After a hard-fought campaign fraught with controversy, Los Angeles developer Rick Caruso has conceded defeat in the special election held in Carlsbad on February 23. The special election was regarding a Caruso Affiliated proposed real estate development adjacent to the Agua Hedionda Lagoon (near I-5 and Cannon Road), which was intended to decrease “visitor-serving commercial development” from 48.3 acres to 26.7 acres and increase the amount of land designated as “permanent open space” from 155.1 acres to 176.7 acres.
On the 26.7 acre development, Caruso proposed an open-air shopping and dining promenade, which was to be anchored by Nordstrom and include various other local, regional, and national retail shops and restaurants. The remaining 176.7 acres was to be solely preserved as open space for hiking, walking, biking, and scenic viewing of Carlsbad’s iconic lagoon, which is currently privately-owned, inaccessible, and not open to the public. The proposed development was unanimously approved by the Carlsbad City Council, endorsed and supported by The Agua Hedionda Lagoon Foundation, the San Diego Union Tribune, and the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce, just to name a few.
In opposition, many Carlsbad residents joined forces with Citizens For North County, a nonprofit which advocates to preserve “North San Diego County’s natural habitat, quality of life, and character.” The primary arguments against the development were: (1) the Caruso-backed development circumvented the city’s normal planning process, (2) nearly 90% of the open space provided in Measure A was already protected by a proposition previously approved by Carlsbad voters and (3) the new development provided for another, unneeded shopping mall on the shoreline of the lagoon that would create a tremendous increase in traffic.
On February 29, the SD County Registrar of Voters announced that “No on Measure A” had 20,362 votes (51.99 percent) and “Yes on Measure A” had 18,806 votes (48.01 percent), with approximately 300 ballots still to be counted.
Regardless of the merits of each side’s arguments, it remains to be seen whether this vote will be the last time Carlsbad residents will hear about this project. Caruso Affiliated still has the ability to submit the Agua Hedionda South Shore Specific Plan to the City of Carlsbad via the traditional development process, which will include an analysis for consistency with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and review by the California Coastal Commission.
We will continue to follow this story and update this blog as the story continues to evolve.
Ariel Bedell is an experienced attorney at The Loftin Firm. For questions relating to any other California real estate, corporate governance, land use, or estate planning matter, contact Ms. Bedell at 760-814-9649.