Protesters rally against strawberry fields mall

Protesters rally against strawberry fields mall
Protesters rallied in front of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon Thursday to ask City Council to leave the decision on whether or not to approve a shopping center to the voters. Photo by Ellen Wright

CARLSBAD — A group of environmental advocates held a press conference Thursday to express their concerns over the proposed strawberry fields mall and to encourage City Council to send the project to a special election ballot.

On Aug. 25, the City Council will have the option to either approve the mall proposed by Caruso Affiliated or send it to a vote. The proposal includes a 27-acre shopping center anchored by a Nordstrom and 177 acres of open space surrounding Agua Hedionda Lagoon. The proposal also includes plans to expand the strawberry fields.

Opponents criticized developer Rick Caruso for bypassing environmental review in order to speed up the process.

“We’ve had a process in place for many, many years that works. The California Environmental Quality Act is a long and arduous process but it works,” said President of the Batiquitos Lagoon Foundation Fred Sandquist. “If we have a process that works, why take the city, the planning department, the planning commission and CEQA off the table if it’s such a good project.”

The Chairperson of the Agua Hedionda Foundation, Maureen Simons, was one of the three citizens to introduce the initiative to the council.

A representative of Caruso Affiliated said environmental analysts provided an in-depth review of the environment.

“Our environmental analysis studied every single aspect that would ordinarily be studied under CEQA,” said Bryce Ross, vice president of acquisitions and development for Caruso Affiliated.

The city hired independent analysts to review the proposal submitted by Caruso Affiliated.

The analysts found the project’s effects on air quality, biological resources and greenhouse gasses comply with professional standards of practice, applicable regional, state and federal guidelines.

An issue the independent analysts and environmentalists brought up was storm water drainage.

Analysts wrote there were concerns with storm water drainage that “will need to be addressed during the design process and the city’s grading plan review and approval process.”

Both sides had strong words about the other.

“They show a careless disregard for protecting this lagoon and from protecting our health that this pollution will cause,” Diane Nygaard, President of Preserve Calavera said.

Caruso representative Ross said they’ve done the environmental reviews and the environmental representatives are in the minority.

“A tiny group of opponents, many of which are from outside of Carlsbad, continue to use scare tactics and distortions of the facts to confuse Carlsbad residents about the 85/15 plan because they know the plan has overwhelming community support,” Ross said.

On Tuesday, the council will make a decision on whether to approve the shopping center or send it to a ballot.

In the past, Caruso said the shopping center wouldn’t cost taxpayers although his staff has not confirmed nor denied whether or not he’d pay for the special election.

“Our position on 85/15 from day one has been that it won’t cost the city or residents a penny. We’ve never been specifically asked a question about what the council would want us to pay for,” said Ross.

At the press conference Thursday, Sandquist asked the council to send it to a vote.

“It doesn’t solve the issue, but at least it gives us more time,” he said.

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