Agua Hedionda 85/15 Mall Proposal

What Is It?

On February 23, Carlsbad residents will be voting in a special election on Measure A, which will determine the fate of the Agua Hedionda South Shore Specific Plan (aka "85/15") proposed by developer Caruso Affiliated. The 85/15 Plan allows a 585,000 square foot shopping mall to be built on the shores of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon.

The area addressed by the 85/15 Plan is 203 acres on the south side of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon. 85/15 purports to permanently protect 85% of the area as open space (176 acres) and allows for 15% to be developed (27 acres). However, the majority of this "open space" land has already been permanently protected.

Proposition D

In 2004, 76 acres of this area became permanently protected through the newly adopted Habitat Management Plan. In 2006, Carlsbad voters approved Proposition D, which permanently preserved the strawberry fields and flower fields in the area (155 acres) as open space. Farming would continue as long as it was economically viable; if it should cease to be viable, there were provisions for the public to decide the fate of the land, but only certain open space uses would be allowed. These uses included structures such as museums or arts centers.
Proposition D also continued to designate a 48-acre parcel adjacent to the open space areas as commercial zoning ("Travel/Recreation Commercial").

Mall Development
Mall Development

Measure A and Zoning Changes

If Measure A passes, the 48 acres currently zoned as "Travel/Recreation Commercial" would be split into two new zoning designations:

  • 27 acres would become "Visitor Service Commercial." This zoning change will allow a regional shopping center to built that is almost 25% larger than what was allocated for the site when the City's Growth Management plan was approved in 1986. This is the location of the proposed shopping mall.
  • The remainder of the 48 acres (16 acres) would become "open space." 

This 16 acres, along with the 155 acres of currently protected Proposition D open space land, would undergo new zoning changes as described below:

  1. HMP Open Space- The 76 acres already set aside as open space by the HMP.
  2. Passive Open Space- 39 acres. This was already classified as permanently protected open space by Prop D. Proposed uses via the 85/15 Plan include: trails, fences, picnic facilities, parking spaces, and roads. Other permitted uses include an open air classroom and restrooms.
  3. Exclusive Agricultural Open Space- This 46-acre area was also protected through Prop D. Through this zoning change, parking areas, roads, classrooms, farm stands, and restrooms would be allowed.
  4. Agricultural Support Open Space- This 16-acre area is the addition to open space from the 48-acre commercially-zoned parcel. Proposed structures under the 85/15 Plan include a 2,200 square foot farm stand and a 6,500 square foot restaurant. 85/15 also allows coffee shops, roads, parking areas, and transit/tour bus passenger loading.
    The developer touts this open space addition as a generous gift; however, it is located under massive power lines and will have a road cutting through it to access the mall.
Agua Hedionda mall area

Is it really Open Space at no cost to the public?

While the developer says that the open space would be acquired at "no cost to the taxpayer," the costs of increased traffic, parking snarls, impacts to the lagoon, and a special election that Carlsbad City Council chose over a regular election ($500,000 vs $35,000) negate the claim of "no cost to the public". The $2.6 million revenue per year estimated gain from this project won't begin to mitigate these impacts.

The Process

Caruso Affiliated bypassed CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) and the normal planning process by going through the Citizens' Initiative process. Citizen initiatives are not subject to environmental review under CEQA, thanks to a 2014 California Supreme ruling.* Under the Citizens' Initiative process, Carlsbad City staff are precluded from taking any substantive action beyond ministerial comments.

Caruso Affiliated submitted a 4,000 page environmental analysis which contained lengthy technical studies and concluded there would be no negative impact from the project. Had this project gone through the normal planning process, there would be third party oversight by City planning staff to evaluate the studies. The public, City staff and agencies would be able to participate by commenting and presenting arguments at public hearings. There would also be the right to challenge the approval of the project if there were flaws. How many Carlsbad citizens were involved in drafting 85/15? The only involvement for the public was attending meetings held by the developer or by signing or not signing the initiative. If ever there is a place where the proper planning process should be used, it is here, along the banks of a sensitive lagoon.

Further, the 85/15 Plan supersedes the General Plan and local Coastal Plan, and supersedes any provisions of the Carlsbad Municipal Code that conflict with the 85/15 Plan. And the developer would hold full regulatory control over that land for 15 years.

Since the Supreme Court ruling, developers in several other locations in California are using the initiative process to fast track their projects. Carlsbad is ground zero for the fight to stop this blatant misuse of the initiative process, and it is critical that we succeed in order to set a precedence that it is unacceptable to circumvent environmental laws.

Traffic and Congestion

The developer's traffic analysis shows the 85/15 mall will bring in 24,000 new car trips per day with about 13 million visitors per year. However, Caltrans has noted that the improvements to the I5 Cannon Road Interchange will not be in place until 16 years after the mall has been built. Even with these improvements, the increased number of people coming to this area is ghastly. Currently, Cannon Road has approximately 24,000 car trips per day. Imagine doubling this.

What You Can Do

A special election will be held on February 23rd on this project. A "No" vote on Measure A will help protect our cherished environmental laws and set a precedence that it is not acceptable to try to circumvent them.

For More Information on Measure A

Please contact any of the following:

Read the official BVAS postion

Find out in detail why BVAS opposes the plan

Citizens for North County

A new, all-volunteer organization created to support the local community in issues such as protecting our lagoons

City of Carlsbad

For official plans, maps, news releases, and more.

Our Mission

To protect and preserve our region's birds, biodiversity, and threatened habitats, and to promote conservation of our natural resources through advocacy, education, and both habitat restoration and management.

Mailing Address

Buena Vista Audubon
PO Box 480
Oceanside, CA 92049

Nature Center

2202 S. Coast Highway
Oceanside, CA 92054



Tuesday 10 am-1 pm
Wednesday 10 am-1 pm
Thursday 10 am-1 pm
Friday 10 am-1 pm
Saturday 10 am-1 pm

Find Us

Contact Us

Please enter your name.
Please enter a message.