CARLSBAD — The strawberry fields shopping center was unanimously approved last week by the City Council but groundbreaking on the project is anything but guaranteed.
The project still needs to be approved by the California Coastal Commission and is already running into obstacles, from local environmental groups.
On Saturday, De’Ann Weimer, president of nonprofit Citizens for North County, announced volunteers will begin working to get 10 percent of registered Carlsbad voters’ signatures to force a referendum.
“This is a real grass-roots, citizen-led effort to gather the signatures needed to let the people vote on this LA developer’s proposal,” said Weimer.
The opponents of the mall have until Sept. 24 to gather 10 percent of registered Carlsbad voters’ signatures, which would allow the council to either rescind their decision or send the initiative to a vote.
Matt Middlebrook, executive vice president of development, for Caruso Affiliated said Australian-based retail corporation Westfield is planning to try and overturn the council’s decision approving the mall.
“Westfield Corporation has retained political law firm The Sutton Law Firm and Brad Hertz to start the signature gathering process to overturn the Carlsbad City Council’s unanimous vote in favor of the Agua Hedionda 85/15 Plan,” Middlebrook said.
However, a Westfield executive negated these claims via email.
“Despite the use of the Westfield name in false statements by Caruso and others, Westfield is not providing any support, financial or otherwise, to the referendum drive. Further, the company never intended to engage in the referendum process on this matter,” said Westfield Executive Vice President Catharine C. Dickey.
Last week, Caruso Affiliated received unanimous approval from city council to build an upscale retail shopping center on 27 acres near the strawberry fields.
The plan also includes doubling the size of the strawberry fields and preserving 176 nearby acres as permanent open space.
The council approved the project after hearing about five hours of public testimony, which Mayor Matt Hall called a record-setting meeting.
Of the 130 speakers, people both in support and against the project were about split.
Towards the end of the meeting, more spoke against the project, although developer Rick Caruso asked supporters to quit speaking.
The initiative has support from Carlsbad Strawberry Company owner Jimmy Ukegawa and Agua Hedionda Lagoon Foundation Chairperson Maureen Simons.
This is not the first time Westfield and Caruso Affiliated have had issues.
In 2005, Rick Caruso proposed to build a shopping center in Arcadia, which had been unanimously approved by the Arcadia City Council.
However, the shopping center was never built because it ran into robust opposition from Arcadia First!, a neighborhood group funded by Westfield Group, which operates a mall in nearby Santa Anita.
Westfield said while they don’t financially support Citizens for North County, they applaud their efforts.
“We applaud their transparency as well as their passion for their community,” said Dickey.
On Monday, Hall and Ukegawa spoke at a press conference denouncing Westfield.
Hall read from a letter, which he said was addressed to both Westfield and the entire community.
“(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,” he continued.
Weimer sees a referendum as an opportunity to give residents a chance to vote on the project.
“The referendum is our best hope to protect our community, and ensure control of our city government rests with all the people and not well-financed, outside interests,” she said.