CARLSBAD — With less than a week left to collect signatures, nonprofit Citizens for North County is working to get about 9,800 signatures from voters to overturn the City Council’s Aug. 25 decision to approve a shopping center on the Agua Hedionda Lagoon.
The council unanimously approved an upscale retail shopping center on the site of the strawberry fields.
DeAnn Weimer, president of the Citizens for North County, said the mall’s developer Rick Caruso bypassed California Equality Quality Act regulations by going through the citizen-led initiative.
Caruso said his 4,000-page document sent to the city was more extensive than an Environmental Impact Report and Carlsbad staff said it was sufficient.
Citizens for North County members hope to gain enough signatures to send the initiative to a vote, which council had the option to do but outright approved the project instead.
Dianne Nygaard of Preserve Calavera is gathering signatures and said they’re getting more and more support every day.
“Every day it’s building,” said Nygaard. “The more people know about it and that see what’s going on are reacting to what Caruso is doing.”
They’ve trained about 100 volunteers to gather signatures, said Nygaard.
With the clock ticking, both sides are ramping up efforts to garner support, and each has talked about litigation against the other side.
A sign on the strawberry fields reading “Do Not Sign The Petition,” was taken down earlier this month because the size of it violated city codes.
Jimmy Ukegawa, owner of the Carlsbad Strawberry Company is a staunch supporter of the shopping center because his strawberry fields will double in size and continue in perpetuity.
Caruso has also sent out mailers to Carlsbad residents giving them the chance to withdraw their signatures from the referendum put forth by Citizens for North County.
Weimer questioned the legality of sending the mailer without having a witness but Executive Vice President for Development at Caruso Affiliated Matt Middlebrook said the mailers are perfectly legal.
Caruso’s staff also questioned the legality of Citizens for North County’s lack of financial filings.
“There are state laws that govern referendum campaigns,” said Middlebrook. “If you spend a certain amount of money in a referendum campaign, you are legally required to file your organization record with the state.”
A representative from The California Fair Political Practices Commission was not available for comment by press time.
Weimer and Nygaard both said supporters of the Caruso mall have harassed their volunteers in public, which Middlebrook called a “flat out lie.”
He said supporters of the shopping center have been out in public to share information and have kept a reasonable distance from referendum volunteers.
Signature gatherers have until Sept. 24 to gain enough signatures to overturn the council’s approval of the Caruso retail center.
Nygaard is hopeful.
“We’re on track to succeed,” she said. ”These things are always down to the wire.”
At a press conference earlier this month, Mayor Matt Hall denounced a referendum.
“(The Caruso plan) has been developed in collaboration with the community. It goes above and beyond what is required by law because it ensures the future of the strawberry fields, provides public access to open space in perpetuity and results in a cleaner lagoon,” said Hall. “A referendum election would be a waste of the community’s time and resources.”