By Tommy Hough
If you're a resident of San Diego County, you've likely heard about Carlsbad Measure A, in part because of the Yes on A campaign's non-stop TV ads airing on all channels trumpeting the benefits the measure will allegedly have for the city of Carlsbad.
That kind of media buy isn't cheap, but the pockets supporting the Yes on A campaign are deep with the cash of a Los Angeles-based developer who has zeroed in on the area around Carlsbad's fabled strawberry fields and Agua Hedionda Lagoon. While the Yes on A TV ads air throughout the San Diego television market, from Camp Pendleton to Otay Mesa to Borrego Springs, at the end of the day this is a Carlsbad-only ballot measure, and whether you think the plan could be improved upon or not, the measure is up for a vote as is on Tuesday, Feb. 23. Mail ballots went out Monday, Jan. 25.
So far the developer has spent upwards of $7 million to undertake the massive media and public relations campaign, but the TV ads and related messaging go into zero detail about the massive new shopping mall that would be built alongside the open space the measure purports to save, the increased crowding of the strawberry fields, and the resulting traffic and effect on real estate prices in neighborhoods suddenly faced with daily bouts of Disneyland-style traffic.
The problem is Measure A is disguised as a ballot measure intent on protecting open space. Make no mistake – it's not. It's about building another mall in North County.
The mall would be located on Cannon Road just east of I-5 on the hill overlooking the south shore of Agua Hedionda Lagoon, a tidal body of water and one of the last lagoons and natural wetlands remaining in San Diego County. There's a myriad of reasons as to why protecting lagoons, estuaries, wetlands and the land around them is good for our region's overall environmental health and water quality, and there's beneficial aspects to giving wildlife more room to breath and humans more room to roam and relax, decompress and enjoy a few minutes in a placid, natural setting.
Measure A claims to be about protecting the open space and tidal wetlands of Agua Hedionda Lagoon, but who ever heard of an open space proposal that was incumbent upon building a giant shopping mall alongside it? It's almost as ridiculous as the tone-deaf suggestion, successfully used by a Dallas-based big game hunting club, which argued that endangered black rhinos can be preserved by bidding on the chance to track and kill an endangered black rhino. In the season of reason-free standard bearers like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz in which anything goes, the Measure A proposal is another ridiculous proposition dressed in pseudo-rationality.
Even if the mall takes up a small portion of the Agua Hedionda open space, it's still dividing and conquering what is already 100 percent perfectly good open space as is – and what should remain open space. In fact, the plan put forward by the developer is avoiding California environmental law by going through a ballot measure process, and the "open space" the measure claims to save was already set aside as open space by Carlsbad voters in a ballot measure in 2002.
So with Measure A, Carlsbad voters are being invited to preserve the same land twice, and still get stuck with a new mall and traffic – with Carlsbad taxpayers on the hook for $500,000 to have this one single issue on a special February election ballot, instead of waiting for required statewide primary and general election ballots in June and November that are going to happen anyway.
A number of these concerns were addressed on Thursday, Jan. 21 at the San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action-hosted Carlsbad Community Forum on Measure A, featuring a panel of impressive area guests, including attorney Kevin Johnson, professional surfer and environmental activist Cori Schumacher and speaker Bridget Larsen Wright of Citizens for North County, who discussed how:
If you live in Carlsbad and are registered to vote there, please talk with your neighbors, friends and family about Measure A.
Consider the real value of the plan to the people of Carlsbad, the effect on traffic, the effect on the rolling hills, open space and strawberry fields which make Carlsbad such a special locale in coastal North County. Is this mall really what's needed to enhance the quality of life of Carlsbad? Is the city's economy really going to rise or fall on the construction of this mall? And if the mall is indeed so important, why build in such a controversial location alongside open space and a tidal lagoon? Why not build it someplace else?
As was detailed at the Jan. 21 forum at the Carlsbad City Library, this is a situation in which a developer has been granted "back door" privileges and access to city officials throughout the process, in which city officials themselves have been relegated to a "ministerial" role in the development, and which the city of Carlsbad's former planning director, city attorney and former planning commission chair have all gone on the record to criticize and say is bad for the city.
San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action has joined numerous other conservation organizations across the county in voting to officially oppose Measure A. I would certainly urge Carlsbad voters to vote no on this project.
If a reasonable doubt is what separates a person's innocence or guilt in a court of law, then the same principle must be applied here. Measure A is no longer a discussion about whether or not the plan can be improved upon with a tweak here or a compromise there. It's about whether or not the measure itself, which is on-line at the city of Carlsbad's website for all to see, should be passed by Carlsbad voters.
If there are components about the measure you like, but other components you may have doubts about or are not sure of – then vote NO on Measure A and send it back to the drawing board, this time with greater public participation, more sunlight, and more accountability for those who have been disingenuously selling a mall proposal as a means to protect open space in order to further economic ends.
Tommy Hough is a San Diego broadcast personality, wilderness and parks advocate, California Democratic Party delegate, and the co-founder and former president of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action. He was a candidate for San Diego City Council in the 2018 election cycle.