The Coast News Group
In May, Rick Caruso (at podium) announces plans to develop the current sight of the strawberry fields into an upscale shopping center anchored by a Nordstrom with the help of realtor Carlton Lund (far right), Carlsbad Strawberry Company Owner Jimmy Ukegawa (far left) and Agua Hedionda Lagoon Foundation President Maureen Simons. File photo by Ellen Wright
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Not all in favor of strawberry fields mall

The signatures to build an upscale retail shopping center at the Carlsbad Strawberry

Fields have been gathered and are being authenticated.

While the Carlsbad City Clerk waits to receive authorization from the San Diego County Registrar of Voters, supporters and opponents of the 85/15 Agua Hedionda Lagoon Initiative are beefing up outreach.

In May, Rick Caruso officially announced his plan for the strawberry fields, although he had been gathering input in the city for years.

He launched the citizen-led initiative, with the help of realtor Carlton Lund, Agua Hedionda Lagoon Foundation President Maureen Simons and Carlsbad Strawberry Company Owner Jimmy Ukegawa to develop the current sight of the strawberry fields into an upscale shopping center anchored by a Nordstrom.

The plan calls for 85 percent of the land to remain open space, including doubling the size of the strawberry fields.

As required by law, 15 percent of registered Carlsbad voters must sign on in support of the project in order for the City Council to approve it or send it to a special vote.

On July 14, a handful of opponents stood outside City Hall to voice their opinions.

Carlsbad resident Jason Ozeal told the council he felt duped after signing the initiative.

“I… feel like I’ve been completely duped, by the proponents of the initiative, into signing a petition under false pretense,” he said.

Ozeal believed that signing would put the initiative on the ballot to let the voters decide and he was frustrated because he felt the signature gatherer misled him.

“When she explicitly told me that my signature meant that I wanted to see it put on a ballot, I finally agreed to sign it,” Ozeal said.

Assistant City Clerk Shelley Collins said 10 people withdrew their signatures before they were sent to the County Registrar.

She said more people tried to remove their signatures from the initiative, but she didn’t receive their letters in time to be compliant with the state election code.

About 30 people worked full time to gather more than 20,000 signatures in six weeks said Bryce Ross, vice president of acquisitions and development for Caruso Affiliated.

Once the signatures have been authenticated, the council will either be able to outright approve the project or put it to a vote.

Ozeal urged the council to put the project to a vote. A representative from the North County Women’s League of Voters agreed.

“The league’s concern is not on the merits of the project. Rather, our concern is the normal permit approval process has not been followed,” said Mary Thompson. “The league believes the proposed project requires the normal, comprehensive staff review, independent third party review to evaluate compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act and opportunities for public input.

Caruso said he chose to do an initiative instead of going through the typical review process to give council and the community direct control over the process.

In May, city staff began reviewing the project proposal, which is 4,000 pages long and will give a recommendation likely in late August or early September.

On Facebook, the Agua Hedionda 85/15 Plan page has about 4,400 likes and an opposing page, Carlsbad Locals Against the Agua Hedionda 85/15 Plan has about 1,000 likes.

Caruso staff is offering open space tours Aug. 1 and Aug. 15 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. to show residents how they plan to increase access to the open space surrounding the Agua Hedionda Lagoon, which is currently closed to the public.

The tours meet at the Carlsbad Strawberry Fields.


Kris Wright September 2, 2015 at 3:08 pm

I have lived in Carlsbad for over 30 years. I have attended a forum for the 85/15 plan and am disgusted at the way that Caruso has attempted to railroad our community into accepting this plan. Part of this “open space” will be parking lots, you know. Jimmy U. admitted to me that the Caruso project will leave him with the poorer parts (or less fertile) of the remaining strawberry fields. Why do we need yet another mall? We have one! Of course it is in need of upgrade, but put the Nordstrom’s there!

