Lillian Carrigan holds up a sign in an effort to gather signatures for a referendum to overturn Carlsbad City Council’s earlier decision to approve a shopping center on the Agua Hedionda Lagoon. Photo by Ellen Wright
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Citizen’s group gathers signatures to overturn mall project

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.”

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22 comments

Carlsbad Resident TE September 17, 2015 at 12:40 pm

Did I read the Mayor’s comment right? Having a vote is “a waste of the community’s time and resources”? The Residents are the ones demanding the right to VOTE, and they are the “Community”!! Please don’t try to block the voice of the people. The residents are speaking loud and clear against this matter. For the sake of transparency and trust in government, hear the opposition, see the grassroots effort, and understand the mountains these volunteers are climbing to compete with a millionaire developer. The honorable decision is to respect the people’s right to vote, even if you are on a different side of the issue, or have no opinion on the lagoon mall. The principle of being allowed to vote when an issue is so dividing and controversial, is in the interest of all Americans who respect democracy in our future.

Richard Riehl September 17, 2015 at 1:04 pm

Caruso Affiliated’s latest glossy mailer features the smiling faces of the five city Council members who voted unanimously to approve the developer’s plan to build a Strawberry Fields mall. Directly below the beaming politicians is the plea, Don’t let outside interests end the Strawberry Fields and take away what’s ours, followed by the command, Don’t sign the petition. You’re invited to “get the facts” from a link to Caruso’s corporate marketing campaign.

You’d think our public officials would refer us to the city’s website, where you can find unbiased documents related to the developer’s plan, like Prop D, passed by the voters in 2006, and the entire Agua Hedionda South Shore Specific Plan (AH-SP). So I went to the city’s website, where I found this. “The City of Carlsbad did not sponsor the initiative and, by law, no public resources may be used to advocate for or against an initiative or referendum.”

I’m sure council members got legal advice before climbing aboard Caruso’s campaign train to keep their constituents away from the voting booth. They are merely trumpeting the wisdom of their decision. But how can they explain their opposition to the referendum? The website explains there is no referendum yet filed with the city clerk. Council members might be successfully skirting the law, but next year’s election will allow voters a say in the wisdom of that.

Prop D can be found here. These two sections caught my eye. 3.1.8 The city shall also ensure that… the existing Strawberry Fields are allowed to continue as long as it is economically viable for the landowner to do so.” Despite this promise, the Caruso/City Council mailer claims putting the AH-SP up for a vote will mean the loss of “Jimmy Ukegawa’s iconic Carlsbad Strawberry Company, our strawberry farming heritage and protections for coastal agriculture.”

Because of my guilty conscience about signing an initiative I was told was a citizen’s-led effort to save the Strawberry Fields, I vowed to read the entire 397-page document, which can be found here. It’s titled, Initiative Measure to be Submitted Directly to the Voters, received May 12, 2015. You read that right. No mention of the city council’s authority to rubberstamp it, and a very good reason many of us felt misled.

The “intent” of the AH-SP, according to its introduction, is to “provide for the continuation of coastal agriculture and strawberry farming,” mirroring Prop D. Neither guarantees financial support for the fields. The city’s website claims AH-SP would “guarantee continued agriculture on the site in perpetuity by providing financial support to the top farming operation.” Note the absence of the words “Strawberry Fields.”

You also won’t find those words in the AH-SP’s guarantee of financial support. “The Specific Plan establishes revenue sources from the Specific Plan’s visitor-serving commercial uses, and/or from private funding, to dedicate, improve, restore, operate, and maintain in perpetuity the dedicated open space areas at no tax burden to Carlsbad residents.”

Contrary to the Caruso/city Council mailer, just as signing the petition for the initiative did not guarantee Strawberry Fields forever, refusing to sign the referendum petition will not save them from being plowed under the day after the new Nordstrom’s is open for business. It will only save the land for agriculture, with a vague promise to subsidize growers, with funding from a variety of unnamed sources.

The city Council’s rubber stamp and promotion of the Agua-Hedionda Specific Plan is both irresponsible and unseemly. For elected officials to mount a campaign urging their constituents not to vote is both ironic and politically stupid.

TN September 17, 2015 at 1:16 pm

Citizens for North County and Preserve Calavera need to comply with state and local laws that compel campaigns to file legally-required finance disclosure forms.

Who is giving you money? How much money are you spending? And where are the dollars spent? Is Ms. Nygaard on your payroll???

I call on you to be transparent. We have sunshine laws that apply to this situation. Please comply with them.

Jan Neff-Sinclair September 17, 2015 at 1:37 pm

The signature gathering effort is purely voluntary. No one is being paid. No money is being spent on this effort, other than the money the volunteers pay for the copies of the materials they are circulating.

