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Carlsbad Approves Agua Hedionda Lagoon Shopping Center

Photo by Alison St John

An overflow crowd fills the courtyard outside Carlsbad City Hall, as the City Council votes on a plan to build a shopping center on the shores of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon, Aug. 25, 2015.

Carlsbad City Council voted unanimously to approve a plan to build an upscale mall overlooking the Agua Hedionda lagoon, rather than putting it on the ballot for a public vote.

After a six-hour hearing Tuesday, Carlsbad City Council voted unanimously to approve a developer's plan to build a shopping center on the shores of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon, rather than sending it to a public vote.

The 85/15 project will build an upscale outdoor mall on 27 acres of a 203 acre property overlooking the lagoon, and preserve the other 85 percent as open space for farming and recreation.

More than 130 people testified for and against the project. Some, such as Ted Owen of the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce, urged the council to approve the plan, saying there is no guarantee another developer would offer to preserve so much open space.

Others, like resident Richard Wilson, said they were against setting a precedent by allowing a developer to use "heavy propaganda" to collect enough signatures for a citizens' initiative. They asked the council to let the public vote on the plan at a special election.

Thanks to a recent California Supreme Court ruling, Citizens' Initiatives are not required to go through the rigorous environmental review of the California Environmental Quality Act, known as CEQA.

Developer Rick Caruso told the council that Citizens' Initiatives reduced legal battles.

"I believe decisions like this one should be determined not in a court room, but by the city’s own leaders representing the voice of their community," Caruso said.

Stephen Fluhr of the neighboring Westfield shopping mall said his company had recently spent millions on an expansion that passed CEQA review.

"While WestfIeld complied with those rigorous standards, the Caruso plan will not be subject to any CEQA review by the city council," Fluhr said. "Such an approach avoids those tried and true procedures that ensure that all potential environmental impacts are properly analyzed and fully understood."

Westfield has said it would wait to see how Carlsbad City Council voted before deciding whether to take legal action.

The company's response is important since another large development off Interstate 5, One Paseo, ultimately changed its plan as a result of pressure from a neighboring retailer.

Wednesday morning Westfield emailed the following statement:

"Given the volume of credible opposition and valid points raised, coupled with deficiencies identified in Westfield’s review and cited for the record, we were disappointed by the Council decision which fundamentally dismissed or ignored citizens’ concerns. We will continue to monitor the process and explore options."

Mayor Matt Hall said even though not everyone agreed, the decision will benefit Carlsbad.

“This plan has been developed in collaboration with the community," he said, " and it goes above and beyond what is required, by ensuring the future of the strawberry fields and providing public access to open space in perpetuity. That has tremendous value and will enhance our community for years to come.”

The project still needs approval from the California Coastal Commission.

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