Part of the beauty of Carlsbad is the undeveloped land with coastal shrubs and habitat. I have seen developers move in and mow down hills (along El Camino Real) to put up more homes. Particularly since we are in a drought, why can’t we enjoy Carlsbad as it really is and not develop on every dirt clod in the city? We voted for farmlands in that area. Let us keep the strawberry fields as they are, and put the big department stores in the Mall that we currently have!

ma July 27, 2015 at 3:18 pm

Enjoy the traffic and the many businesses in and near Car country that will be put out of business. Bound to happen..just a matter of time.

Shelley Wong July 26, 2015 at 1:37 pm

We love our quality of life and appreciate that our leaders responsibly safeguard it. After attending meetings, tours, and reading about the Agua Hedionda 85/15 Plan, I am convinced this project will continue to improve our quality of life. There are just so many fine points of great value. This one insures the Caruso group cannot renege on its promise of open space. The City and people of Carlsbad will have an open easement or grant deed to protect and conserve this precious open space. By law no one can build there. Then an independent non-profit or land management group focused on the environment will manage most of it. All this will happen at no cost to taxpayers, zero. I hope the mayor and city council are impressed by the commitment of the builder and our energetic endorsement of Caruso Affiliated plan because thousands and thousands of us want this project to be built.

Sammy Clark July 25, 2015 at 3:48 pm

If he’s got enough valid signatures, he’s going to get his election. Which means opponents need to A) start marshaling your talking points and put together a campaign to defeat it at the polls, and B) start seeking representation for a legal challenge in the event that he wins.

Laurie Boone July 24, 2015 at 2:46 pm

Lots of development has happened in the 40+ years that my husband and I have lived in Carlsbad. We have never experienced a development company like Caruso. The amazing staff have listened, listened, engaged, invited, requested , hosted ideas and input from Carlsbad citizens for 4 years!!! For people to say they have not had a chance to be informed demonstrates they must not be paying attention. My 92 year old mother spoke with knowledge about the 85/15 plan the other day and she is not on Facebook. There are tours of the project still being offered.

Avram Kaplan July 24, 2015 at 1:46 pm

I watched the folks getting signatures and I read and signed the petition it was very clear and of course I took my time to be informed
The process was approved baby the voters who voted in prop d and that process should be followed
I have trust in our city council as I admire how the city government is run and the great services provided to Carlsbad residents

Diana Bauer July 24, 2015 at 4:38 am

I am not paid or employed by Caruso, so I have no monetary gain for supporting this project except the anticipation of walking another beautiful lagoon in Carlsbad. I’m grateful for the possibility of permanently open land.

Mike July 23, 2015 at 9:33 pm

It’s simple. Carlsbad citizens need to vote in this!!

Avram kaplan July 23, 2015 at 9:17 pm

My family has supported this from inception and we at not paid by Caruso or affiliated as some accusations are made
Most of the supporters that I have talked to were just regular Carlsbad citizens
We look forward to his great venue , the open space , the tax revenues that will now stay in the city and jobs

Don Burton July 23, 2015 at 6:40 pm

By the way, UT article from May 12 shows 802 against/331 in favor in an online poll. Why not put that in the article?

Don Burton July 23, 2015 at 5:22 pm

One last point to the author of this article. Since when are Facebook likes meaningful? Is that now a substitute for actual voting? Just as an example, I do NOT have a Facebook account. Lots of people don’t. On the other hand, lots of elderly retired people have lots of time to spend on Facebook or attending free tours. Just saying…

Don Burton July 23, 2015 at 5:04 pm

Arnie, please don’t take it personally. While you are a sincere supporter of this plan, some supporters appear to be no more than behind the scenes operatives for Caruso. Why don’t you allow other people to do some research and educate themselves? In fact, why don’t you check out the membership and the board of directors for the Agua Hedionda Lagoon Foundation, Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce, Carlsbad Hi Noon Rotary, and the paid consultant who works for both the mayor and Caruso. Maybe then you’ll understand why some of us are suspicious. Also, if the project is so great, why not let us all vote on it AFTER we’ve had a chance to see what’s really going on and not simply ram this through quickly based on nothing other than the propaganda foisted on us by Caruso? What’s the big rush? Caruso offered to pay for the special election, so it won’t cost us a penny, right?

