Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
KPBS Midday Edition

Despite Aggressive Measure A Campaigns, Many Carlsbad Voters Undecided

The Agua Hedionda Lagoon in Carlsbad, looking east toward 85 percent of the land that would be preserved under the Agua Hedionda 85/15 Plan, July 2015.
Beverley Woodworth
The Agua Hedionda Lagoon in Carlsbad, looking east toward 85 percent of the land that would be preserved under the Agua Hedionda 85/15 Plan, July 2015.

Proposed lagoon development goes to voters next week

Despite Aggressive Measure A Campaigns, Many Carlsbad Voters Undecided
With the special election in Carlsbad less than a week away, it is impossible to predict the outcome of Measure A. Many voters remain undecided, in spite of weeks of passionate campaigning for and against the proposed development on the Agua Hedionda Lagoon.
Despite Aggressive Measure A Campaigns, Many Carlsbad Voters Undecided
Despite Aggressive Measure A Campaigns, Many Carlsbad Voters UndecidedGUEST:Alison St John, North County reporter, KPBS News

Coming up the countdown to the vote on a contribution mall in Carlsbad. Their YouTube video went viral. A San Diego family is out with a book about raising Ryland. You're listening to translate -- trend eight Midday Edition . Homeowners can qualify to be grant --. It is less than a week away Carlsbad special election on measure a will determine if an upscale shopping center can be built on part of the famous Strawberry Fields. It has been a fierce but uneven battle. The developer e- measure a says he has support of everyone who matters in Carlsbad. The entire Carlsbad city Council to support an upscale new shopping center on the lagoon. This means many local businesses are keeping quiet. It is difficult for our businesses to be bold enough to come out. No one wants to make an enemy of City Hall. We have seen people be shy about doing a publicly. [Indiscernible] says it's also a risk for local businesses to come out in support. There are number who have come out publicly and have experienced a letdown in business. Just because our opposition against measure a have called for boycotts. Rather than being displaced a conspicuous opponent [Indiscernible]. Your story focus on the reaction of business to Caruso's development plans. Does everyone know if there is enough demand to support yet another high-end shopping center in Carlsbad? [Indiscernible] looked at the plan and said this is going to be 585 ft.². That would add to the retail space by about 10%. The city can expect a temporary 12 to 18 months in revenue generated by existing stepless show's. After that initial. Revenue typically stabilizes and there will be no long-term adverse impacts. The Chamber of Commerce supports it, and people think it is something that could be absorbed. It is -- there are incrimination's flying in all directions. [Indiscernible] deflated the tires of their cars outside of their houses. [Indiscernible] have gone to retirement communities in order to recruit people to come and vote for them. There is a lot of hot air and controversy. The spokesman for Caruso that you had in your report said that everybody who matters in Carlsbad supports the measure a. What about endorsements from the police and fire Association? Those are fairly influential endorsements. The firefighters came out and said in spite of the fact that traffic is a big issue for firefighters trying to get to the scene of a fire, they believe that because the developer is going to invest about $9 million in traffic litigation that traffic will improve. Traffic is going to get worse over the coming decades, but that will be due to regional growth. Who else supports this project? Both signs have some movers and shakers. The yes campaign has the city Council, and formal planning commissioners. Obviously the strawberry farms. Many people who do not live in Carlsbad know this project because it will be built where those Strawberry Fields are. It is going to help the Strawberry Fields. They moved to the east. On the no side you have -- members of the Carlsbad unified school district who are very angry that the city's sued the school district over traffic. They are now holding the developer's feet to the fire. There are good assortment of people on both sides of the issue. You have somewhat evenly split there. the prominent Carlsbad residents coming out for and against. In one place where it is not evenly split is the money spent on this campaign. Would you look at the campaign disclosure documents the developer has last year's $7 million, and they share a couple more million dollars. He has been in the community for three years. He started three years ago. Building up support. The opponents have collected about 125,000 The opponents have collected about $125,000. Just a tiny portion of the amount of money. That is white those of us who live outside of Carlsbad have seen the ads on the television. The developers paid for just this year alone $660,000 of TV advertising on six TV stations. The amount of money that is going on to it is really David and Goliath. When people pour a lot of money into a particular issue like this it usually blows out the opposition. Why is the outcome of the still uncertain? It is because it is about more than just the project. It is about the way the developer has done it. People who like the project are concerned they might be setting a precedent because the developer has bypassed the California environmental quality act. And gone directly to the people with the initiative. They are worried that if this gets passed it is an all or nothing vote. The city Council may not have as much authority over changes. There is no wiggle room to change things. The next 15 years, the developer will pretty much get to do what this initiative says he is going to do. I think the community is very torn over this because not only is this a pretty major development possibly for all of [Indiscernible] County. Also because of the weight the developer has pushed it through. It is really precedent-setting. Is to state the final word on this? Yes, Tuesday is the vote. I believe that 42,000 absentee ballots are being sent out. That is about two thirds of the overall [Indiscernible]. At least 40% to 50% have been returned. Only about 10% are expected to actually vote on the day. The polls close at eight clock. I have been speaking with trend eight Allison St. John.

With the special election in Carlsbad less than a week away, it is impossible to predict the outcome of Measure A. Many voters remain undecided, in spite of weeks of passionate campaigning for and against the proposed development on the Agua Hedionda Lagoon.

