CARLSBAD — The fireworks started early and continued throughout the evening during the City Council meeting on Tuesday.
Several residents chided councilman Mark Packard after a prayer to open the meeting, and 18 residents challenged the council to put the Agua Hedionda South Shore Specific Plan referendum on the November 2016 general election ballot.
The plan, commonly known as 85/15, is sponsored by Caruso Affiliated, a Los Angeles-based development company.
The council, meanwhile, unanimously approved the San Diego County Registrar of Voters certification of a resident-led petition to put the measure up for a vote.
De’Ann Weimer, president of Citizens for North County, said placing the proposal in the general election, which is 4,000 pages, allows residents time to review the documents. Her group, which led the petition drive to put the plan to a vote, said there are many concerns, including no detailed drawings or construction plans, traffic concerns with Interstate 5 and a drastic image change for Carlsbad, which “may see itself more as Orange County.”
“We think it’s better to have it later because, as it is situated now, we would have it in the first three weeks of February as a special election,” she said. “It makes it very difficult to have a cohesive argument and means it will have a very low turnout.”
Only two residents asked the council for a special election, which would cost the city between $450,000 to $550,000.
Mayor Matt Hall said the council would revisit the issue at its Nov. 17 meeting. The council can either drop the measure or move forward with a special election or place it in the general election.
One resident challenged the council to adhere to their civic duty to listen to the people and said they could go down as a “puppet city council owned by Caruso.”
She added the council’s decision of where to place the measure “will be very telling.”
The consensus of those against the plan said not only saving money is the wise move, but added other concerns such as traffic, environmental issues, higher voter turnout in the general election and maintaining Carlsbad’s small-town feel.
“It would benefit Caruso Affiliated to have as low a turnout as possible,” Weimer said. “So they would be in favor of a special election. Those elections tend to be decided by absentee ballots, which is generally an older demographic and Caruso Affiliated has been courting. We need to have more voices heard in Carlsbad. I am very, very proud of what our volunteers have done.”
Others lobbed allegations that the plan would give total control to Caruso Affiliated for 15 years, while the council and residents would not be able to challenge any decision made about the 203.4-acre property.
Several residents laid into Caruso Affiliated and also alleged they were harassed, had water thrown on them, while accusing the firm of using scare tactics to opponents during the referendum signature-collecting efforts.
The two residents who spoke in favor of a special election said the plan is a positive one for the city. They said it would bring jobs and most notably, access to the lagoon previously unavailable to residents.
The plan, meanwhile, was brought to the City Council by Carlsbad residents Bill Dominguez, Carlton Lund and Maureen Simons.
The 203.4 acres of land is east of I-5 between the south shore of the lagoon and Cannon Road.
According to the submitted proposal, the plan conserves approximately 176.7 acres for open space and continued support for strawberry farming and coastal agriculture, while developing up to 585,000 square-feet for commercial, shopping, dining, entertainment and recreational uses on 26.7 acres designated.
Proponents filed a petition with the city clerk on July 8 with 20,479 signatures and the Registrar of Voters certified it on Aug. 13. On Aug. 25, city council passed the ordinance.
The opposition, led by the Citizens for North County, initiated a response and gathered 9,095 signatures, which was submitted to the city on Sept. 24. The county verified 8,052 signatures last week.