CARLSBAD — The Carlsbad City Council voted on Feb. 22 to remove a $21 million renovation of Monroe Street swimming pool from its June primary ballot, a sudden change of plans that residents worry could indefinitely postpone much-needed upgrades to the aging aquatic center.
The council approved several capital improvement projects, including improvements to the Monroe Street pool, as possible ballot measures in November or beyond, reversing an earlier decision to put the proposal to voters in just a few months.
Councilman Peder Norby, who represents District 1 where the pool is located, agreed with residents’ concerns and opposed the council’s action, calling for the aquatics center to return to the summer ballot as originally planned.
Norby, who was appointed to the council six months after the pool renovation plans were approved in January 2021, said there was no reason to delay the issue.
“The previous action was to put it on the June ballot,” Norby said. “Now, we’re reversing course. I’m concerned there’s no time in terms of when this will be brought back to a future ballot. It sounds like to me it could be a long time.”
Additionally, any ballot measure put up by the council must be approved by a simple majority of voters, according to Tina Ray, the city’s director of communication and engagement. Ray said the council’s current requests are for voters to allow the city to spend money it already has allotted for the projects.
“The council is asking for authorization to spend the money, not to raise taxes or put out a bond for the money,” Ray said.
The goal is to expand the pool at Monroe Street and to offer amenities similar to Alga Norte Aquatic Center. According to Carlsbad Parks and Recreation Director Kyle Lancaster, plans call for widening the pool to 33 meters, installing new shade structures, replacing tile and plaster and installing solar panels, among other upgrades.
Since the ballot measures are capital improvement projects costing more than $1 million, Proposition H is triggered. Prop H requires voter approval of any capital improvement projects surpassing $1 million in general fund costs. The last Prop H vote was in 2016 when residents approved rebuilding Fire Station 2 in La Costa.
The council has until August to approve its slate of capital improvement projects for the measure to make the November ballot. The cost to place the pool on the June ballot is between $55,000 to $85,000, according to Councilwoman Priya Bhat-Patel.
The council will return with a strategic planning workshop on March 16 to discuss the council’s goals. The Monroe Street Pool and other potential ballot measures will be discussed, according to City Manager Scott Chadwick.
“It also gives us an opportunity to hear council’s plans for its strategic plan efforts,” Chadwick said. “Council is giving us a significant list. It also gives us an opportunity to hear what the revenue consultant brings back.”
The city has put forward several other capital improvement projects, including a new fire station on Cannon Road west of Interstate 5, trenching the railroad tracks in Carlsbad Village, the College Boulevard extension behind Rancho Carlsbad, a new Public Works center, a new City Hall and Civic Center and a park in the Robertson Ranch neighborhood.
The city has been eyeing a new fire station in response to dropping response times and better access to the coast, according to previous council discussions. The city is looking at the current San Diego Gas & Electric operations center as a potential site, which is adjacent to the decommissioned Encina Power Station.
However, there is no current cost estimate for a new fire station, although the most recent comparison is Fire Station 2, which cost the city about $12 million.
“There are other items we want to put on the ballot that are over $1 million,” Mayor Matt Hall said. “I think the strategic process gives the community a chance to weigh in. If we try to put too many on, we might get a negative response.”
Trenching has long been a priority for the council, having unanimous support for years, and the city expects to contribute to the total project cost, although the city’s amount depends on the availability of other funding sources.
According to Ray, the April 2020 Carlsbad Village Railroad Trench Final Alternative Analysis Report shows the total cost is between $450 million to $465 million for the long trench.
However, Ray said funds for trenching could come from a combination of federal, state and local agencies, such as the city and San Diego Association of Governments. Until a funding strategy is developed, it is unknown how much money the city would be asked to contribute, Ray added.
Trenching is also part of SANDAG’s 2021 Regional Transportation Plan, which plans to invest billions into transit projects. The SANDAG plan, which was approved by the board of directors in December, also calls for completing double-tracking throughout the LOSSAN (Los Angeles-San Luis Obispo-San Diego) corridor, which is the second busiest rail corridor in the country, according to SANDAG.
Also, Congressman Mike Levin said earlier this year he is pushing to secure millions in funding for trenching from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
The council approved a $1.9 million preliminary design contract in August 2021 for the College Boulevard extension, along with approving a city-led financing program in May 2021. Early estimates tab the project to run at least $30 million and would connect the 1.5-mile road from Sunny Creek to Cannon roads just east of Rancho Carlsbad and near Sage Creek High School.
Lancaster also listed two parks as potential projects — Robertson Ranch and Veterans — although Ray said those plans may not require voter approval since money for park construction is collected from developer fees.
According to Ray, non-general fund money is available for the parks, but the planning process has not started so it remains unclear if those funds will be needed.
The upgrades for the Public Works center would incorporate technology and other workplace amenities, according to Lancaster.
Finally, the council has prioritized a new City Hall and Civic Center for the past several years. The new City Hall, according to previous reports, is to provide a modern workplace for staffers, consolidate departments spread across the city, and deliver a Civic Center for recreational use for residents.
Ray said the city is not planning on using general fund dollars for the Public Works operations center, a new City Hall or Civic Center.