CARLSBAD — After a sudden submission to the city and media concerning the environmental standing of the proposed Agua Hedionda Lagoon South Shore Specific Plan, Caruso Affiliated officials countered with a forceful rebuttal.
On Dec. 17, Caruso Affiliated Executive Vice President Matt Middlebrook held a press conference to counter the claims made by the Westfield Corporation, which were released on Dec. 16.
Westfield announced it donated $75,000 to the Citizens for North County, a resident opposition group. CNC initiated a successful referendum to put Measure A on the ballot, while the City Council approved a special election for Feb. 23, which cost estimates vary between $450,000 to $550,000.
Middlebrook detailed how the release of an environmental report commission and paid for by Westfield is about protecting the Australian-based company’s interests at the University Town Center in La Jolla and even in Escondido.
In addition, Middlebrook cited numerous examples of this type of conduct from Westfield and also circulated a binder of numerous media reports from throughout the country detailing the same efforts seen in Carlsbad.
Middlebrook noted how Westfield uses phony, or fronts, groups and backs resident-led opposition to contest other projects.
“Westfield has a very long and consistent track record of backing local groups, often phony groups they create in order to simply to kill competition,” Middlebrook added. “They file lawsuits, they put poison pill measures on the ballot and they wage proxy battles while hiding behind local groups.”
Another example, Middlebrook explained, was Westfield bought three homes in a Missouri town sub development to get standing in a lawsuit to kill a competing project.
Yet Middlebrook’s biggest stance against Westfield came as the group “abandoned” Carlsbad when it sold its stake in the Plaza Camino Real Mall to Rouse Properties recently.
Resident Arnie Cohen, who also spoke, told the media how Westfield never came full circle with its promise to renovate and update the dilapidated facility. His remarks echoed those of Middlebrook, who also railed against Westfield for continuously breaking its promise to the city and residents of upgrading the mall.
“Instead what they did, is they not only didn’t improve the mall, they sell it and abandon and leave Carlsbad behind completely,” he said. “This is purely in their own best interests … and not in Carlsbad’s best interests, which we think this project (85/15) is.”
As for CNC, President De’Ann Weimer said the donation is just a fraction of what Caruso Affiliated has spent. CNC spent $18,600 in the referendum effort, while Caruso Affiliated has spent more than $5 million in support.
However, in Weimer’s statement, she said the group has received $100,000 in support, but needs an additional $200,000 to run its campaign to vote down Measure A.
“The City Council’s decision to waste $500,000 on a special election in February — as opposed to the less expensive alternative of placing this measure on next November’s ballot — was designed to give Caruso an advantage,” she added. “The special election — with little time to campaign, complicated by major holidays — capitalizes on Caruso’s already huge investment in advertising and gives opponents very little time to catch up.”