The Coast News Group
According to the unofficial count from the San Diego County Registrar of Voters, Measure A was defeated one week after the special election in Carlsbad. Photo by Steve Puterski
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Votes tallied, developer concedes election

CARLSBAD — After months of contentious and divisive battle, Measure A has been struck down.

On Monday, the San Diego County Registrar of Voters tallied 2,250 ballots leading to the measure’s demise. Unofficially, Measure A was defeated 52 percent to 48 percent. The Registrar of Voters has up to 30 days to certify the results.

Leading the charge in the opposition was De’Ann Weimer and the grassroots organization Citizens for North County. Their social media presence and community outreach turned the election, especially late on Feb. 23 after the initial release revealed a 2,200-vote deficit.

As the night wore on, the no vote steadily closed the gap until about 11:30 p.m. when the results released showed a 186-vote advantage for the campaign.

Mail ballots tallied late last week only aided in the cause stretching the lead to about 1,200 votes as of Friday night.

The remaining 2,250 provisional ballots tallied Monday cemented the outcome, while the remaining 300 votes counted on Tuesday did not affect the result.

“It did pay off,” Weimer said of the effort. “It wouldn’t have happened without the people who came to the polls on Tuesday (Feb. 23) and voting 62 percent in our favor. That was the key. The people who showed up … overwhelmingly voted no.”

The proposal called for 26 acres on the south shore of Agua Hedionda Lagoon north of Cannon Road to be developed for a luxury retail center. The remaining 177 acres would have been dedicated to open space, including hiking trails and public access.

Caruso Affiliated, a Los Angeles-based development firm, provided the funding for the Yes on A camp, spending about $10.5 million over the course of the past 13 months. It was the most expensive campaign in San Diego County history, but ultimately fell short.

Citizens for North County (CNC), meanwhile, was the benefactor of a $75,000 donation from the Westfield Corporation, who sold its stake in the Carlsbad Mall several months ago and was staunchly against a new commercial development near its own malls in Escondido and UTC in San Diego. CNC spent about $100,000 to stop the proposal.

In addition to the money, critics of the plan have slammed the efforts of the developer, Rick Caruso, circumventing the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

“There were all sorts of precedent set,” Weimer said. “It will give developers pause … elsewhere in the county that using this particular loophole is not a good idea. It will redouble the efforts in Sacramento to get this loophole closed. A lot of people believe money wins, especially after Citizens United (a Supreme Court ruling). You can win on the issues and we proved that. I think that has to give people confidence in our system.”

Caruso, CEO of Caruso Affiliated, conceded defeat on Monday.

“I have called the leadership of the Citizens for North County and congratulated them on their hard fought campaign,” according to a statement released from Caruso. “This was a close election with a historically strong voter turnout on both sides. Both sides share a common love for their Carlsbad community, a sentiment we share.

“While we had hoped for a different outcome, we are proud of our effort, our plan, the integrity of our message, and we are thankful for the great friends and supporters we have made over the past four years. We are very grateful for their support and hard work.”

Despite the defeat, Measure A is not dead yet. Although Caruso has not publicly commented on whether he will continue to pursue the plan, options are open if he were to do so.

First, the ordinance approving the plan will be rescinded 10 days following the election certification by the City Council, according to Carlsbad Community Outreach and Engagement Director Kristina Ray.

The land use designations will remain as they are today, with visitor-serving commercial development allowed on 48 acres and the other 155 designated for open space.

At any time, Caruso Affiliated could submit the Agua Hedionda South Shore Specific Plan, or another plan, to the city via the traditional development process, which includes CEQA analysis and review by the California Coastal Commission.

The City Council may not approve an ordinance for the Agua Hedionda South Shore Specific Plan for 12 months following its certification of the election results.

If Caruso Affiliated terminates its contract with San Diego Gas & Electric to purchase the land, another party could purchase any or all of the property at the discretion of SDG&E, the current landowner.