Campaign contributions

Campaign filings on the Carlsbad city website tell a compelling story of a David versus Goliath campaign, with “Yes on A” spending $7 million in 2015 and generating $2.3 million this year.

Developer Rick Caruso said it is all his own money. Carlsbad resident Catherine Miller, who works for the “Yes on A” campaign, confirmed that local voters and volunteers have not contributed money, only time.

The filings show tens of thousands of dollars being paid to consultants in Washington, D.C., Chicago and Los Angeles. Six television stations in San Diego have aired $660,000 worth of commercials promoting the plan in January alone.

Meanwhile, “No on A” raised $113,000 in 2015 and another $10,000 so far this year. In December, rival mall Westfield Corp., put $75,000 in the pot to oppose the measure. That leaves about $48,000, most of which came in checks for $100 to $500 from local residents.

DeAnn Weimer at the "No On A" Campaign headquarters in Carlsbad, Feb. 12, 2016.
Alison St John
DeAnn Weimer at the "No On A" Campaign headquarters in Carlsbad, Feb. 12, 2016.

At the bustling “No on A” campaign headquarters, DeAnn Weimer said opponents of the development may have less money but are rich in volunteers.

"We have a lot of people with blisters on their feet because they’ve walked so much," she said. "And now it’s so warm they are red as beets. They’re having those face-to-face discussions. That is what we are relying on — neighbor-to-neighbor conversations."

Turnout

The Registrar of Voters Office said voter turnout in most special elections is less than 50 percent. For example, San Diego’s mayoral election in November 2013 to replace Bob Filner drew 35 percent of the eligible voters. But the number of vote–by-mail ballots that have already been returned (about 40 percent ) suggest that at least half of Carlsbad voters will weigh in on this proposal.

Endorsements

Caruso, the developer behind Measure A, said he has the support of "everyone who really matters in Carlsbad."

This infuriates opponents, who say they feel bypassed and belittled.

The whole Carlsbad City Council and many others do support the plan for an upscale outdoor shopping center on the lagoon, with three miles of trails and open space.

Businesses

Weimer said the "No on A" campaign has a strong list of endorsers, too, but some local businesses that don’t like the plan are keeping quiet.

"It is very difficult, I think, for our businesses to be bold enough to come out," she said. "Because no one wants to make an enemy of City Hall, and so we’ve seen people be shy about doing that publicly.”

Catherine Miller at the "Yes on A" tent in Carlsbad, Feb. 12, 2016.
Alison St John
Catherine Miller at the "Yes on A" tent in Carlsbad, Feb. 12, 2016.

But Miller said it’s also a risk for local businesses to come out in support of Measure A.

"There’s a number that have come out publicly that have experienced somewhat of a letdown in business just because our opposition against Measure A have called for boycotts," Miller said.

One businessman who has staunchly endorsed the project from the beginning is lifelong farmer Jimmy Ukegawa, president of Carlsbad Strawberry Farms.

Rather than being displaced, the popular strawberry fields would be moved and made more sustainable, Ukegawa said. A new farm-to-table restaurant would be part of the development.

Ukegawa said if the project does not go through, continuing to grow strawberries on that land long term would be a difficult proposition.

The Westfield Corp. is the most obvious opponent of the project — the company’s nearest retail mall is 20 miles south in University City. Its opposition is a telling sign that Caruso’s "community gathering place" is not designed exclusively for local Carlsbad residents’ benefit, but rather aims to attract shoppers from all over the region.

Firefighters, police

Both the Carlsbad police officers and firefighters associations have come out in favor of the plan.

Carlsbad firefighters endorse Measure A, Jan. 13, 2016.
Alison St John
Carlsbad firefighters endorse Measure A, Jan. 13, 2016.

Chris Lawrence of the Firefighters Association said he’s for it because Caruso is committed to spending more than $9 million on road improvements.

The city staff analysis shows traffic will get worse, mainly because of overall regional growth and not primarily because of Caruso’s development.

The other financial benefit law enforcement sees in the plan is the projected $2.5 million a year in extra revenues it is projected to generate. City staff reached this conclusion after calling Caruso’s projected revenues "overstated".

The "No on A" campaign says even this estimate is overstated.

History has shown Carlsbad city staff have done a good job planning the city, Lawrence said. He believes the project will generate more revenues to add to public services like law enforcement.

Wiemer raised the question of whether firefighters supported the plan at a time when they were negotiating a raise from the city. However, Lawrence said the union is at the end of a three-year contract and will not be back at the bargaining table until next fall.

Besides environmentalists, "slow growthers" and professional surfers, an unexpected source of support for the opposition, opposition is coming from people involved in a fight over Carlsbad’s new Sage Creek High School, said Weimer.

The school is also on Cannon Road, and the city sued the school district under the California Environmental Quality Act because of traffic issues.

"Many people who were involved with the school at that time find it terribly ironic and somewhat hypocritical for the city now to not find those issues important enough to hold an outside developer to those standards, when they cost the school district $3 million," Weimer said.

It’s difficult to find anyone willing to predict the outcome of next week’s special election. In spite of the TV ads and the millions of dollars spent, Miller said it’s still a nail-biter.

"I think really it’s going to come down to election day. It really is," she said. "And who gets out, who feels passionate enough. And there’s a lot of undecided, I think, more so than I ever thought there were going to be."

Corrected:
Correction: The original version of the story incorrectly quoted the estimated annual revenue at $250 million, rather than $2.5 million.