The developer who spent millions on a ballot measure to fast-track a shopping, entertainment and open-space destination near the Agua Hedionda Lagoon in Carlsbad congratulated his opponents this week after the apparent defeat of the project at the polls.
In a written statement, Caruso Affiliated founder and Chief Executive Rick Caruso also thanked community and business leaders who supported his so-called 85/15 plan, a proposal that mixed a Grove-style shopping complex with public trails and agricultural spaces. He didn't say whether he would walk away from the project or pursue a longer, more conventional route to try to get it built.
Updated results from the Feb. 23 city special election released this week showed voters rejecting the proposal, known as Measure A, by 1,638 votes, with only a few ballots left uncounted.
The results are unofficial until certified by the San Diego County Registrar of Voters and the Carlsbad City Council.
"While we had hoped for a different outcome, we are proud of our effort, our plan, the integrity of our message, and we are thankful for the great friends and supporters we have made over the past four years," Caruso said. "We are very grateful for their support and hard work."
De'Ann Weimer, president of Citizens for North County — the nonprofit group that led the campaign against Measure A — said Caruso was gracious and brief in a phone call to her.
She said Carlsbad residents put their hearts into the campaign.
"We're just thrilled for all of our volunteers," Weimer said. "Many of them had no experience at all, and it took an awful lot of hard work."
The No on Measure A campaign spent about $100,000 in the months leading up to the election. Caruso Affiliated had spent about $10.5 million since May trying to rally public support for the project.
"Sometimes the amount of money doesn't mean you are going to win," said Mary Azevedo, an Oceanside-based political consultant who has managed several local campaigns, including those of Carlsbad council members Keith Blackburn and Lorraine Wood.
She said some voters appeared to resent the City Council's heavy participation in the Measure A campaign and were outraged that advertisements focused on the open space that already exists on the property — not the shopping and entertainment complex that was planned.
"I maybe would have focused the campaign a little more on what the project would have built," Azevedo said. "You have a pretty sophisticated voter [in Carlsbad]. You had to be a little more honest and upfront about the project and its various parts."
Caruso's Agua Hedionda South Shore Specific Plan encompassed about 203 acres east of Interstate 5 and north of Cannon Road, an area best known for its strawberry fields. Under the proposal, nearly 27 acres, or roughly 15%, would have been a shopping and entertainment center, and the remaining 177 acres would have been agriculture, public trails, an outdoor classroom and habitat preservation.
The land is owned by San Diego Gas & Electric Co., and Caruso Affiliated has an option to buy it. If the project fails, the land would "simply remain status quo," said SDG&E spokeswoman Stephanie Donovan.
Carlsbad officials have said Caruso could apply for permits at any time to try to get the project approved through the city's conventional planning process, which requires a review under the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA.
The developer had hoped to avoid that process by gathering signatures on a citizens initiative, which was approved by the Carlsbad City Council in August after a city study deemed it met CEQA standards. But opponents launched a referendum that overturned the council's approval and led to last week's special election.
Diehl writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.