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Referendum Qualifies To Challenge Carlsbad Development Plan

Photo by Alison St John

Volunteer signature gatherers deliver more than 9,000 signatures to the Carlsbad City Clerk's office, requesting a referendum to overturn approval of the "85/15 Plan" on the shores of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon, Sept 24, 2015.

The San Diego County Registrar of Voters confirmed Tuesday the group Citizens for North County has collected enough signatures to challenge a planned development on strawberry fields by the Agua Hedionda Lagoon in Carlsbad. The group collected more than 6,523 signatures, which represents 10 percent of Carlsbad’s registered voters.

The project came before the City Council in August as a Citizens' Initiative, sponsored by developer Caruso Affiliated, and signed by 15 percent of Carlsbad's registered voters.

The council unanimously approved the initiative, called the "85/15 Plan," which would preserve 85 percent of the 200-acre lagoon-front property as open space and develop the remaining 15 percent as an upscale outdoor shopping and entertainment center.

The successful referendum means the City Council must now decide whether to repeal its approval of the project, or put it on the ballot for a public vote.

Citizens for North County recently held a fundraiser to help offset the $8,000 cost of printing and distributing the referendum petition. The group said that by presenting the project as a Citizens' Initiative, the developer avoided going through the rigorous environmental review known as the California Environmental Quality Act.

Caruso Affiliated spokeswoman Liz Jaeger links the group with a recently filed lawsuit by another group, North County Advocates, which challenges the initiative in Superior Court, and petitions for a restraining order on the project. Jaeger said the groups want to kill the plan.

The council must consider adopting the referendum at its Nov. 3 meeting. But a decision as to how to respond could come at a later date. The city could decide to put the matter on the November 2016 general election ballot, or hold a special election. A special election cannot take place in less than 88 days and could cost the city around half a million dollars.

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