CARLSBAD — The Westfield Corporation dropped a bombshell Wednesday regarding the controversial Agua Hedionda Lagoon South Short Specific Plan.
The proposal aims to develop about 26.7 acres of the 203.4-acre site for a mall, while the remaining 176.7 acres would be designated open space and increase strawberry farming along with open the area for residents to hike along trails.
Westfield Corporation, the Australian-based company, which just sold its stake in the Carlsbad mall to Rouse Properties, sent the city of Carlsbad a 252-page report and released a statement chastising the proposed project, which is led by Los Angeles developer Rick Caruso and his company, Caruso Affiliated.
In addition, Westfield also announced it donated $75,000 to the Citizens for North County/No on Measure A 2016 campaign in an admitted effort to level the playing field.
Caruso Affiliated, meanwhile, has spent more than $5 million supporting the measure in the past nine months, according to city records.
CNC is a resident group opposed to the project and successfully passed a referendum to put the measure to a vote.
The special election is scheduled for Feb. 23.
“We are grateful to Westfield as we are grateful to every donor,” De’Ann Weimer, president of CNC, said in a statement. “We are now about $5.2 million shy of an even playing field. CNC looks forward to additional support from the community inspired by this generous contribution.”
Westfield, which has $10.5 billion worth of regional malls and other property in the state, said the plan circumvents the environmental process. The project, also known as the 85/15 plan, was a resident-led initiative.
Caruso Affiliated Executive Vice President of Development Matt Middlebrook refuted Westfield’s claims during a press conference on Thursday at the site.
He said Westfield’s corporate strategy is to abuse the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and has a long history of funding citizen and front groups to oppose any competing project.
Middlebrook also took exception with CNC’s acceptance of the funds from the world’s largest mall operator.
“It’s ironic that the self-proclaimed anti-mall campaign is now primarily funded by the largest mall operator in the entire world,” he said. “This action by Westfield was not only predictable, but we predicted it. This is how Westfield operates and today it comes to pass.”
In addition, Carlsbad City Council member Michael Schumacher released a statement in support of the plan.
“Anyone who has seen the high quality of Caruso’s product can easily understand why Westfield might feel threatened and seek to undermine the project,” he said. “The 85/15 Plan — and Yes on Measure A — is in Carlsbad’s best interest. That is why (sic) I voted for it — twice — in my role as a Carlsbad City Council Member. I look forward to voting for it again in the coming special election as a resident.”
Westfield’s letter, meanwhile, states the process used by the city “was flawed and failed to fully identify and analyze the environmental impacts of the proposed 85/15 project.”
Westfield argues the process used by Caruso Affiliated creates “a very slippery slope.”
“As has been Westfield’s position throughout, following CEQA’s well-established and transparent review process would best ensure that all potential environmental impacts are fully analyzed and understood by the public, by decision-makers and will avoid the patchwork quilt type of development that is likely to result if the initiative process is validated as a means to avoid CEQA review,” the statement reads.
Westfield raised its concerns to the City Council on Aug. 25 when the council voted unanimously to approve the project.
The company also released “expert reports” it commissioned as part of the environmental review process to be carried out by the California Coastal Commission.
Four experts detailed traffic, environmental, air quality and economic impacts of the plan.
The traffic study reports trip generation estimates are lower than they should be for this project and credits are not authorized by “any official governing document.” Also, the timing for improvements on Interstate 5, such as freeway ramps and the intersection are uncertain.
As for the CEQA report, Westfield’s experts found the aesthetics “substantially alter existing views and introduce new development that is not compatible with the aesthetic features in the general vicinity.”
They also found issues with soil samples, specifically toxaphene, which exceeds the California Human Health levels if released due to development.
“Consistent with standard regulatory protocol, soil sampling should be conducted now in all areas where humans could be exposed.”
Middlebrook, though, countered those claims as Caruso Affiliated produced a 4,000-page report detailing the environmental aspects of the project.
The 9212 report, which is comprised of independent experts and city staff, evaluated the environmental issues. Middlebrook said the findings comply with the city’s standards.
“Their motives are clear, they want to kill the project,” he added. “We put together 4,000 pages of environmental documents. Independent experts hired by the city and the city’s own staff, who has a great track record in this area, poured through those documents in great, great detail.”
I completely agree with the comments by Don and Jan. How can we trust or respect a council member who promotes a project when his roll is to be an unbiased judge and to do the will of his constituents? Pointing the finger at Westfield after false claims about their support. Now that the real citizens initiative has forced the Council to condescend to a vote they spend $500,000 like it was no big deal. So now Westfield turns over their research and $75,000 the Caruso club is back at it pointing fingers and calling names. As if $75,000 could ever compare to the $5 million Caruso has already dropped. None of this behavior makes any sense to me. There must be a reason they would spend so much to bypass CEQA. I guess there project could never pass so it is their only hope.
Bottom line-NO MALL! VOTE NO ON MEASURE A! #savecarlsbad #vote #nomall
City of Carlsbad experts are hardly impartial. The city has been in bed with Caruso from the day he first came to town. It should be no surprise to anyone that the city’s reviews of the plans falls in line with what Caruso Affiliated needs to sidestep the necessary oversight of this project. Go to The Grove and see the monstrosity that it is. It is a gaudy, over the top development shadowed by a massive parking structure. Any structure of this size will have significant impact on the health of the lagoon as well as creating massive traffic failures up and down I-5.
So much for impartiality. Tell lies long enough and it becomes truth? What did the city expect from Westfield? The chickens have come home to roost. No on A…
Once again, we have a city official on record trying to sway the voters’ opinions on an initiative. It is illegal and unethical for public officials to play a part or take a side in an election. Even worse, though, was the city spending taxpayer money to send out propaganda about this project in the city water bills and promoting the project on the city web site.
Thanks for your coverage of this issue. Amazing how Middleton refers to the 9291 Report, supposedly compiled by the city, as “we” put that together…guess those “independent experts and city staff” were in collusion, eh? Why is City Councilor Michael Schumacher, a decision-maker barely a year in his first term in office, not interpreting the new information for the voters, instead of posturing as hit-man for the Caruso Affiliated salvo? Carlsbad voters want information so they can choose between this lagoon with or without an outdoor promenade Mall.
By the way, another lie…it won’t cost the taxpayer a dime. then he goes on to admit that city staff spent hundreds of hours working on this. So who is paying their salaries? Caruso? And how about the price tag of over $500k for the “special” election that Caruso demanded and the Mayor and City Clowncil obligingly gave him?
Correction to Matt Middlebrook (aka a big liar). You didn’t PREDICT it. You accused them of it BEFORE it ever happened. That’s a pretty significant difference, but in the Caruso “bizarro” world, facts and now apparently space/time don’t matter. Maybe it’s because Caruso thinks he’s either God or Santa Claus that he can defy the laws of the universe.
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