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Critics Protest Proposed Shopping Center On Carlsbad Lagoon

Photo by Alison St John

Protesters rally against the 85/15 Agua Hedionda Lagoon project, Aug. 20, 2015.

Opponents of a plan to build a shopping center on the shores of a Carlsbad lagoon say the plan seriously underestimates the environmental impact.

Members of several environmental groups rallied Thursday on the north shore of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon with signs reading, “No Mall” and “Let the People Vote." They were protesting the proposed “85/15 Plan” to be voted on by the Carlsbad City Council next week.

Caruso Affiliated is proposing to preserve 85 percent of a 200-acre property on the south shore, and build an upscale shopping center on the remaining 15 percent, next to Interstate 5.

Opponents said it is impossible to evaluate the visual impact of the proposed shopping center without engineering drawings or renderings.

Fred Sandquist of the Batiquitos Lagoon Foundation was skeptical of the developer’s strategy of using a Citizens' Initiative to avoid a thorough environmental impact review.

“We’ve had a process in place for many, many years. The California Environmental Quality Act is a long and arduous process, but it works,” Sandquist said. “If we have a process that works, why take the city, the planning department off the table if it’s such a good project?”

Photo by Alison St John

Isabelle Kay, Reserve manager for UCSD'S Natural Reserve System, speaks at a rally to protest a new shopping center on the south shore of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon.

Opponents like Isabelle Kay, a manager with UC San Diego's Natural Reserve System, said the developer’s environmental impact report underestimates the problem of chemicals in the soil from years of growing strawberries on the site.

Brad Roth, chair of the Carlsbad Watershed Network, said the plan falls short on specifics of how to prevent polluted run-off from entering the lagoon as a result of the development.

“We consider this to be reckless disregard for the protection of Ague Hedionda Lagoon," Roth said.

Caruso Affiliated responded to the protest in a statement: “A tiny group of opponents, many from outside Carlsbad, continue to use scare tactics and distortions of the facts to confuse Carlsbad residents about the 85/15 Plan because they know the plan has overwhelming support.

"Here are the facts: The 85/15 Plan creates 176 acres of permanent open space at no cost to taxpayers. The plan includes hundreds of environmental protection features, it will improve water quality in the lagoon and reduce runoff, and that's validated by the city's independent review of the plan."

The developer has spent three years doing outreach, but some residents said they knew little about the project until asked to sign a petition this summer to preserve the strawberry fields.

Opponents want Carlsbad’s City Council to put the project on the ballot for a public vote rather than approving it outright. A special election would cost the city around $500,000.

A vote is expected next Tuesday night.

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