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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.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

No 'Bird's Eye View' of Nordy's-On-The-Lagoon

Deadline Looms for Vote on L.A. Developer's Plan

While paid signature gatherers raced through neighborhoods representing themselves as concerned citizens on a mission to save the Strawberry Fields, a glossy mailer appeared in my mailbox titled, A Bird's Eye View of the Agua Hedionda 85/15 Plan, with a full color sketch of an aerial view of the site.

Birds apparently can't see shopping centers. The verdant landscape is littered with thumbnail photos of a family at a picnic table, a man picking strawberries, a couple strolling down a path and a guy inexplicably carrying a surfboard, as he walks away from the waveless lagoon behind him. A small amphitheater is nestled amid the lush greenery.

Read the fine print to discover what's missing from the sketch, the "outdoor retail, shopping, dining…promenade." After the Carlsbad city council unanimously approved the plan, despite the promise of its title in the document filed with the city clerk on May 12, "INITIATIVE MEASURE TO BE SUBMITTED DIRECTLY TO THE VOTERS" (my emphasis), it's become clear that birds were not the only ones who failed to see the entire developer's plan.

A promenade sounds far more attractive than a shopping center. To discover what Caruso has in mind, check out the Specific Plan's Visitor- Serving Commercial Development Standards. The 26.7 acres will include 13 acres of building floor space, twice that of the Carlsbad Premium Outlets. The maximum height of buildings will be 35 feet, or three stories high. Protrusions from the tops of those buildings will be allowed, up to 55 feet, to accommodate flagpoles, steeples, elevator housing, architectural towers and wireless masts. A cluster of multi-level parking garages will be included. I could find no limit to the number of three-story buildings permitted on the site.

In addition to Nordstrom and a collection of upscale shopping boutiques and dining facilities, Caruso's promenade will be open to banks and financial services, management and leasing offices, limited office spaces for lease, barber shops/salons, electric car charging stations and travel agencies. The site will rival the city's downtown in shopping and civic amenities.

It makes you wonder how the plan will affect the Carlsbad Village Master Plan, intended to rejuvenate the downtown, since, "competition from modern shopping centers had sucked away much of the area’s commercial vitality." Will we see empty shop windows in the Village when downtown customers are drawn to the lagoon's shops, and downtown owners go out of business because they can't afford the rent to move there?  

The best way to picture Carlsbad's Strawberry Fields Mall is to take a look at the L.A. developer's last creation.

In my last posting here I suggested going to the city's website to find the most accurate description of the plan. I should have directed you only to the official documents found there, with a warning not to stop at the page titled Fast Facts. Be as wary of fast facts as you are of fast talkers.

Here's the preamble to the page: "Chances are, some of what you have heard is not true. The city’s goal is to ensure the community has access to accurate, unbiased information." What follows is a series of answers to hypothetical questions. Here's the answer to the question that gave rise to the Citizens for North County's volunteer-led petition for a vote of the people.

Question: Were voters tricked into signing the petition (to save the strawberry fields)?

Answer: The city attorney's impartial title and summary appeared on every signature page. The summary clearly described what was being proposed under the plan. 

Click on the link and you will find a description of the plan all right, but no commitment to save the strawberry fields, and no warning that five city council members could approve it without a vote of the people. The integrity of city officials can be questioned when they claim signers of the petition were fully-informed when confronted with signature gatherers paid by a developer hell bent on bypassing city voters.

Whether you were tricked into signing the petition, or fully support the developer's plan, I hope you will agree a project of this importance to the community should be able to gain voter support. The petition for a vote must gather enough signatures by September 24 to be put on the ballot in a special election this year, or in next year's general election. If you are a registered voter in Carlsbad and have not already done so, click here to find the locations of volunteer signature gatherers before the deadline.

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