CARLSBAD — With less than three months left in his political career, Mayor Matt Hall is voicing his concerns over the direction of a city he’s helped govern for nearly 30 years.
The highest priority for Hall is preventing the city of Carlsbad from reaching a $10 million deficit by the fiscal year 2025. While city staff has projected the deficit to be far lower — $2.8 million in FY 2026 and $5 million in 2027 — municipal representatives noted a potential deficit between $5 and $10 million at an informal meeting with business leaders earlier this year, according to sources who attended the event.
But instead of focusing on the maintaining the city’s vision or long-term financial planning, Hall said the council has approved more than 200 “minute” motions — majority approval of a procedural action or authorization of an agenda item — at a cost of at least $10,000 per motion in staff time and other costs, according to City Manager Scott Chadwick.
Hall also questioned the council’s hiring of more than 80 employees amidst an economic downturn.
Over the past four years, Hall said he has observed the council dramatically changing its approach to solving city issues.
“How I see it, it was more micromanaging instead of staying in your lane with creating policy and the vision aspect of things,” Hall said. “As a council member, you can’t be all things to all people. When you have a small group that stands up and says we need to do this or that … we just don’t have the bandwidth or manpower to do that.”
The issue most often cited when discussing wasted money and minute motions is the council’s decision to study turning a tree stump into a park bench. The motion passed, consuming nine months of staff time and two consultants at $35,000.
Ultimately, “we ran the stump through the shredder,” Hall said.
Hall said most of the approved motions have never been implemented, draining the city’s budget.
Looking back, Hall said in years past, individual council members were responsible for conducting their own research to determine whether a proposal was feasible.
The budget concerns, Hall said, has put $15 million to $20 million at risk, especially since the city hasn’t developed new revenues to offset those costs of employees and motions.
Hall also took aim at the different standards creating the FY 2022-23 budget as compared to years past. This year’s budget accounts for at least a $300,000 surplus, but using last year’s calculations, the city would be “upside down” about $1.6 million, according to Hall.
The approval of the $35 million College Boulevard extension from El Camino Real to Cannon Road has posed another financial hurdle for the city, after the council approved spending at least $2 million in previous budgets. The council has since “hit the pause button” and the project is expected to go before voters in the next several years.
“That’s why I voted against it in the first place,” Hall said. “Before we spend any money, let’s set the parameters and see if the residents want to pay umpteen million dollars for what developers are supposed to pay for.”
In addition, two City Council goals — trenching the railroad tracks in the Village and linear park — have been rebuffed by a majority of the council. Councilman Peder Norby attempted to put at least $3 million toward the first steps to trench the tracks, while Hall attempted to get “seed money” toward the Carlsbad Boulevard realignment — both failed.
Both projects have been part of the council’s long-term plans for at least 15 years and the Village trenching is part of SANDAG’s 2021 Regional Transportation Plan.
“Both are big projects and will need funding outside city resources,” Hall said. “Step one is to get it to a certain level so we can ask for future funding. Neither one of those got the majority vote on the council. To create a goal and not at least partially fund it … You just got to sit and watch where their focus is and it’s not on the future.”
Update: Carlsbad city staff said the projected budget deficit is $2.8 million in Fiscal Year 2026 and $5 million in 2027.