After 35 years in public education as a high school English teacher and university administrator, I began my second life as a freelance writer, winning San Diego Society of Professional Journalists awards for my opinion columns in the former San Diego daily North County Times and the San Diego Free Press.
Carlsbad Braces for Special Election Vote on Lagoon Mall
As the February 23 special election approaches, Carlsbad
voters may want to recall words spoken by Mayor Matt Hall and Councilmember
Mark Packard at the November 17 meeting of the City Council. After signatures were
ratified on a successful citizens-led referendum, the Council could either rescind
its August 25 decision to allow a billionaire LA developer to build a shopping
mall on the shores of the city's pristine Agua Hedionda Lagoon, put the issue up
to voters in a special election, or put it on the ballot of the November 8
The Council decided to spend $600 thousand on a special
election. As on August 25, the vote was unanimous. The regular absence of split
votes by this group on contentious issues suggests either unusually unified thinking
or a careless observance of the Brown Act. If it's the former, a disregard of constituent
diversity of opinion is a matter for voters to think about in the next election.
If it's the latter, it's time for someone on the inside to be a whistle blower.
After Assistant City Manager Gary Barberio explained the City
Council's options for action that night, Mayor Hall asked the speakers lined up
for public comment to, "Be specific, towards the dates for the election."
Ignoring Hall's attempt to silence discussion of rescinding the Council's August
25 vote, the first two speakers spoke against the approved plan. In response, the
mayor called a halt to public comments until Barberio could "correct the
errors" he claimed were made by the first two.
I don't know whether interruptions to allow for rebuttals of
speaker opinions is unprecedented, but the general practice has been to allow all
to have their say before inviting comments from council members and staff. Neither
of the first two speakers were allowed to defend their arguments. To their
credit, none of the others who followed obeyed the mayor's plea to ignore the
elephant in the room.
After public comments, Hall asked Barberio and the city
attorney to respond to the assertion the developer could make changes to his
plan without city approval. The two explained the city planner would have to
approve proposed changes to assure they were in keeping with the plan approved
by the council. Mayor Hall chimed in, "So what you see is what you are
going to get."
That's a promise the mayor can't
keep, and here's why. Modifications to the plan are allowed, according to the
"Some actions that typically require Planning Commission or City Council
approval would be acted upon at the “administrative” level, meaning the city’s
professional staff would evaluate applications against the standards in the
specific plan and make a determination about compliance. The decisions reached by the city’s professional staff could not be
appealed to the Planning Commission or City Council."
The plan itself is more specific.
"The City Planner's sign-off, or refusal to sign-off shall be final,
however, the Specific Plan applicant or designee and City Manager shall meet
and confer over any such refusal to sign off. There shall be no administrative
appeal of the City Planner's sign-off or refusal to sign-off."
If the city planner's decision is final, why would the
developer and City Manager have to confer over a refused sign-off, unless it’s an
offer the city planner can't refuse?
Don Neu is Carlsbad's City Planner, a very hard man to find
on the city's website. He reports to the Director of Community and Economic
development, who reports to the Asst. City Manager for Operations, who reports
to the City Manager, who reports to the City Council. So the one person
responsible for approving changes to the developer's plan for a lagoon shopping
mall is three levels removed from those we've elected to act in our best
interests. The potential for corruption is breathtaking.
To add credibility to the city's analysis of the developer's
plan, Councilmember Packard asked Council staff at the November 17 meeting, "Can
you tell me how many man hours were put into analyzing the project for the 9212
Report?" Does he really believe time spent on something reveals quality? No
matter how long it took to produce, or the gender of those working on it, the
report's rosy findings disclose a report carefully crafted to promote the developer's
No, Mayor Hall, what we see is not what we'll get. All we've
seen so far are pretty pictures and a promise by a billionaire developer who's already
lied to us once.
More next time about the 9212
Report and the battle of the consultants over the promised economic/financial
benefits to the city.