Jason September 17, 2015 at 1:58 pm

This thing should go to public vote. The tactics from Caruso and his paid army have been nothing short of offensive and a clear signal that they have something to hide. The fact that Mr Middlebrook calls the harassment by his people a flat out lie is also sickening. Hello- there were witnesses! The police were called! Caruso is loaded and is spending millions of dollars to flood our community with misrepresentations and continued attempts to suppress democracy. He is using poor Jimmy Ukegawa as an emotional puppet. He had a business that was failing and Caruso offered to save it at the expense of screwing everyone else that lives in the surrounding neighborhoods. Wake up people and sign the petition so you can have a say in our future. Your time is running out.

Sharon Corrigan September 17, 2015 at 2:04 pm

The developer’s signature gatherers misled the residents who signed- believing it was saving the strawberry fields which were never in jeopardy wheter or not the mall is built. Members of the Carlsbad City Council have allowed their names to be used in the dozens of full color brochures promoting their agenda- which are all downright misleading. All we are trying to do is have the right to vote on the issue. Sign the petition! Only citizens of Carlsbad will vote- why is the developer, and the city so afraid of a vote? Thanks to the Coast News- we now know Jimmy’s fields will double in size- pretty good incentive for him to back this initiate – too bad he’s selling out for that extra bonus- he’s apparently receiving prime coastal property equal to his current farm if the developer is successful- shame on the supporters and shame on Jimmy for supporting this misleading campaign.

Ken Cariffe September 17, 2015 at 4:31 pm

The right of citizens to vote and to petition their representatives is so fundamental that it is shocking to see our city politicians lend support and their names to a vicious million dollar campaign to tell residents not to petition or vote. These tactics are backfiring and only helping residents get more signatures.

Carlsbad Resident 2 September 17, 2015 at 4:44 pm

Caruso claims that the signature gatherers are funded by outside interests without providing any proof. They appear to be our neighbors. The realty seems to be that Caruso IS the outside interest trying to bypass traditional regulatory channels to cash in on prime real estate for a massive shopping center, not “open space”. It feels like the snake oil salesman is passing through town. Let the community in on this decision that effects the community.

Ali September 17, 2015 at 10:07 pm

The latest intentionally confusing glossy fliers from Caruso accuses outsiders of rallying against his proposal. But ironically::: He is the outsider! His company is not based in Carlsbad. He is not a resident of Carlsbad. His canvasers misled residents to believe they were signing a petition to save the strawberry fields. Now his mailers have a coupon to “remove my name from petition”. But it’s not referring to Caruso’s misleading petition. It’s referring to the petition now circulating to let the people vote. When deals start out being sneaky, we can bet there are aspects being hidden for their benefit. Why does the council allow this manipulation? Let the residents vote. We can vote out this shady developer, then we can vote out this embarrassing city council. If Caruso is so righteous, why has he taken such a circuitous path around normal development procedures? Caruso, stop your unethical business shenanigans. We do not want our view of the open field around the lagoon to become blocked by a three story high (paid) parking garage. Lovely…… One more time I will repeat myself. Let the people vote.

Dane Pearson September 17, 2015 at 10:22 pm

I respectfully call on the opponents of the 85/15 plan to file the proper and necessary campaign disclosure statements with the City of Carlsbad and the State of California. Without the necessary compliance with election laws, you deprive Carlsbad residents of vital information. We are very interested in knowing exactly who you are and who is funding your effort. It is one thing to use false identities on Facebook and other forms of social media, but it is a completely different and troubling thing to hide behind the anti-space and coastal agriculture group. We ask to please properly disclose who is financing your effort. We respectfully ask if there is a reason you are hiding your identities.

Dane Pearson September 17, 2015 at 10:32 pm

Being a Carlsbad resident, I firmly support Caruso’s staff questioning the legality of Citizens for North County’s lack of financial filings. Matt Middlebrook is spot on with his assessment of state laws, which govern referendum campaigns.

(Facebook–https://www.facebook.com/Carlsbad-Locals-Against-The-Agua-Hedionda-8515-Plan-782521181866712/timeline/) Carlsbad Locals Against The Agua Hedionda 85/15 Plan: Its getting very heated, we were talking to some people in Oceanside, they said they were sorry they couldn’t help out, one women went on to say, the only way they will listen is if you go Ferguson on them, wow.. hope this doesn’t come down to that. Voting Rights Matter, lets just hope people keep calm.. on both sides!!! (r)

I urge Carlsbad residents to examine this post thoroughly and understand how devastatingly distressful and horrific this moderator’s comments are, especially to the Carlsbad community and the children and future generations to come. It would be better to aim towards reasoned, civil discussion, rather than suggesting violence. This could have a horrifying, chilling effect on citizen participation as this democratic process continues. It is imperative to disregard and not listen to the Oceanside outsider referenced in this post. It is essential to recognize that we do not want anyone harmed and we do not want anyone to incite violence or stir up hate. Carlsbad residents are truly interested in what is best for our city and our families and friends. The idea of “going Ferguson” simply would be destructive to this great city. I respectfully call on the opponents of the 85/15 plan to file the proper and necessary campaign disclosure statements with the City of Carlsbad and the State of California.

