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Carlsbad city staff finds the strawberry fields mall project is consistent with the framework of the city’s General Plan, Draft General Plan Update and Draft Climate Action Plan. File photo by Ellen Wright
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Staff finalizes report on strawberry fields project

CARLSBAD — After about three months, city staff has finished analyzing the Agua Hedionda 85/15 Initiative, which proposes an upscale retail shopping center on the site of the strawberry fields.

Caruso Affiliated has proposed to build an upscale shopping center anchored by a Nordstrom along Cannon Road.

The mall will be located on about 27 acres near the Agua Hedionda Lagoon. As part of the plan, about 177 acres will be permanently set aside as open space.

Staff found the project is consistent with the framework of the city’s General Plan, Draft General Plan Update and Draft Climate Action Plan.

According to the staff report, the project will also improve the traffic at eight intersections in the area, compared to having no upgrades or changes.

The plan aims to alleviate traffic congestion at seven intersections including El Camino Real, Palomar Airport Road, Paseo del Norte and Cannon Road.

While the majority of the report gave the project good marks, staff found a flaw in the economic figures.

Staff estimated Rick Caruso’s initiative overstated the economic impacts although the project would have a positive impact with increased property taxes, business license fees and sales tax resulting in annual revenue of $2.575 million to the city.

Because the project was introduced through a citizen led initiative, it is not subject to the California Environmental Quality Act, which has been a point of contention among some environmental groups like the Surfrider Foundation.

“Large developments like this, within the protected coastal zone, should require extra care in evaluating their potential impacts to our coastal resources,” Surfrider Foundation Policy Manager Julia Chunn-Heer said in a written statement. “Instead of extra care, this developer is proposing to circumvent CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act), which is of great concern.”

City staff said the environmental impacts aren’t “excessive or extraordinary as compared to many similar development projects that have been approved and constructed within the city.”

The project is subject to review from the California Coastal Commission and staff wrote that some of the potential impacts require further clarification, which could be accomplished during the review by the commission.

The commission has the authority to change the plan so it’s in accordance with the Coastal Act.

The Agua Hedionda 85/15 Initiative was introduced by three citizens, realtor Carlton Lund, Agua Hedionda Foundation Chairperson Maureen Simons and former Planning Commissioner Bill Dominquez.

Caruso, a Los Angeles-based developer whose company built The Americana and The Grove shopping centers, sponsored the plan.

He was required to get 9,784 signatures from registered Carlsbad voters to bring the initiative to city council. He far exceeded the requirement with 20,000 signatures.

The San Diego County Registrar of Voters is currently verifying the validity of the signatures and has until Aug. 18 to do so.

The City Clerk will then have 10 days to verify the results and it will go in front of council, which will have the option to outright approve the project or put it on the ballot for a special election.

Some environmental groups have asked council to put it on a ballot.

“What the 9212 report really does is demonstrate numerous issues with this project — issues that require the kind of thorough review that can only come by putting this on the ballot and letting the people vote,” said Diane Nygaard, president of Preserve Calavera.

The project proposal includes trails, park benches and an outdoor amphitheater near the lagoon to make it accessible to the public, which it currently is not.

According to city law, nearly 50 acres of the parcel could be developed into retail space.

At Mayor Matt Hall’s swearing in ceremony in December, he listed the strawberry field’s mall as one of the three goals he hopes to accomplish during his term in office.

Update: This post said developer Rick Caruso would pay for the special election in its entirety. That has not been confirmed.


Taylor Rarick August 19, 2015 at 9:38 am

The 9212 report gave good marks. So do I! The 85/15 plan is to bring more life into the community. Rick Caruso has been searching for three years to find the perfect place to construct the next great project and he has landed on Carlsbad! From other projects before,Caruso has turned land into a great space for families of all kinds to come and enjoy them selves. Each project has had, and continues to have spectacular compliments. I believe the Strawberry fields along with the lagoon will be well looked after throughout construction and continued to be nourished.With seeing, in person, the accomplishments of Caruso (The Grove and The Commons) ensures my support towards the 85/15 Plan.

