CARLSBAD — It is a mad dash toward the finish line.
Both opponents and proponents of Measure A are engaging in a rigorous, last-minute push to sway voters come Tuesday.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the San Diego County Registrar of Voters confirmed that about 20,500 mail-in ballots (or 49 percent) of the more than 42,000 distributed have been received.
There are about 62,000 registered voters in the city.
The measure is one of the most controversial issues to hit the city in years and activists with Citizens for North County (CNC), among others who are not affiliated, and the supporters led by Caruso Affiliated are making the rounds.
On the ballot is a proposal to develop 26 acres of commercial space anchored by a luxury mall, while the remaining 177 acres is reserved for developing open space with hiking trails and expanding strawberry farming, to name a few, on the south shore of Agua Hedionda Lagoon.
Both sides have engaged in a lengthy battle, with Caruso Affiliated, the project’s developer, spending more than $8 million on the campaign including television ads, signage, mailers, an information center and walking the neighborhoods.
The opponents, spearheaded by CNC, has used social media to spread its message, but also has engaged in pop-up events, going door-to-door, phone banks and mailers as well. A majority of CNC’s funding came from a $75,000 donation from Westfield LLC, which sold its stake in the Carlsbad Mall last year.
“We are making our pitch face-to-face, making our pitch for why this is a bad project,” CNC President De’Anne Weimer said. “We are very dependent on social media. We are engaging over 40,000 people on a topic and that gives us some level of comfort. It is a David and Goliath struggle. Goliath is a little upset that David has a slingshot and we do. Our slingshot is social media.”
The issues cover nearly every aspect of Carlsbad’s way of life, which, depending on the viewpoint, is good or bad.
Proponents, including the City Council, which unanimously supports the project, have stumped for the vast improvements of traffic, access, and economic growth among others.
“The strawberry fields, which have been a cherished part of Carlsbad for so many years … will not only be able to stay on the property, but expand,” said Matt Middlebrook, executive vice president of development for Caruso Affiliated. “There will also be a great open-air promenade for people to enjoy.”
They point to upgrading traffic light systems, better access to Interstate 5 and along Cannon Road, among others. About $10 million Caruso Affiliated must pay to mitigate those issues and the millions in tax revenue the city will collect.
In addition, the proposed three miles of trails will allow residents access to the area and its views of Agua Hedionda Lagoon.
“What they really appreciate is that this is a great opportunity for the whole community, in many ways,” Middlebrook said. “Particularly the open space and how much it creates. Under Measure A, this will become publicly accessible open space for the whole community forever at no cost to taxpayers. It’s maintenance and funding will be maintained in perpetuity by the project.”
Opponents, meanwhile, want to preserve the space, views and keep its natural state in place as to not disrupt any possible environmental toxins. While supporters say traffic, access and growth are positive aspects, those against want Carlsbad to keep its small town feel.
The need for additional traffic along I-5 and Cannon Road will increase, while the economics are overstated. In short, they don’t want this coastal community becoming another Los Angeles, a shot at the L.A.-based Caruso Affiliated.
In addition, the opponents also resent the developer circumventing the California Environmental Quality Act.
Weimer said the top three concerns for CNC are traffic, allowing 15 years of control by the developer over the land and the deception of the plan. The City Council and Caruso Affiliated have denied these claims throughout the past several months.
Weimer, though, said the traffic reports are overstated as their experts say 22 of the 34 intersections will be worse, only four will be improved by Caruso Affiliated, three will remain unchanged and five will be improved by the city.
In addition, thousands of added cars will become part of the daily commute. Another aspect, she said, is that previous reports studied Legoland’s impact only when the resort was closed with 5 percent of additional traffic added to the calculations.
“Number one was traffic and bringing 13 million people to the Cannon interchange per year and 35,000 cars per day,” Weimer said. “Number 2 is Carlsbad giving up the land and is not up to discretionary review, which is to say no. That is unprecedented. That’s why the former city planner Michael Holzmiller has been passionate on this issue, that’s why former city attorney Ron Ball is passionate on this issue.”
The rush toward the special election, however, is in full force as both sides reach out to as many voters as possible.
Both sides have racked up numerous endorsements with the City Council and firefighter and police unions and the Chamber of Commerce in support, while former city officials, the Batiquitos Lagoon Foundation, the Sierra Club and the Surfrider Foundation, just to name a few have endorsed the “No on A” movement.
Despite the growing tide before Tuesday’s results are announced, each side feels the work they have done will result in victory.
“We feel terrific,” Middlebrook said. “There are very few political measures where you see unanimous support from the City Council, the firefighters, the police officers, the Agua Hedionda Lagoon Foundation … they have endorsed our project. There is a huge coalition of people and organizations who have all gotten behind us.”
As for CNC, Weimer said the high turnout figures to be an advantage for residents in opposition. She said they have a “50/50” chance, although she said the election will come down to a handful of voters.
“We are pleased with the areas of the city we’ve been able to reach,” Weimer added. “We think our ability to reach those areas is partly responsible for that high voter turnout. With this massive voting going on in this special election … we hope we see a continued large turnout.”
Steve Puterski covers Carlsbad and Vista. For tips or story ideas, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @StevePuterski.