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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 9, 2016

No, Mayor Hall, What We See is Not What We'll Get

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 General Election.

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 city's website.

"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 project.

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.


  1. Thanks ES. And thanks to the many activist citizen volunteers who are making a difference to business as usual in C'bad!