Don Burton August 17, 2015 at 8:16 pm

By the way Tyler, you know who is also from “out of town”…Caruso and his employees. He planted some of them on the Boards of the organizations and foundations to try to make this look like a homegrown, citizen-led plan. That fooled no one (except those of you who are easily fooled or have something to gain by seeing this thing get built). And Diane might be from Oceanside, but she is concerned with the environment, which affects ALL of us. If you want only Carlsbad citizens involved, then where did all the signature gatherers come from? From Arno Petition Consultants. A “local” business? No. How about all the consultants from NYC, Washington DC, Sacramento, etc. that Caruso paid. All his hired guns came from outside Carlsbad. He didn’t even hire a local printer to do his mailers. They came from Huntington Beach and Anaheim. Why don’t you do some research first so you know what you’re talking about before you post (unless you attended the same “school” as Arnie, Klaus, Avram, and the minions who were served the Kool-Aid at recess).

Don Burton August 17, 2015 at 8:11 pm

For the last time, why are all the supporters against a vote? Still never get a decent response to that question other than it’s a waste of money, trust our elected officials. Well, voting is not waste of money and, more to the point, the people who signed the petition were told that is what they were signing up for. No one can deny the FACT that the Caruso mailers said EXPLICITLY that signing the petition would “put this on the ballot”. Jerry, Jim, anyone care to respond to that? Furthermore, many of us do NOT trust our elected officials. They have given us many good reasons lately NOT to trust them. Come August 25th they will have a chance to redeem themselves.

Jim Brubaker August 17, 2015 at 4:17 pm

Very positive report – good news for a project that will benefit Carlsbad residents tremendously. Circumventing CEQA is not a negative: the entire CA legislature (both parties) agree it is a failed program that promotes abuse and needs to be changed. Spending $3M to qualify for this method of approval is a lot more sensible than paying $15M plus in legal costs battling frivolous lawsuits. The project still has to pass Coastal Commission study and approval. I am confident our City Council will make the best decisions for Carlsbad and the vast majority of residents.

Tyler Nelson August 17, 2015 at 11:57 am

I am disappointed that this article quotes people who do not live in Carlsbad and who do not have a legitimate say in what happens here.

Many of us who live here have been engaged from the beginning of the process. We have gone to meetings, taken tours at The Grove and through the open space. We have given input and met with Rick Caruso and his team. We have read the analysis and completely disagree with the outsiders who presume to tell us what should happen in our city.

Traffic will be better with the 85/15 Plan’s implementation than without the project.

Water runoff into the lagoon will be cleaner with the 85/15 Plan’s catch and disiltation basins. Potable water use will decrease under the 85/15 Plan, too, because recycled water will be used to irrigate landscaping.

Further, every enviromental caretaker should be impressed with the outright gift to Carlsbad of 176 acres of open space. And it doesn’t cost us a dime.

I hope the council will tune out the voices of the out-of-town cymbal clangers. Please listen to the voices of your constituents. We want you to vote in favor of the 85/15 Plan as soon as possible.

Jerry Miller August 17, 2015 at 9:38 am

Thank you, The Coast News, for publishing your thoughts and analysis of this proposal. I am a supporter of the 85/15 Plan. At first I was skeptical about what this development would do to Carlsbad. I made a personal decision to attend meetings, take the tour, and learn as much information as possible. Now I see what the plan can do FOR Carlsbad. I don’t know the developer, haven’t been to other Caruso properties and have no skin ($$) in the game.

In your article, you cover several key points related to traffic improving in this area vs. not having the Plan-funded street improvements; that the project proposal includes trails, park benches and an outdoor amphitheater near the lagoon to make it accessible to the public (which it currently is not); the fact that the plan is subject to review by the Coastal Commission (who can make changes to the plan if it doesn’t meet coastal standards); and that the environmental impact analysis doesn’t spell DOOMSDAY, as some might believe.

