Westfield's Donation in Carlsbad's Measure A Fight Sparks Backlash

A major retailer will help finance the fight against a proposed development in Carlsbad, claiming the approval of plans without environmental review creates a “very slippery slope” that could have ripple effects on development decisions across the state.

Westfield announced Wednesday it will give $75,000 to the CNC/No on Measure A 2016 group to oppose the Agua Hedionda South Shore Specific Plan.

The so-called 85/15 Project would build an outdoor shopping center along Interstate 5 overlooking where the Carlsbad strawberry fields once grew.

Through a signature drive, developer Rick Caruso bypassed the typical extensive environmental review, known as CEQA, and the public input that goes along with it. The Carlsbad City Council approved the project unanimously in August but as the result of a signature drive, agreed to fund a special election in February.

Westfield said Wednesday it believes the environmental analysis was “flawed in numerous respects” and has submitted its independent analyses to city officials for their use.

“Westfield believes that its donation to CNC/No on Measure A 2016 while modest in comparison to the amounts already spent and pledged to be spent in support of the 85/15 project, is appropriate and may assist in ‘leveling the playing field,’” the company said in its written statement.

The developer believes the move is just an example of how Westfield sets its own economic agenda.

“They pick on people that they think are going to be competition,” Matt Middlebrook, Executive Vice President of Development for Caruso Affiliated said. “Instead of investing in their own properties they find it cheaper to spend a few million dollars to try and kill a project than spend $100 million to improve their own property in order to compete.”

Arnie Cohen was one of several Carlsbad residents who appeared with the developer Thursday to protest Westfield’s donation.

Cohen said Westfield did not make improvements to Plaza Camino Real when the company owned it.

Westfield announced plans to spend $300M on improvements to the property in May 2014. The Sydney-based retailer eventually sold the property earlier this year.

“Now they want to determine or want to determine where we get to shop,” Cohen said.

The Citizens for North County group said they haven’t been contacted by Westfield yet but the group will accept their donation as a means to reach their goal of raising $350,000 for their campaign.

The group opposes the increase in traffic projected with a development of this size and demands that Caruso Affiliated disclose specifics on land use. They also believe the development may jeopardize public access to the beach. 

The Carlsbad City Council, the Agua Hedionda Lagoon Foundation, the Carlsbad Strawberry Company and the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce support the project. They say the project will provide $2.6 million annually for police, fire, parks libraries and other city services as well as donate 155 acres of open space to a conservancy.

Carlsbad residents will vote on Measure A on February 23.

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