Not all in favor of strawberry fields mall

Not all in favor of strawberry fields mall
In May, Rick Caruso (at podium) announces plans to develop the current sight of the strawberry fields into an upscale shopping center anchored by a Nordstrom with the help of realtor Carlton Lund (far right), Carlsbad Strawberry Company Owner Jimmy Ukegawa (far left) and Agua Hedionda Lagoon Foundation President Maureen Simons. File photo by Ellen Wright

The signatures to build an upscale retail shopping center at the Carlsbad Strawberry

Fields have been gathered and are being authenticated.

While the Carlsbad City Clerk waits to receive authorization from the San Diego County Registrar of Voters, supporters and opponents of the 85/15 Agua Hedionda Lagoon Initiative are beefing up outreach.

In May, Rick Caruso officially announced his plan for the strawberry fields, although he had been gathering input in the city for years.

He launched the citizen-led initiative, with the help of realtor Carlton Lund, Agua Hedionda Lagoon Foundation President Maureen Simons and Carlsbad Strawberry Company Owner Jimmy Ukegawa to develop the current sight of the strawberry fields into an upscale shopping center anchored by a Nordstrom.

The plan calls for 85 percent of the land to remain open space, including doubling the size of the strawberry fields.

As required by law, 15 percent of registered Carlsbad voters must sign on in support of the project in order for the City Council to approve it or send it to a special vote.

On July 14, a handful of opponents stood outside City Hall to voice their opinions.

Carlsbad resident Jason Ozeal told the council he felt duped after signing the initiative.

“I… feel like I’ve been completely duped, by the proponents of the initiative, into signing a petition under false pretense,” he said.

Ozeal believed that signing would put the initiative on the ballot to let the voters decide and he was frustrated because he felt the signature gatherer misled him.

“When she explicitly told me that my signature meant that I wanted to see it put on a ballot, I finally agreed to sign it,” Ozeal said.

Assistant City Clerk Shelley Collins said 10 people withdrew their signatures before they were sent to the County Registrar.

She said more people tried to remove their signatures from the initiative, but she didn’t receive their letters in time to be compliant with the state election code.

About 30 people worked full time to gather more than 20,000 signatures in six weeks said Bryce Ross, vice president of acquisitions and development for Caruso Affiliated.

Once the signatures have been authenticated, the council will either be able to outright approve the project or put it to a vote.

Ozeal urged the council to put the project to a vote. A representative from the North County Women’s League of Voters agreed.

“The league’s concern is not on the merits of the project. Rather, our concern is the normal permit approval process has not been followed,” said Mary Thompson. “The league believes the proposed project requires the normal, comprehensive staff review, independent third party review to evaluate compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act and opportunities for public input.

Caruso said he chose to do an initiative instead of going through the typical review process to give council and the community direct control over the process.

In May, city staff began reviewing the project proposal, which is 4,000 pages long and will give a recommendation likely in late August or early September.

On Facebook, the Agua Hedionda 85/15 Plan page has about 4,400 likes and an opposing page, Carlsbad Locals Against the Agua Hedionda 85/15 Plan has about 1,000 likes.

Caruso staff is offering open space tours Aug. 1 and Aug. 15 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. to show residents how they plan to increase access to the open space surrounding the Agua Hedionda Lagoon, which is currently closed to the public.

The tours meet at the Carlsbad Strawberry Fields.

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