Lastly–I believe Mr. Caruso is a smart man. He wouldn’t spend the time (3 years) talking to citizens and receiving input if he thought the 85/15 plan, when complete, would create so many problems that no one would visit it and it would be an economic disaster. That just wouldn’t make sense.

I’m pleased that all of the background information is available for Carlsbad residents (like me) to read first-hand on the City of Carlsbad website. It’s quite substantial. I trust the expertise of our City Planning department and our elected City Council to make an informed decision that the 85/15 plan is worthy of approval now. We all have the right to share our comments and opinions and these are mine. Others have done the same and even if I don’t agree, I thank them for their participation in the process.

Linda August 16, 2015 at 10:14 am

We only signed that petition as we were told it was to put this on the ballot. I even hesitated and the guy told me the same – for the ballot. Makes you wonder what else they lied about…let’s see, first it was 15 acres, then 20, not 27, but they can go up to 50….guess what they’ll do?

Shame on the city council for taking it upon themselves to allow such chicanery – can’t they see the lies…I mean the revenue was ‘overstated’ by their own admission. I used to think the council had the city’s best interests at heart – no more…

Even the developer could not provide me with a drawing of what the center would look like – claimed there had been many changes – like what, expanding from 27 acres to 50? Perhaps it will be an asset to the city, how are we to know when they can’t even provide a simple drawing showing the center – all I’ve ever seen is a pretty picture of the lagoon and open space – save those, we’ll compare to the real thing as it looks like our city council and the developer are in cahoots to mislead the residents of Carlsbad, and cram this down our throats.

Traffic in that area is already bad enough – plan for it to get even worse. If people really want a Nordstroms put it at the Westfield Mall, not on our lagoons and open space.

We’re getting closer to looking like Orange County every day…

TO THE CITY COUNCIL: Put it on the ballot that was promised when we signed that initiative. Let the residents decide what’s best for them, apparently you aren’t capable.

Don Burton August 14, 2015 at 4:47 pm

Well, he’s already spent nearly $3 million (that we know of) in order to sell us this plan, so what’s the big deal about paying for the special election??? Unless, wait, maybe he’s afraid he would lose??? Oh, dear, then that would explain why he had to resort to lying in order to avoid the election that he actually promised would take place. Mr. Caruso speaks with forked-tongue perhaps?

William Wong August 14, 2015 at 3:34 pm

The thorough review by the City concludes that the 85/15 Project essentially meets any and all City requirements.
City Staff with assistance from outside experts made a diligent and thorough review that will guide City Council on a final decision.

Great News for a Great Project!!

Kim Shea August 14, 2015 at 5:40 am

The Caruso developers claim they have submitted 20,000 signatures supporting the project. I signed the initiative to get it on the ballot. I was specifically told my signature was to put the 85/15 proposal on the ballot. How many other signatures were obtained with this lie? The City Council does not have 20,000 signatures of support. Perhaps they don’t even have the required 9,784 signatures of support. The signature campaign has been built on lies so the numbers of “support” are inaccurate.

I am not opposed to development. I am opposed to conducting business with liars.

Don Burton August 13, 2015 at 6:58 pm

That last bit about Mayor Hall’s goals is VERY interesting. The Carlsbad City Council INCLUDING the Mayor are supposed to be “impartial” on this proposal. They even said so in person and on their website. Then how can it be that the Mayor has stated publicly that getting this thing built right away is a top priority. Something stinks here and it ain’t the lagoon! Many residents get the idea that this was a done deal from the very start. I’m not surprised at all that they have that impression. When the Mayor claims he hasn’t heard of any deceptive advertising associated with the signature gathering campaign, one has to questions either his physical or mental capacity or his veracity. MANY people were lied to and MANY people have complained vociferously and repeatedly about the tactics used. The mailers clearly stated that this measure would be “put on the ballot” because of the signatures. Well, will it? I guess we’ll have to wait until August 25 to find out.

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