CARLSBAD — The Westfield Corporation dropped a bombshell Wednesday regarding the controversial Agua Hedionda Lagoon South Short Specific Plan.
The proposal aims to develop about 26.7 acres of the 203.4-acre site for a mall, while the remaining 176.7 acres would be designated open space and increase strawberry farming along with open the area for residents to hike along trails.
Westfield Corporation, the Australian-based company, which just sold its stake in the Carlsbad mall to Rouse Properties, sent the city of Carlsbad a 252-page report and released a statement chastising the proposed project, which is led by Los Angeles developer Rick Caruso and his company, Caruso Affiliated.
In addition, Westfield also announced it donated $75,000 to the Citizens for North County/No on Measure A 2016 campaign in an admitted effort to level the playing field.
Caruso Affiliated, meanwhile, has spent more than $5 million supporting the measure in the past nine months, according to city records.
CNC is a resident group opposed to the project and successfully passed a referendum to put the measure to a vote.
The special election is scheduled for Feb. 23.
“We are grateful to Westfield as we are grateful to every donor,” De’Ann Weimer, president of CNC, said in a statement. “We are now about $5.2 million shy of an even playing field. CNC looks forward to additional support from the community inspired by this generous contribution.”
Westfield, which has $10.5 billion worth of regional malls and other property in the state, said the plan circumvents the environmental process. The project, also known as the 85/15 plan, was a resident-led initiative.
Caruso Affiliated Executive Vice President of Development Matt Middlebrook refuted Westfield’s claims during a press conference on Thursday at the site.
He said Westfield’s corporate strategy is to abuse the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and has a long history of funding citizen and front groups to oppose any competing project.
Middlebrook also took exception with CNC’s acceptance of the funds from the world’s largest mall operator.
“It’s ironic that the self-proclaimed anti-mall campaign is now primarily funded by the largest mall operator in the entire world,” he said. “This action by Westfield was not only predictable, but we predicted it. This is how Westfield operates and today it comes to pass.”
In addition, Carlsbad City Council member Michael Schumacher released a statement in support of the plan.
“Anyone who has seen the high quality of Caruso’s product can easily understand why Westfield might feel threatened and seek to undermine the project,” he said. “The 85/15 Plan — and Yes on Measure A — is in Carlsbad’s best interest. That is why (sic) I voted for it — twice — in my role as a Carlsbad City Council Member. I look forward to voting for it again in the coming special election as a resident.”
Westfield’s letter, meanwhile, states the process used by the city “was flawed and failed to fully identify and analyze the environmental impacts of the proposed 85/15 project.”
Westfield argues the process used by Caruso Affiliated creates “a very slippery slope.”
“As has been Westfield’s position throughout, following CEQA’s well-established and transparent review process would best ensure that all potential environmental impacts are fully analyzed and understood by the public, by decision-makers and will avoid the patchwork quilt type of development that is likely to result if the initiative process is validated as a means to avoid CEQA review,” the statement reads.
Westfield raised its concerns to the City Council on Aug. 25 when the council voted unanimously to approve the project.
The company also released “expert reports” it commissioned as part of the environmental review process to be carried out by the California Coastal Commission.
Four experts detailed traffic, environmental, air quality and economic impacts of the plan.
The traffic study reports trip generation estimates are lower than they should be for this project and credits are not authorized by “any official governing document.” Also, the timing for improvements on Interstate 5, such as freeway ramps and the intersection are uncertain.
As for the CEQA report, Westfield’s experts found the aesthetics “substantially alter existing views and introduce new development that is not compatible with the aesthetic features in the general vicinity.”
They also found issues with soil samples, specifically toxaphene, which exceeds the California Human Health levels if released due to development.
“Consistent with standard regulatory protocol, soil sampling should be conducted now in all areas where humans could be exposed.”
Middlebrook, though, countered those claims as Caruso Affiliated produced a 4,000-page report detailing the environmental aspects of the project.
The 9212 report, which is comprised of independent experts and city staff, evaluated the environmental issues. Middlebrook said the findings comply with the city’s standards.
“Their motives are clear, they want to kill the project,” he added. “We put together 4,000 pages of environmental documents. Independent experts hired by the city and the city’s own staff, who has a great track record in this area, poured through those documents in great, great detail.”