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Open Space Battle in Carlsbad

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Aired 4/19/09

Voters in the city of Carlsbad will choose between dueling ballot measures next week that aim to preserve flower and strawberry fields Interstate-5.  But the two initiatives differ in how that land might be treated in the future. Environmentalists say the land is a small, but important stretch of open space. KPBS Reporter Ed Joyce has more.

A relatively tiny patch of land surrounded by freeways, outlet stores and suburban sprawl is the focal point of two competing ballot measures. This time of year the property is a barren brown slope. But every spring, residents and visitors are treated to a stunning floral display as the land blossoms into a ribbon of flowers.

Propositions D and E on the Carlsbad ballot seek to preserve more than 300 acres of strawberry and flower fields.

Ronald Alvarez is with Concerned Citizens of Carlsbad, which sponsored Prop. E. He says the measure will protect the land from future development.

Alverez: Prop. D is for development and Prop. E is for the environment to protect what was there for the people for the view corridors, for all the open, true open space lands that it will remain and it will be our heritage remaining and protected for many generations to come.

Robert Rickert is with the San Diego Chapter of the Sierra Club, which supports Prop. E. He says preserving the property benefits residents throughout San Diego County as an area of open space to break-up the mix of homes and commercial development. Rickert says the group has mixed feelings about zoning the land as agriculture, which Prop. E would do. But he says that zoning is preferable to residential or commercial development - which could do more harm to a nearby lagoon.

Rickert: These lands, these flower fields and strawberry fields are held near and dear to the citizens of North County. And from an environmentalists’ perspective it maintains vistas to the lagoon and such. So ideally we’d like to preserve whatever possible of the land along the lagoon and buffer it from further erosion, from development.”

He says the Sierra Club opposes Prop. D -- the city-sponsored initiative because it allows other uses for the land, such as buildings or parking lots.

Prop. D would protect about 280 acres as open space. Under current law, open space zoning allows agriculture, parks trails and some other uses. San Diego Gas and Electric, which owns most of the property, would be able to develop 48 acres of the land that has already been zoned for tourist-related development. Prop. E would prevent that development.

Carlsbad Mayor Bud Lewis says Prop. D preserves the space and options for future development without costing the city money. He says Prop. E would cost the city millions of dollars in farming subsidies, lawsuits and judgments for the taking of existing property rights.

The Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce agrees. The Director of Government Affairs for the Chamber is Michael Babowal. He says the chamber opposes Prop. E because it violates private property rights and is too costly.

Babowal: The property owners were given the rights to their property when they bought the land. And the zoning was given to them years ago by the city and the Coastal Commission.

Babowal heads up the No on E campaign, the first political action committee in the chamber’s history. He says that agricultural zoning is too restrictive and could dramatically change the property if growing flowers and strawberries is no longer profitable.

Babowal: Then you can build things like migrant housing there. You can build slaughterhouses, you can have cattle, you can have sheep grazing, you can have chicken coops. There’s a lot of different stuff that you can have there. We’d rather see parks and trails when you can’t grow anything anymore.

With two propositions on the ballot, it’s possible Carlsbad voters could vote No on both Propositions D and E. In that case, the one with the most votes wins. However, it’s possible both may fail. That would maintain the status quo – which means the flower and strawberry fields could face development in the future.  Ed Joyce, KPBS News.

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