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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, April 23, 2016

Carlsbad Council Outsources City's Future Again

This Time It's a Florida Consulting Firm



Over the last two years Carlsbad residents have watched city leaders squander more than $1 million to outsource the future of their Village by the Sea.

They fell in love with L.A. billionaire developer Rick Caruso's promises to transform the site of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon into a shopping mall magnet for $2.6 million in annual tax revenue, preserve strawberry fields already saved by Prop D, and build scenic trails, all at no cost to the city. After a citizens-led referendum overturned the City Council's unanimous support of the project, the Council ponied up $650,000 for a special election that allowed voters to send Caruso packing.

In March 2014, while Caruso courted council members, the city signed a $380,000 contract with Dover, Kohl and Partners, a Florida consulting firm, to create the Carlsbad Village and Barrio Master Plan to update the Carlsbad Village Master Plan and Design Manual, the one that was written by city planners and approved in June 2013. The 2016 plan is currently under review by the city's Planning Commission. You can find it online for public comment.

It's important to recognize the difference between Caruso's project and the DKP plan. His was an off-the-shelf proposal, deceptively fast-tracked as a "citizens' initiative" to avoid the scrutiny of state and local review. The city could not modify Caruso's project for 30 years. The DKP plan, by contrast, is working its way through the regular Planning Commission/public review/council approval process.

The consulting firm has been paid only to produce a 20-year plan, which the city may do with what it pleases. Whether it's approved, altered or trashed, KDP pockets its fee and walks away happy, already touting its Carlsbad plan on its website as it trolls for its next client.

What Caruso and DKP have in common is their superficial understanding of the people whose lives will be affected by their work. Voters made that clear to Caruso. The consulting firm reveals this in its 1.4 Economic Analysis Overview, using outdated sources from the 2010 U.S. Census and 2008-2012 American Community Survey, when it could have checked out SANDAG data, the best source for a current picture of Carlsbad's demographics.

While KDP breaks down housing numbers into only two types: "family households" and "non-family households," SANDAG provides numbers on several housing types: single-family, multiple, detached, mobile, and multiple family. DKP lists only the median age of residents, while SANDAG gives totals within ten-year age groups.

Maybe that explains the consulting firm's patronizing attitude in the plan's introduction: "It's time for the village to become a town." That assumes most Carlsbad residents, like all developers, believe growth is always a good thing. But with a projected buildout population of 130,000 by 2035, with 22,000 more residents, 7,000 more dwelling units, and 1,900 additional hotel rooms over the next 20 years, there's reason to fear the kind of growth that could bring wealth to the city at the cost of its quality of life.

At the Planning Commission's April 13 meeting Senior Planner Scott Donnell pointed out that the DKP plan is only a revision of the 2013 Village Master Plan to both "revitalize the Village and rejuvenate the Barrio." He promised it did not propose changes in density from the 2013 plan, nor "significant changes to building standards."

But, like beauty, "significant changes" are in the eyes of the beholder. Here's one I'd call "significant." The 2013 plan's building height maximum in the Village Center p. 110 is 45', which applies to both pitched and flat-roofed buildings. The revised plan allows mixed used buildings in the Core District 6.2.8 to rise to 55'. Donnell told me later that the consultants did not propose that increase. Developers met with planning staff to ask that the plan to be revised to accommodate pitched roofs in mixed use buildings, since ceilings on the first floor have to be higher for commercial uses.

That would allow three of the four stories to be residential, rather than two. That makes profitability, not pitched roofs, the real reason developers want taller buildings.

And that's the first of my two major problems with the plan. Adding rows of 55' high buildings along State Street, Carlsbad Boulevard, Carlsbad Village Drive and Grand Avenue will create the concrete canyons, cutting off views of the sky and blocking the sun, that characterize big cities. That will destroy the quaint ambience of a town, much less a village.

My second problem is with moving forward to approve the plan before the Comprehensive Parking Study is delivered next year. The claim that changes to the plan can be made later is easier said than done if building permits have already been issued. Developers are most likely ready to descend on City Hall the day the plan is signed.

There are parts of the plan I like: Connecting the Barrio with the Village, traffic calming, more trees, a more pedestrian-friendly, rather than car-friendly downtown, plazas, a Grand Avenue Promenade, well-designed and toll-free parking structures, a tunnel under I-5 to connect Grand Avenue with streets east of the village, improved beach access, roundabouts and public art.

This is a 20-year plan, so, unlike Caruso's project, it will be open to changes over time. Time to add a diversity of community talent to the city council, adding elected officials less disposed to allowing developers and out-of-town consultants to shape Carlsbad's future.

When my wife and I arrived here 20 years ago, escaping an Indiana winter, we wanted to roll up the city's welcome mat and lock the door to paradise. Since that's not possible, we're counting on Carlsbad to grow in a sustainable, people-friendly way. The citizen activism that drove Caruso out of town gives me hope.


  1. Bravo once again for "hitting the nail on the head". Might I suggest a better use for your hammer (literal, NOT metaphorical)? I think you know whose heads need a few not-so-gentle taps. When Hall chimes in about the great "opportunities" that lie ahead, one has to wonder first, what the heck is he talking about and second, opportunities for WHOM???

  2. This guy can suck it!! People come here not for the glitz and glamour of big city but more for the small surf town it is! My family dates back here in Carlsbad more than 3 Generations my son being the forth. Its sad to see shit heads like him come in who dont belong and try and change my town. As long as I can remember and the people I have encountered visiting Carlsbad, have told me they come back year after year because of the small town feel. They like the small unique shops, restaurants and the beach. STAY THE F OUT OF MY TOWN CARUSO!!!! IM SURE I CAN SPEAK FOR ME AND THE "REAL LOCALS" BEAT IT KOOK!! I LOVE MY TOWN THE WAY IT IS AND SO DOES ALL THE TOURIST!!!! FIND A PLACE IN ARIZONA TO CHANGE