Michael Robinson July 23, 2015 at 4:56 pm

I have yet to encounter any “lies” in my dealings with this project. I have attended meetings, read numerous postings and articles, and my wife attended a presentation at “The Grove” in the LA area. The people I’ve encountered have been very professional, courteous, and willing to answer questions and listen to suggestions. Their’s is an effective approach towards understanding the needs/desires of a community, and ensuring that this project is focused on meeting those requirements. If it does that it’ll be a huge success like the other innovative properties that Caruso has developed.

Perhaps instead of stating you were “duped” or “lied to” some posters might instead consider the fact that perhaps they didn’t fully understand what they were signing? Stating that you’ve been duped implies a conscious effort to deceive you into signing a petition. When it was circulated in my area, I willingly signed and fully comprehended the content of what I was signing. Even if you encountered an overzealous petitioner (or perhaps a deceiptful one!) the petition itself was clearly written stating the intentions. I read it and concurred with the content.

Jerry Miller July 23, 2015 at 4:21 pm

Too often, in the past, I’ve made snap judgements and made up my mind without researching the facts. On this issue, I took a different approach. I went to a community meeting at the lagoon foundation office armed with my questions and took notes on the responses. I went to the City of Carlsbad’s website and read some, but not all (yet) of the information posted there. I read comments for those in favor and those against this proposal. I’ve decided to support this 85/15 plan. I know that this took some time to do and that not everyone will spend time to research this. I’m pleased this is in the hands of the Carlsbad City Council and the Planning Commission. We voted them in to make decisions in our best interests. It’s their responsibility to thoroughly study and evaluate this. I have confidence they will do it. It’s too important to our City. Disclaimer: I don’t know Mr. Caruso, have never met him and haven’t visited any of his other properties. I’m going on a tour on August 1st because my willingness to better understand the project hasn’t stopped. I’m retired and am not employed by anyone.

Arnie Cohen July 23, 2015 at 3:24 pm

I stand proudly with thousands of Carlsbad residents who enthusiastically support the 85/15 Plan based on its merits and the wonderful things it brings to our city. Why is it that the opposition has to repeatedly question the motivations of the plan’s supporters and accuse us of somehow being connected to Caruso? To belittle your fellow citizens just because we are as passionate about our support as you are in opposition says more about you than it does about us.

Kelly July 23, 2015 at 1:49 pm

Here’s hoping that Caruso and his merry band of liars aren’t in charge of “authenticating” the signatures!!

Don Burton July 23, 2015 at 12:18 pm

To say, as Caruso does, that he engaged in the initiative process in order to give the citizens of Carlsbad “direct control over the process” is an outright lie. He did it to save money. All of the so-called citizens supporting this project are either paid employees or people otherwise connected to Caruso or who stand to benefit from the construction of this mall. Notice they won’t use the word “mall” nor do they show it in any of their beautiful watercolor pictures featured on their website. This orchestrated plan by Caruso and his minions is nothing short of a hijacking of the democratic process. Why this is not making more news is beyond me, except for the fact that most of the local media are either indebted to people like Caruso or have no clue how to engage in REAL journalism. This whole thing stinks to high-heaven of backdoor deals, corruption, and unfair influence peddling and the campaign to get the signatures was fraudulent. If people want a mall on the lagoon, fine. But don’t lie about your intentions and don’t try to circumvent the established procedure meant to protect ALL OF US, just so you can make more profits and satisfy your narrow constituency. If this is such a great deal, then why not put it to a vote? A real vote, one that allows ALL the citizens of Carlsbad to vote on it after learning the truth about what they are voting on.

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