By Richard Riehl / The Riehl World
When it comes to air pollution, the Carlsbad City Council’s report on the Agua Hedionda Initiative, the “9212 Report,” reads a little like “close enough for guv’ment work.” When it comes to traffic congestion, it’s a developer’s faith-based initiative. But when it comes to the city’s projected $2.6 million a year tax revenue windfall it’s, “Whoopee, we’re gonna be rich!”
City staff took 2 ½ months to write the August 7 report. The Council and general public will have had 17 days to read and think about what’s in its 254 pages, and the 542 additional pages of supporting documents, before next Tuesday, August 25, when the Council will decide whether to approve the plan with no further review, put it on the ballot for voters to decide, or take more time to think it over.
The city and Caruso Affiliated call the developer’s $2.5 million marketing plan a “citizen-led initiative.” As one who is embarrassed to admit to being duped into signing the petition, I am hoping the Council will do the right thing and put the plan up for a vote. Yes, I should have read the fine print and asked questions. Upon reading the 9212 Report it became clear to me that many more questions need to be asked about the project’s environmental impact. That would happen in due course for any other such project. But Caruso Affiliated discovered the fast track loophole that allows developers to bypass the California Environmental Quality Act review and the city’s own planning commission, composed of Carlsbadians who have no direct financial interest in its approval.
The issue of air quality is personal. I’m married to someone who packs an inhaler. In Chapter 4 of the Environmental Assessment documents supporting the 9212 Report’s findings, the question is asked, “Would the Specific Plan conflict with or obstruct implementation of the applicable air quality plan?” Buried in the answer is the acknowledgment there would be a conflict with 2009 standards because they “assumed less development on the Specific Plan Site than proposed.” A helpful suggestion followed: the need for “…further analysis of cumulative air quality impacts and documentation of construction emission and Carbon Monoxide hot spots assumptions.”
Yet, the 9212 Report fashions a “close enough for guv’ment work” conclusion. “The Environmental Assessment regarding air quality is consistent with most other large projects that have been approved by the city over the years.”
As for traffic congestion, the report turns to a faith-based approach. “The Agua Hedionda Initiative does not fully comply with the city’s General Management Plan’s standards for traffic and circulation. Specifically, eight intersections impacted by the Initiative are expected to fall short of the city’s General Management Plan standards by the year 2035.” But, the report concludes, “… traffic will be better at all intersections impacted than when compared to the ‘no project’ alternative …” Why would that be? Because Caruso Affiliated promises to pay for Environmental Protection Features to fix the problems, the city evidently relying on the sterling record of trustworthy developers.
As for the, “We’re gonna be rich” justification for taking a risk to the environment based on a developer’s plans, I guess that depends on how you measure wealth.
If Caruso Affiliated’s development plan is as strongly supported as claimed by the “citizen led” paid signature gatherers’ success, I’d advise city council members to adopt a “trust but verify” approach by allowing voters to decide.