COMMENTARY: What do Carlsbad leaders have to fear from referendum?

Richard Riehl

Caruso Affiliated’s latest glossy mailer features the smiling faces of the five City Council members who voted unanimously to approve the developer’s plan to build a Strawberry Fields mall. Directly below the beaming politicians is the plea, “Don’t let outside interests end the Strawberry Fields and take away what’s ours,” followed by the command, “Don’t sign the petition.” You’re invited to “get the facts” from a link to Caruso’s corporate marketing campaign.

You’d think our public officials would refer us to the city’s website, where you can find unbiased documents related to the developer’s plan, like Proposition D, passed by the voters in 2006, and the entire Agua Hedionda South Shore Specific Plan (AH-SP). So I went to the city’s website, where I found this. “The City of Carlsbad did not sponsor the initiative and, by law, no public resources may be used to advocate for or against an initiative or referendum.”

I’m sure council members got legal advice before climbing aboard Caruso’s campaign train to keep their constituents away from the voting booth. They are merely trumpeting the wisdom of their decision. But how can they explain their opposition to the referendum? The website explains there is no referendum yet filed with the city clerk. Council members might be successfully skirting the law, but next year’s election will allow voters a say in the wisdom of that.

Prop. D can be found here: These two sections caught my eye: 3.1.8, “The city shall also ensure that … the existing Strawberry Fields are allowed to continue as long as it is economically viable for the landowner to do so.” Despite this promise, the Caruso/City Council mailer claims putting the AH-SP up for a vote will mean the loss of “Jimmy Ukegawa’s iconic Carlsbad Strawberry Company, our strawberry farming heritage and protections for coastal agriculture.”

Because of my guilty conscience about signing an initiative I was told was a citizens-led effort to save the Strawberry Fields, I vowed to read the entire 397-page document, which can be found here: It’s titled, “Initiative Measure to be Submitted Directly to the Voters,” received May 12, 2015. You read that right. No mention of the City Council’s authority to rubber-stamp it, and a very good reason many of us felt misled.

The “intent” of the AH-SP, according to its introduction, is to “provide for the continuation of coastal agriculture and strawberry farming,” mirroring Prop. D. Neither guarantees financial support for the fields. The city’s website claims AH-SP would “guarantee continued agriculture on the site in perpetuity by providing financial support to the top farming operation.” Note the absence of the words “Strawberry Fields.”

You also won’t find those words in the AH-SP’s guarantee of financial support. “The Specific Plan establishes revenue sources from the Specific Plan’s visitor-serving commercial uses, and/or from private funding, to dedicate, improve, restore, operate, and maintain in perpetuity the dedicated open space areas at no tax burden to Carlsbad residents.”

Contrary to the Caruso/City Council mailer, just as signing the petition for the initiative did not guarantee Strawberry Fields forever, refusing to sign the referendum petition will not save them from being plowed under the day after the new Nordstrom is open for business. It will only save the land for agriculture, with a vague promise to subsidize growers, with funding from a variety of unnamed sources.

The City Council’s rubber stamp and promotion of the Agua Hedionda Specific Plan is both irresponsible and unseemly. For elected officials to mount a campaign urging their constituents not to vote is both ironic and politically stupid.

Carlsbad residents have only 13 days left to sign the referendum petition. Signature gatherers are going door-to-door and setting up tables at local parks. Click here for future sites:

Richard Riehl is a Carlsbad resident

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