Northbound: Reflections on Measure A

Wow. What an election.

On Tuesday, voting in Carlsbad wrapped up for Measure A, the proposed Agua Hedionda South Shore Specific Plan “85/15 Plan,” which would have designated 203.4 acres between the Agua Hedionda Lagoon and Cannon Road for commercial use and the preservation of open space.

As a Carlsbad resident, and an election analyst, I had a front-row seat to the fight over Measure A, which proved to be divisive in our community.

An estimated $10.5 million was spent by project proponents to secure public support and voter approval. For a North County election, campaigning got unusually ugly, personal and bitter.

As of the publishing of this column, Measure A opponents were winning the vote tally with a razor-thin margin, which is likely to grow in their favor over the coming days. From the rounds of ballots announced on Election Night, it was clear that late deciders were strongly opposed to Measure A, in contrast with early absentee voters, which were mostly in favor. Officially, the winner in this race is “too close to call.”

The details of the proposal aside, the favorable conditions that have supported passage of prior development projects in North County (Legoland, et al) didn’t materialize this election cycle for Measure A. Specifically:

Higher Republican   Voter Turnout. From what we know from past election cycles, Republican voters are generally more supportive of development projects than Democratic voters. Voter registration in Carlsbad skews Republican, and in most primary election cycles Republican voter turnout would be significantly higher than Democratic turnout. In this election cycle, Republican turnout was only marginally higher than Democratic turnout.

Higher Voter Turnout in Neighborhoods Far From the Development Site. The stronger the nexus a voter has to a controversial development project, the more likely they are to be motivated to cast a ballot in opposition (obstructed views, traffic concerns, etc.). Conversely, those voters whose residences are further away from the project site are more likely to be in favor, or undecided. When I mapped absentee ballots returned by Carlsbad neighborhoods I found that those communities geographically located closest to the project site, along Cannon Road and near Interstate 5, casted ballots at significantly higher levels than the citywide average.  These include the communities of Hedionda Point, Kelly Ranch, Rancho Carlsbad/Sunny Creek, and Agua Hedionda Lagoon.

Turnout in neighborhoods further from the Lagoon wasn’t nearly high enough for a comfortable Yes victory — voter turnout east of El Camino Real was 53.8 percent; while turnout west of El Camino was 59.9 percent.

General Election Cycles Are More Development-Friendly. 

In some respects, the special election cycle equalized the electoral battleground between the Yes and No campaigns – there were fewer undecided, independent casual voters which to appeal to. In a presidential general election, there are dozens of other issues, candidates, and political controversies, which would have put Measure A on the back burner. The decision to hold a special election, scheduled only months after a pitched battle that successfully forced a referendum on the proposal, continued to keep the issue in focus, particularly for project opponents.

Vince Vasquez is an elections analyst based in Torrey Pines. He is a Carlsbad resident.


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