Please respect the process & do not sign the petition for the best of Carlsbad. I urge those to respect the process. It was 3 years ago that Caruso and his staff learned, listened to the community of Carlsbad, and developed an outstanding comprehensive plan. Mayor Matt Hall and the Carlsbad city council voted unanimously to support the 85/15 plan after hearing from a multitude of Carlsbad residents and thoroughly reviewed it. SDG&E owns the land that the strawberry farms are on and that this land has been in danger of being sold to developers for years. Many members of the City Council can testify to the efforts they have made to keep the fields in the city. If this deal is overturned it is very likely that Carlsbad will lose its iconic strawberry fields. This deal also includes many protections and reforms that are needed. In addition, the land has been set aside for commercial use, so without the 85/15 plan we are very likely to see a 100% plan where we lose a lot more of the natural habitat then we will be today. The 85/15 plan includes water protections for the Agua Hedionda lagoon that would actually enhance the quality of the water that is there today. The 85/15 Plan means Jimmy Ukegawa’s beloved small family business is safe and Carlsbad’s strawberry farming is ensured for generations to come. Signing the petition means Carlsbad loses the iconic Strawberry Company, the strawberry farming heritage, and protections for coastal agriculture. Signing the petition means Carlsbad loses an opportunity for hiking trails and an outdoor education center for our families. Signing the petition means Carlsbad loses new ways to protect the Agua Hedionda Lagoon’s habitat and wildlife.
The 85/15 Plan means 176 acres of new access to open space for Carlsbad families at no cost to taxpayers.
Respect the process, respect the unanimous decision by Mayor Matt Hall and the city council of Carlsbad, and respect Jimmy Ukegawa’s beloved strawberry business.

Please support the unanimous vote of our trusted Carlsbad city council members, and respect the process. I am a proud Carlsbad resident who graduated from Carlsbad High (’11), recent college graduate with honors from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, and came back to Carlsbad to be a proud resident of this wonderful city. This process and plan must continue as is, for what it provides to Carlsbad, and how thoroughly reviewed it has been. And a unanimous vote by a trusted mayor and city council, who were voted in, should stand for something and be respected.

Thomas Jefferson September 18, 2015 at 8:30 am

If the referendum petition fails to qualify because of disruption by Caruso’s thugs, how about a recall petition for the five council members in Caruso’s pocket?

Mandy Barre September 18, 2015 at 1:39 pm

This is how they control the sheep in the community- Caruso starts with the lies, repeats them, lies some more and repeats them until you start challenging the veracity of your neighborss and your own Constitutional right to vote. Wake up, Sheeple. ALL the people working to get the referendum are VOLUNTEERS! period.

Don Burton September 18, 2015 at 2:53 pm

Not that anyone needs to be encouraged to do so, but please ignore everything Dane Pearson has to say. He is so clearly a Caruso stooge that nothing he has to say has any credibility whatsoever. Just another in a long line of Caruso stooges who feel obligated to make comments that have no substance or truth-value. And if you do want to enjoy a good laugh, by all means read what Mr. Pearson has to say. He keeps making the identical posts all over the place because it’s easier to cut and paste than it is to write something meaningful. Wonder what HIS motivation is? I know what ours is.

Don Burton September 18, 2015 at 2:57 pm

And, by the way, NONE of our people have committed any assaults. None of our people has incited anyone to block petitions, block access to signings, block vehicles from accessing drive-by signings…ALL of those things have been done by Caruso supporters. Not to mention the lies. One woman I just spoke with was so upset because a Caruso person came to her door and told her to sign the withdrawal card and mail it so she could remove her name FROM THE ORIGINAL PETITION!!!. Talk about having big ones! I explained to the woman that she was a victim of a criminal act, voter fraud, and she will be pursuing this. NOT an isolated incident either. How low can these people stoop?

