The “Let the People Vote” petition campaign, spearheaded by Citizens for North County late last summer, was able to obtain the required number of signatures from Carlsbad voters to force a vote on a controversial shopping center overlooking the Agua Hedionda Lagoon. As a result, the fate of developer Caruso’s so-called “85/15” project in Carlsbad now rests on the results of a special election to be held on February 23. Were it not for a grassroots, all-volunteer effort by a group of local residents to force a public vote on this project, the bulldozers would be lining up today.
Caruso had previously convinced the city and signers of his initiative to allow him to bypass the normal development review process. Nothing has changed on that score—there will be no independent review of the potentially significant environmental impacts of this development. The public will only be able to vote “Yes” or “No” on the regional shopping center plan as it is proposed by the developer—no revisions are possible.
The Carlsbad City Council set the vote for a special election to be held on the earliest possible date. The February election will cost the city an estimated $500,000 over what it would have cost had it been included in next November’s regular general election. Special, one-issue elections typically attract a much smaller voter turnout than regular elections. The anticipated smaller voter turnout, as well as a shortened election campaign period, are both expected to favor the developer.
The out-of-town developer has already spent over $5 million to saturate Carlsbad households with promotional brochures and expense-paid tours to convince city officials and residents of the benefits of his proposed regional shopping center. Caruso’s massive marketing apparatus will likely overwhelm the citizens’ low-budget education campaign during the abbreviated special election campaign. This question remains: Will voters have a chance to learn about the largely unexplored negative impacts of the development before they must cast their ballots?