Opponents Have Enough Signatures to Challenge Agua Hedionda Plan: City

A citizen group says they've gathered enough signatures to send the controversial plan back to the city council

Opponents of a plan to build a retail development on the former Carlsbad strawberry fields have enough signatures to put the issue to a citywide vote, the city said. 

The referendum for a plan to build a retail development on the former Carlsbad strawberry fields needed to have at least 6,523 valid signatures from registered voters, or 10 percent of the voters in Carlsbad. On Tuesday, City of Carlsbad Community Outreach and Engagement staffer Kristina Ray said opponents of the plan submitted 9,095 signatures. Of those, 8,052 were valid signatures.

Now, the issue goes back to the city council, which can then decide whether to overturn its initial decision — killing the project — or bring it before the voters. That is scheduled to take place at a Nov. 3 council meeting. 

The outdoor shopping center, which will be underway next year, would overlook the Agua Hedionda Lagoon and sit where the strawberry fields once grew.

The project’s challengers are unhappy that the issue was not brought before the voters. Instead, it was approved by the Carlsbad City Council after developer Rick Caruso bypassed the environmental review process with a signature drive.

Opponents say the developer mailed out fliers, saying the plan would be put on the ballot.

“That was a complete surprise to many people when they signed an initiative and felt, ‘Wait, we were promised a right to weigh in, and now we don’t,’” said Diana Nygaard. “So there’s an issue of fairness.”

Putting it on the ballot would mean a $500,000 special election or waiting until the 2016 general election.

Proponents of the Agua Hedionda project, including the owner of the Carlsbad Strawberry Company, say the shops will be built on about 30 acres, leaving 85 percent of the land reserved for things like hiking trails, an outdoor classroom, amphitheaters and natural space.

“The 85-15 plan is a good plan. It’s good for my family, it’s good for continuing strawberry farming in this community and it’s good for Carlsbad,” said strawberry company owner Jimmy Ukegawa earlier this month. “It’s that simple.”

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