Carlsbad Local September 18, 2015 at 3:23 pm

It’s so simple. Caruso stands to make millions and so does Jimmy, the poor little strawberry farmer. The City of Carlsbad has been in the back pocket of big developers like Caruso since the Bud Lewis days and it continues on with his crony Matt Hall at the helm. This is nothing new and the voters of Carlsbad brought this situation upon themselves by electing Mr. Hall and his crony’s on the City Council. It’s laughable that people are actually buying into this “Open Space the Right Way” and “85/15” plan and the 3 million dollar PR campaign the the Caruso organization has waged. Now Caruso is doing everything in their power to not let this go to a vote. Is Carlsbad still part of the United States?? What a joke this is. The voters of Carlsbad have only themselves to blame. Carlsbad is turning into another over-crowded extension of Orange County so get ready. It’s been happening for years and it won’t stop until the City of Carlsbad sucks every last penny out of the developers and the ginormous tax base that they are creating. Even if this debacle does go to a vote, which is should, I am betting it sails right through and that we have a new, big, beautiful, congested strip mall on Cannon Road. Just what we need.

Don Burton September 18, 2015 at 5:56 pm

Dane,
Please go away. No one is interested in your ranting. CNC is financed by good, caring, intelligent people who care about our community. Who is funding YOU? I gave money to the cause and donated the refundable $30 for the petition to help defray printing costs. Many other individuals have done the same. What is YOUR stake in this? How do YOU stand to gain from it? Rest assured CNC will disclose its funding because legally it has to do so. Same as Caruso had to disclose where all his millions is being spent to shove this down our throats. And that was only through June. How much more has he spent since then? Also Hall and Schumacher and the others have to disclose their campaign donors. I noticed MANY out of town donors. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? Well, not you, because you don’t care about that. You only care about pointing fingers and making baseless accusations. Go ahead and say we’re funded by Westfield. I dare you. And please get someone from Caruso to say it, publicly so everyone will hear it. He won’t because he knows he’ll be sued in a heartbeat. Neither will you because you know you have no proof and never will. So go play some video games or whatever you do to amuse yourself. Maybe you can play Halo with Sage.

Don Burton September 18, 2015 at 9:04 pm

To Mayor Hall,
Why don’t you let US decide what is a waste of our time and resources? Right now I think a very good use of time, energy, and resources is gathering signatures to make sure we can all vote on this. And I feel pretty darn good about it. Nearly every person I speak with thanks me for doing it voluntarily, even those who do not sign still seem to appreciate my effort. I’m sure only people like you, your fellow city councilmembers, and diehard Caruso supporters do not appreciate people who are Carlsbad residents and registered voters exercising their First Amendment rights of free speech and petition. You seem to know nothing about good governance, so enjoy your power while it lasts, which won’t be much longer.

Laura September 18, 2015 at 9:30 pm

Yes, one side has become aggressive, and it certainly isn’t the sweet volunteers who are donating their time and resources so that residents can vote. I’ve met five so far just going about my day, and all are respectful, kind, and considerate. So why does Caruso Affiliated continually bring up the civility of the campaign? Because it detracts from the real issue:

A MEGA MALL ON OUR LAGOON.

It will be twice the size of the outlets. It will be traffic nightmare (and yes, I read the entire 9212 report — which didn’t consider the I-5 as it wasn’t city owned, nor did it take into account the 700+ homes of soon-to-open Robertson Ranch, and was conducted when Legoland was closed).

And when I think of those beautiful lagoon sunsets, those ones that take my breath away…the ones that bring me utter peace in this crazy world…the ones that make me wonder, did God paint that for us?

….the ones that will be blocked by a 35″ high mall…

I could just cry. Instead, though, I will sign the volunteer’s referendum. I will recruit my neighbors to do the same. And, if given the opportunity, I will vote.

(City Council, know this: I will most certainly have the opportunity to vote on your positions. Wood, Blackburn [and Keith, I actually liked you!] — you’re up first. Hall, I’m not convinced you’re going to make it to 2018…but if you do, I will take such pleasure in voting for your opponent, whomever s/he may be).

Nancy Roeger September 19, 2015 at 12:57 pm

In today’s LA Times, Robin Acarian summed it up in her article on shopping malls, referring to the “so-called lifestyle concept” of Caruso’s empire of retail developments: ” … the truth behind that window dressing of upscale amenities is that we’re small pawns in a giant marketing scheme.”

Nancy Roeger September 19, 2015 at 1:00 pm

In today’s LA Times, Sandy Banks summed it up in her article on shopping malls, referring to the “so-called lifestyle concept” of Caruso’s empire of retail developments: ” … the truth behind that window dressing of upscale amenities is that we’re small pawns in a giant marketing scheme.”

Mandy Barre September 24, 2015 at 4:37 pm

Over 9100 signatures turned in! Way to go, Power to the People instead of the rich corporatists!

Comments are closed.