserve a fair amount of Agua Hedionda Lagoon land and local strawberry fields in the process? Maybe the proposal really is the best of both worlds, with as little environmental damage as possible. But Carlsbad residents may never have a chance to vote on it thanks to a recent City Council decision.

Most disturbing with this movement in Carlsbad is the misleading and propaganda-like terminology used to push the project.

Pro-plan advertisements have touted a shopping and entertainment center “in harmony with nature.”

The “85/15” initiative proposes a land-use plan for about 203 acres east of Interstate 5 between the south shore of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon and Cannon Road, which includes strawberry fields. While 155 acres of that land is designated open space, the other 48 acres have a commercial designation, according to the city. Developer Caruso Affiliated would build its Nordstrom-anchored shopping mall on about half of that 48 acres, with the other half going toward open space, according to a city announcement. In that context, the “85/15 Plan” refers to the full 203 acres, not the 48 acres open to development.

According to language in the official “Agua Hedionda South Shore Specific Plan,” the shopping mall portion will have a maximum building floor-area of 585,000 square feet, with four parking spaces per 1,000 square feet of gross leasable space. That’s potentially at least 2,000 parking spaces — a field of blacktop and/or garages, not strawberries or native habitat. And Nordstrom is no small- or medium-sized tenant. Parking brings with it plenty of environmental issues, such as car pollutants and trash. The initiative language explains steps to mitigate those concerns, but the point is that no such shopping project is in harmony with nature.

Advertise this project for what it is — a shopping mall and open-space proposal. There’s no need to douse the language in perfume, unless proponents have an unspoken expectation that residents won’t buy it. The Carlsbad City Council, with its Aug. 25 green light, has denied the community that test.

The City Council’s unanimous vote approving the plan shows that the community’s elected leaders have also ingested this commercial Kool-Aid.

By approving the “85/15” measure itself, the City Council has taken away residents’ right to vote on the project, instead opting to believe that 15 percent of signatures on a developer-sponsored initiative constitutes a representative majority view of the community. The council also seems to believe that the state’s mandated environmental review process is irrelevant.

That in itself is questionable political leadership. It’s made worse by Councilwoman Lorraine Wood’s assertion that the shopping mall project “is compatible with my vision and my values,” reported in local news media outlets. While Wood and the council are elected to act for the residents who vote them into office, they also have an obligation to let an initiative process — a community vote — on an issue proceed regardless of their personal visions for the city.

A petition drive is now underway demanding a community vote on the initiative. Citizens for North County, a nonprofit group, launched its effort Aug. 31 and must get nearly 10,000 signatures by Sept. 24 to force a special election on the plan (which itself, remember, was touted as an initiative).

Carlsbad residents should sign this petition regardless of whether they support Caruso’s development. An initiative is an initiative. Put it to a community vote, as it was supposedly intended.

Already, this effort has been met with more slick television spots by the developer-backed proponents.

The commercial Kool-Aid might be strawberry flavored, but Carlsbad residents should take it with more than a grain of salt.

Roman S. Koenig is editor and publisher of the North Coast Current. Columns are the opinions of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of North Coast Current ownership. Comment below or submit letters to the editor at [email protected].