By Judi Curry
During my trip to Carlsbad last weekend with members of my support group, we stopped in at a delightful shoe shop, “Coolest Shoes in California” and had an interesting discussion with Christine Davis, the owner of the store. Somehow we started talking about the Carlsbad Strawberry Fields and making jam, and she commented to me “better hurry. They won’t be here long.”
At first, I thought she was telling me that the season was just about over, but in discussing it further, it turns out that a Los Angeles developer has agreed to purchase 48 acres of the fields that are along Interstate 5. They purchased the fields from SDG&E and, at the present time, do not have any plans for the fields, except to destroy them.
I checked out an article written by Eric Wolff for the North County Times on September 6, 2012 where he stated that the Caruso company has no real plans” . . . except they have a desire to build retail shops, possibly mixed with housing.” The company says that they welcome community input, hoping that the opposition that was prevalent in 2006 will be missing as long as the community has input into the final plan.
At that time, and I have to believe currently also, the business owners in Carlsbad were very pro-small business but not at the expense of the dwindling open space. The removal of the fields will bring a glut of available retail space to Carlsbad, which, right now, boasts a small vacancy rate.
Mr. Wolff states that in talking to the president and CEO of the company, Rick Caruso, he found that Mr. Caruso” seems to gravitate to properties that have had a lot of sensitivities and entitlement issues.” Again quoting Mr. Wolff, he says that Mr. Caruso mentioned that “ . . . we’ve typically been the second or third developer that has gone into the property.”
Six years ago, home builder Lennar Corp. tried to buy 255 acres of strawberry fields from SDG&E, plus 70 acres from Carltas Co., with the intention of building hundreds of homes and storefronts. The community rallied and Lennar dropped its bid.
Not so long ago, the San Diego Chargers were looking at the same property for a potential stadium on the site. That created a great deal of controversy again. The answer then was a resounding “no”.
However, it appears that SDG&E is pleased with Caruso’s approach with involving the community and is actively meeting with officials from Caruso’s on a regular basis. The feeling is that they are willing to listen to the community and develop a plan that will please the majority. Not only does Caruso plan on developing this acreage, he also holds an option on additional land in the area.
However, some of that land is protected by the city of Carlsbad as “open space” and it will remain open space even if the company decides to buy it later. But will it remain as strawberry fields? That is anyone’s guess.
Quoting Mr. Wolffe’s article again, “Carlsbad Strawberry Company Inc., which works the land, sounded optimistic. “We have had a great working relationship with SDG&E and are confident in their commitment, as well as that of Caruso Affiliated, to working together to continue strawberry farming along Cannon Road as part of any plan that develops,” he said in the statement.”
I wouldn’t count on the residents and business owners of Carlsbad greeting Caruso Affiliated with open arms. The fields bring a lot of revenue into the area. It is questionable how much more, if any, will be generated when people stop going to Carlsbad for the strawberries. People going to the fields stop at restaurants, the existing malls, the village, etc. and strengthen Carlsbad’s economy.
Once the fields are gone – and replaced with retail shops and homes, the economy will not see the same yearly income that is generated now. The plan should be very well thought out before anything is done. The removal of the fields may be a big mistake.
In the meantime, I’m on my way up to the fields to buy some fresh fruit for jamming this weekend. Guess I better hurry. They may not be there next year.