CARLSBAD — It may be the biggest election in the city’s history.
Many residents are pushing for change, while others are steadfast in their support of how the city has maintained its status as one of San Diego County’s best. On Nov. 6, residents will take to the polls and determine the city’s future.
In one corner is incumbent Mayor Matt Hall, a 24-year veteran on the City Council including the last eight as mayor. In the other is Councilwoman Cori Schumacher, who rode the anti-Measure A wave into City Hall in 2016.
“The day after the vote, I moved on and I have supported the vote,” Hall said of Measure A. “One of the strengths for Carlsbad has been consistency in leadership.”
On Oct. 23, the City Council voted, 3-2, to aggressively pursue litigation against San Diego County after the Board of Supervisors’ approval of the McClellan-Palomar Master Plan earlier this month. Schumacher voted yes and Hall no (Mark Packard was the other no vote).
Hall said he preferred to start in the middle with negotiations, saying the city could opt to file legal action against the county at any point moving forward. He explained he would rather use his longtime relationships with the board to start conversations and negotiations regarding the plan.
Schumacher has long been an opponent of the master plan, citing expansion plans, noise, pollution and the environmental impact report (EIR). The city, through its legal team, filed two detailed comment letters to the board over the past several months expressing concerns with a range of issues in the EIR.
“There’s always more than one way to get to the objective,” Hall said. “I’ve had a 20-year working relationship with the Board of Supervisors, I didn’t feel litigation was the best way to get to the outcomes that we were trying to obtain. I felt we could do it through negotiation.”
“My vote reflects the strength of my support in protecting our residents’ interests,” Schumacher added. “Since we know what the alternative is (D-III) … it’s the largest choice, it’s an expansion within the context of any the definitions employed. I will absolutely continue to fight for our residents’ rights and the city’s interests.”
Aside from the airport, Hall said the city is in an exceptional state, financially sound and able to continue its momentum going forward. He said his vision centers on what residents want for the future, looking toward 2050.
“We’ve always thought tomorrow and what we wanted to be tomorrow,” Hall said. “It’s time to start that conversation … and that plan and most importantly a financial structure to get us there. Our revenue stream is extremely strong today. Just continuing to build on what we have today will carry us to 2050.”
Notably, he said, the current revenue streams give the city a balanced budget, a surplus that will lead into the future. Hall said he is cautious when it comes to Schumacher’s desire to push for a battery farm at the Encina Power Plant.
Schumacher, meanwhile, said getting into the energy business is good for the city. She explained how it would be a more reliable source of revenue than sales tax or tourism.
The city is currently undergoing a feasibility study with Oceanside, Encinitas and Del Mar about Community Choice Aggregation, which could mean the city could sell power. The report is expected to be released in December.
Schumacher said discussions with reps from Tesla, NRG Energy (owner of the power plant), San Diego Gas & Electric and other industry experts, have created a realization a battery farm is feasible and with a smaller footprint than the existing plant.
The size, though, is still up in the air, but it could be up to 100 megawatts.
“This is what we can do with the net revenues (of the CCA) once we get that investment back,” Schumacher said of the battery farm. “The whole point of a CCA is to bring local, renewable projects so you’re not importing energy because you want to keep the cost of energy low over time. We saw the city of San Diego jump on board.”
Hall, though, said it could cost Carlsbad hundreds of millions, perhaps even more than $1 billion, to get the project off the ground for battery farms.
“I know it won’t produce the numbers she’s talked about,” Hall said. “Even though it might be something we want to invest in, it will take a lot of time, energy and research to make sure that’s an area we want to go.”
“The more of us who join, the better we can offer our ratepayers and the larger infrastructure projects that we can build, which is clean tech jobs,” Schumacher countered. “The fact we are going to link our financial future and stability of it to energy and water consumption, really is the future of cities in general.”
Aside from the financial future, Hall said since the city is well-maintained and run, but three new City Council members, along with Schumacher’s short tenure, in one election could set Carlsbad back years. At least two new City Council members are guaranteed (District 1 and 3) and if Schumacher wins it would create an opening on the council to fill her seat.
Hall noted the city has $2 billion in assets and $150 million for operating and capital budgets each, and it is not worth such a dramatic change in the council.
Schumacher said if she wins, there is a process in place to follow, which is the council must have a consensus to appoint a new council member. If not, a citywide special election will be called.
Regardless, Schumacher added the city must take a more proactive approach to housing. She noted property at The Shoppes at Carlsbad and next to Poinsettia Station as prime locations for smart growth and create more dense projects outside the Village and Barrio.
“The idea here is to find a balance that respects our residents’ desire to retain community character,” she said. “We need to intentionally focus on the lower income. That’s the difference in ideology between myself and my colleagues.”