Additional mail-in ballot results released this week have solidified the apparent defeat of a controversial initiative that would have allowed a luxury shopping, entertainment and open-space destination to be built on the south shore of Carlsbad's Agua Hedionda Lagoon.
The No on Measure A campaign, which was leading by a scant 186 votes when unofficial election results were released Tuesday, is now leading by 1,143 votes, according to an update late Friday by the county Registrar of Voters Office. About 2,250 provisional and absentee ballots still need to be counted.
"Wonderful," said Jodi Good of the nonprofit Citizens for North County, which led the opposition effort. "We are delighted and happy."
Caruso Affiliated, developer of the lagoon plan and leader of the Yes on Measure A campaign, declined to comment.
Representatives of both campaigns were at the registrar's office this week to monitor the tabulation of outstanding ballots.
"We have a lot of ballots still to be counted, but based on our projections we think we are going to prevail," said De'Ann Weimer, president of Citizens for North County. "We are very grateful to all our volunteers. It just seems historic in every way."
She added: "This is one community that is not going to let a legal loophole be used to develop California's coast."
The new results also confirmed comments by Measure A opponents that their strength was in ballots cast at the polls and those mailed toward the end of the campaign.
County election officials continued to accept mail ballots through Friday that were postmarked by election day. The ballot count will remain unofficial until the election is certified on or before March 24.
The battle over the lagoon development had sharply divided the Carlsbad community in recent months.
Rick Caruso, founder and chief executive of Caruso Affiliated, had worked with Carlsbad business and community leaders for at least three years to lay the groundwork for his proposal.
The result was the Agua Hedionda South Shore Specific Plan, which encompasses roughly 203.4 acres owned by San Diego Gas & Electric on the southern side of the lagoon.
For decades, the land was leased by farmers to grow strawberries, tomatoes and other crops. The strawberry fields are iconic to Carlsbad residents — families can purchase a bucket near the entrance and then roam around, picking their own fruit.
Since 1986, however, about 48 acres of the property closest to the freeway has been zoned for commercial use. The Caruso plan would use about 27 acres of that for a Nordstrom-anchored shopping center. The rest of the land — about 177 acres — would be designated as permanent open space, preserving much of the remaining farming along Cannon Road and the native habitat nearest the water.
Caruso unveiled his proposal in May in the form of a citizens initiative designed to fast-track the project and sidestep the often lengthy process to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act.
That initiative was unanimously approved by the City Council in August, then hit a roadblock when Citizens for North County launched a successful referendum drive to force the measure to a public vote.
Diehl writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.