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Lance Schulte
Lance Schulte, a member of the group People for Ponto, discusses the Carlsbad City Council’s decision to bring back options regarding a coastal park near Ponto State Beach. Photo by Steve Puterski
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Carlsbad officials to explore options for Ponto Park

CARLSBAD — The quest for a new coastal park in southwestern Carlsbad is moving forward after the Carlsbad City Council approved bringing back “viable options” during its Jan. 26 meeting.

For the past seven years, residents in the San Pacifico development led by Lance Schulte and Jodi Jones, among many others, have lobbied the city to develop the 11-acre site as a coastal park and light commercial.

The group, known as People for Ponto, has researched the land use, designations and possibilities for the city to create Ponto Park south of the Cape Rey Hotel and across from the state campgrounds.

The property, which sits west of Coast Highway and north of Avenida Encinas, is bisected by Ponto Drive. The larger lot is about 7.5 acres.

“I’m trying to find out what the right thing is for our community and for our city, so I’d like to continue the conversation,” said Councilwoman Teresa Acosta, who voiced the motion to bring the issue back to council. “I want to explore what the options are and don’t want to limit it too much.”

City challenges

There are several challenges for the city to overcome if it were to move forward with an attempted purchase of the land in question. First, the land is already owned by Hudson Advisors, Inc., while an unofficial estimate puts the price at least $15 million.

According to Jeff Murphy, Carlsbad’s community development director, there is no funding mechanism in place to purchase the property, assuming the property owner would sell. In 2016, the developer submitted an application to develop the land, although there are no active permits, Murphy said.

Schulte and Jones said the city has the funds to purchase the property, noting the council also approved a $21 million renovation to the Monroe Street pool during the same meeting.

Ponto Park
The Carlsbad City Council approved bringing back “viable options” for a potential Ponto Park during its Jan. 26 meeting. Photo by Steve Puterski

Regardless, if the city buys the land, it will forego park-in-lieu fees, property and sales taxes. Also, staff reported to the council about Proposition C, which mandates any city project over $1 million (with four exceptions), go to the voters. One of the exceptions under Prop. C is the purchase of open space and trail connectivity is not subject to a citywide vote. Additionally, city staff does not believe it would qualify, as the land being discussed is for park development, not open space.

The current proposed development is for 136 residential units (28 affordable) on the larger site, with commercial spaces on the smaller. The city, though, cannot reduce residential density on a property without concurrently rezoning another property to make up the lost units, according to the staff report.

The development also creates another challenge, as the current number of proposed units fall under moderate-income and low-income categories as outlined by the state’s housing mandate, Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA). Under the requirement, cities are required to plan for residents’ housing needs, regardless of income.

Finally, the city could investigate whether the property could be subject to eminent domain and acquired through condemnation.

People for Ponto

A number of residents in the San Pacifico neighborhood, just blocks from the site, have long held the city erred in its interpretation of the property. The city denies any intentional wrongdoing but admitted to an “oversight” regarding policy A-10 of the Local Coastal Plan, according to a staff report.

Nevertheless, the residents say they are entitled to a coastal park, which the southern portion of the city has none. The park acreage set aside from developers was routed to Veterans Memorial Park off Palomar Airport Road.

Also, Schulte said a private landowner adjacent to the property is also willing to commit to a private-public partnership with the city to build a recreational swimming pool at no cost to the city.

Schulte and Jones said a park would bring more value to the city, including jobs, increased home values and other factors, which outweigh the benefits of housing. However, they acknowledged the need for housing in the city as it, the county and state are in the midst of a housing crisis.

The solution, the two said, is to provide land more inland to develop.

Another factor Schulte and Jones said is the growing concern over sea-level rise and how predictions call for the eroding of Ponto State Beach and the campground.

“The more conversations we have, the more people that hear about it, the more they are like, of course it should,” Jones said about the park. “You can protect it as a park. Seeing the excitement from the community is really exciting.”