CARLSBAD — Although the election is more than a year away, Matt Hall said he plans to run for a third term as mayor of Carlsbad.
“I think Carlsbad is at a turning point,” he said. “Growth management is at the end of its life as we know it.
“I would like to work with the community to help create what the next vision will look like,” he added. “The next four years, in my perfect world, would be to get us started on our vision and our plan for the next 25 years.”
A third-generation San Diegan who was born and raised in Vista, Hall settled in Carlsbad in 1970 after completing his military service, during which he was awarded the Purple Heart.
He became involved in city government six years later as a member of the first Design Review Board for the village. After eight years he next served a decade on the Planning Commission.
Urged by the business community in 1992, he entered the City Council race.
“Ramona Finnila was successful and I wasn’t,” Hall said. “So I said, ‘Thank you, Lord.’ I was going to have fun and go back to my business.”
At the time, Hall was a scrap processor in the recycling industry.
In 1994, four months before the election, incumbent Margaret Stanton called him to say she wouldn’t be seeking re-election and urged him to run again.
The second time was a charm for Hall. He served continuously as a councilman until 2010, when then-Mayor Claude “Bud” Lewis decided not to seek a seventh term and backed Hall as his successor.
“We were an unbelievable team,” Hall said of his colleagues at the time, which in addition to Lewis and Finnila included Ann Kulchin and Julie Nygaard. “We had done so much as far as growth management and implementing that plan.
“But I felt there was a missing piece,” he added. “The relationship with the business community wasn’t close enough. … I strongly believe it’s the business community that really drives the ship. It finances who we are and what we can do.
“I wanted to build a closer working relationship between the business community and government, not to in any way lessen the standards, but to help the businesses here grow and attract new business to Carlsbad,” Hall said. “I think it’s been a home run.”
He said the best example is ViaSat, a Carlsbad-based communications company that in 2010 was housed in a 140,000-square-foot facility and employed 400 people.
“They weren’t going to reinvest in Carlsbad and were planning to move out of the state because of tremendous frustration with California,” Hall said. “It took too long to get through the process.
“Through conversation and collaboration, they put together a team and we put together a team and a process that normally takes up to 10 months was completed in four-and-a-half,” he added. “We were successful in getting them to stay here.”
The company has since expanded to a larger facility and provides about 2,000 local jobs, he said.
According to Hall, the cost to maintain the city is increasing by about 4.5 to 5 percent annually. To maintain the quality of life, he said, “We need to make sure the income stream continues to match the expenditure stream, so council is looking out 10 to 15 years in its decisions.”
Hall has also collaborated with the mayors of the nearby cities of Oceanside, Vista, San Marcos and Escondido “to leverage assets for the greater good of all,” he said.
For example, together they created Innovate 78 to attract businesses and their employees to the Highway 78 corridor.
“So when we have a business that wants to grow, we can work together to keep them here in North County,” Hall said. “It keeps the job base in the area.”
During his tenure the city also paid off the outstanding bonds on the public golf course to make that facility self-sustaining.
Hall said City Council doesn’t deserve all the credit for the city’s successes.
“Our staff is so dedicated,” he said. “People sometimes think Carlsbad is on autopilot and everything seems to move smoothly. It takes multiple teams to make that happen.”
Hall’s seven-plus years at the helm of San Diego’s fifth-largest city have not been without controversy.
Since the time he overtook the gavel, Carlsbad has had four different city managers, interims excluded.
“You’re always planning for the best, and if you’re not making continuous strides you’ve got to make change,” Hall said. “Perhaps they could manage but they … lacked the leadership abilities to take the city to the next level.”
He said most were “not a good fit” until they brought on Kevin Crawford, who has served as city manager since 2015.
Hall is also not particularly proud of the outcome of Measure A, a failed initiative that asked voters in February 2016 to support a high-end retail and restaurant complex on the strawberry fields east of Interstate 5 in the north end of the city.
“It was something we processed through the community,” Hall said. “There was a difference of opinion. Although the council thought this was an unbelievable project, the community felt otherwise.”
With a current population of about 113,000, Carlsbad will be at about 95 percent buildout when Robertson Ranch is completed.
Another project in the works is development of property across from Ponto Beach, which is currently in the process of creating a master plan that will include commercial, retail and multifamily units.
“We originally thought the population was going to be between 208,000 to 250,000,” Hall said. “Growth management brought that down to 135,000. The ultimate buildout is probably going to be more like 128,000.
“In 1994 we had a growth projection of 54,600 residential units,” Hall added. We eliminated 3,000.”
He said there is a building cap on the city as a whole as well as in each of the quadrants.
So contrary to some who say the city has become overdeveloped too fast, Hall says the numbers show growth has slowed down tremendously.
Nonresidential projects include a linear park south of the power plant and trenching in the village to put the train tracks below grade level.
The 2018 election will be the first time voters will elect council members by district rather than at large. However, the mayor will continue to be chosen by all registered voters.
In 2014, Hall ran unopposed.
“I doubt seriously that that happens this time,” he said.