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After 35 years in public education as a university administrator and a high school English teacher, 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.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Ten Reasons to Vote "No on A" in Carlsbad's Special Election

The "Riehl" Voters Guide

A guy carrying a clipboard appeared at our front door June 25th last year. He said he was a member of a citizens group on a mission to save the strawberry fields. After he promised there would be a vote on the initiative, I signed it. A few days later, discovering I'd been duped, I was driven by anger and guilt to launch my own mission: to write about a lying developer's attempt to bypass, not only state and local reviews of his project, but Carlsbad voters.

What follows is a list of reasons I voted no on Measure A, with links to the articles I posted on my blog, The Riehl World, over the last eight months. They tell the story of how a billionaire L.A. developer persuaded elected officials to agree to put our city's quality of life at risk. On February 23 we'll find out if he succeeded.

1. Dishonest "citizen-led" initiative campaign
The Agua Hedionda 85/15 Specific Plan Initiative was launched by a trio of residents hardly representative of the city's diverse community: the only volunteer on the lagoon's foundation board, composed mostly of corporate executives, like the owner of the land the developer wants to buy (SDG&E,) and the developer Rick Caruso's own corporate representative; a former CEO of the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce; and a former city planning commissioner.

2. Faulty air quality analysis
The city's 9212 Report calls for "further analysis of cumulative air quality impacts and documentation of construction emission and Carbon Monoxide hot spots assumptions." Not good news for trail walkers carrying inhalers.

3. City Council ignores constituents, caves to corporate interests
On August 25th the City Council unanimously approved the developer's plan, refusing to allow a vote of the people as promised, or even a 30-day cooling off period to hear from their constituents.

4. False claim outside interests funded referendum
Westfield Corporation's VP for Corporate Relations declared, "Westfield is not providing any support, financial or otherwise, to the referendum drive" after Mayor Matt Hall teamed up with Caruso to make that claim. They then invented other unnamed "outsiders," clueless that thousands of Carlsbad residents would be offended by the council's rude dismissal of their concerns at the August 25 meeting.

5. Dishonest promise to save the strawberry fields
On page 5 of the Specific Plan Description Appendix N "Transportation Impact Analysis" you'll find, "The site is currently occupied by the Carlsbad Strawberry Fields and other agricultural uses, and these will continue to operate in a different configuration and at a reduced level." It's no surprise the strawberry fields are not featured in the "Yes on A" campaign.

6. Barely seen in mailers and TV ads: a 13-acre mall
A shopping center is hard to find in the deceptive glossy mailer, "A Bird's Eye View of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon 85/15 Plan"

7. Campaign donations to council members
The owner of the Carlsbad Strawberry Company donated $5,000 to Matt Hall's 2014 mayoral campaign, $4,260 to Councilmember Michael Schumacher.
Click here to find the city's web page to campaign contributions.

8. More traffic, more promises
If projections are too low local traffic will be a nightmare. If projections are too high because online retail customers continue their flight from large department stores, or another deep recession hits, the failed project could become Carlsbad's Stonehenge by the Lagoon, a legacy of city leaders who thought they could get something for nothing.

9. Elected leaders give up control of amendments to the plan for 15 years
"The City Planner's sign-off, or refusal to sign-off shall be final. There shall be no administrative appeal of the City Planner's sign-off or refusal to sign-off."(Agua Hedionda 85/15 Specific Plan,, p. 153))
The one person responsible for approving amendments to Caruso's plan is three reporting levels removed from those we've elected to act in our best interests.

10. Analysts agree revenue overstated, threat to small businesses understated.
The city's 9212 Report, (Table 5, p. 36), found Caruso overstated all projected revenues for the city. A second analyst found he incorrectly designated his proposed shopping center a “super-regional” mall, allowing him to expand the projected market area. Phony promises of a larger, wealthier customer base hide the likelihood of local small business failures.

Final Straw
Proponents of Measure A, as well as our mayor and city council, claim Caruso's project is the best we can hope for to cover those 48 acres of commercially zoned land and to get public access to trails and open space. Don't listen to them. The city has a lease with SDG&E to allow for a park and recreational uses, open to the public, in 90 acres of open space. Spurred on by the passing of Prop D, the city set aside $5 million to make that happen.

As for the 48 acres of commercial land, check out the "General Plan Table 2-4: Characteristics of Commercial Land Uses" on the city's website. You'll find many options more attractive than a shopping mall. What goes in there will depend on the wisdom and judgment of our elected leaders. Unfortunately, the current bunch seems eager to transfer their responsibilities to a billionaire L.A. developer.


  1. Thank you for your continued in depth reporting and research on this critical issue. If only our only regional newspaper who is aligned with Caruso, having gobbled up all other local papers and being run by the LA Times, could be this unbiased and thorough. In today's world, businesses don't spend 8 million dollars to "do the right thing" rather they spend that money to bypass "doing the right thing". Even if we knew nothing of the deceptions, misinformation and distortions, this 8 million is a giant red flag. One of my favorite analogies is about the inability of putting toothpaste back in the tube and allowing this project is much the same. Once it is built, there is no going back, no undoing the damage that is done for at least 15 years. We are but stewards of this land for the next generations of residents, as my father, a CEO, a genius but humble man always said, just "do the right thing" and in my words, vote NO. Preserve Carlsbad