By Richard Riehl / The Riehl World
After vowing never again to sign a petition, my wife and I are headed to Alga Norte Park to sign one. It’s our attempt to make up for foolishly falling for the pitch to support an initiative to “save the strawberry fields.” The man with the clipboard at my door claimed he was a member of a group of concerned citizens, rallying to save them.
A day later I learned how I had been sweet-talked into abandoning my skepticism of California’s bogus initiative campaigns. He was far from the public-spirited do-gooder he represented himself to be. The guy walking away with my signature was paid for its delivery to the developer who was rallying to bring a strip mall to the strawberry fields.
Caruso Affiliated’s deceptive $2.5 million marketing campaign was rewarded with the unanimous support of Carlsbad’s City Council, who decided spending less than 1 percent of its reserve budget on a special election was too great a cost to allow a vote of the people. They also refused a 30-day delay to consider additional feedback from their constituents.
The city’s website describes the Agua Hedionda South Shore Specific Plan as a “citizen-led initiative,” proposed by the city’s former planning commissioner, the former chair of the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce, and the President of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon Foundation. The website lists them by name only, simply as “residents,” rather than the politically well-connected individuals they are. Caruso Affiliated is listed as the “primary sponsor of the plan.”
After the City Council’s vote, out of both curiosity and sour grapes, I conducted an online search for “Preserving Carlsbad Open Space The Right Way.” I discovered the initiative’s campaign slogan is also the name of a “California Corporation, filed May 18.” The registered agent for the company is Sean P. Welch, a San Rafael attorney, whose law firm, Nielsen Merksamer, advises clients on “all aspects of campaigning for initiatives and referenda ballot measures.” Topping the firm’s list of clients is Caruso Affiliated, LLC.
The good news for Nielsen Merksamer is that all initiative campaigns, win or lose, are good for their bottom-line. The bad news for us is that this “citizen-led” initiative was actually a corporate-led one that cut the people out of the picture.
Today my wife and I will sign a legitimate citizen-led referendum. It’s being organized by Citizens For North County, a 501(c) advocating on behalf of preserving North San Diego County’s natural habitat, quality of life, and character. Unlike Caruso Affiliated’s corporate campaign, this one’s truly an all-volunteer effort, with no paid signature gatherers, and absolutely no financial support from any large corporations.
Not surprisingly, Rick Caruso launched his fight against the referendum at a press conference yesterday, claiming it was being financed by a potential market competitor, the Westfield Mall (Seaside Courier, Aug. 31). In response, Westfield’s Executive VP of Corporate Relations issued this statement, “Despite the use of the Westfield name in false statements by Caruso and others, Westfield is not providing any support, financial or otherwise, to the referendum drive.”
Citizens for North County will need at least 10 percent of Carlsbad registered voters, about 6,500, to sign the referendum by September 24 to force the City Council either to rescind its approval of the project and call a special election, or certify the referendum and put it on the ballot for the next general election.
Don’t listen to the guy who fooled you the first time around. Go instead to sign the referendum on Wednesday September 2 from 3:30 to 7:30 pm at Poinsettia Community Park and the same time Thursday at Calavera Hills Community Park.
The Citizens for North County is out collecting signatures, using volunteers in front of businesses downtown and door to door until the deadline September 24. The park locations above are a kickoff to start the campaign.
Better yet, be a volunteer to preserve citizen-led advocacy the right way and earn your right to vote on the project.
Don Burton says
God Bless you, Richard. And good for you for not being fooled twice. Not too surprisingly Caruso is now launching a new barrage of commercials aimed at telling people NOT to sign OUR petition, which is a genuine grassroots, citizen-led referendum. And its only purpose is to give people a chance to vote. If all his supporters are so enchanted with his proposed mall, they can vote on it. Let’s see how that goes.
Charline Grogan says
I prefer not to have my home site in ads…otherwise I want to go on record as opposing the Caruso deal. I do not like the high pressured way it was all orchestrated. I have written to the City council that I wanted my name removed from the original petition and it was too late.
I am elderly and do not drive…are you doing door to door signatures on your petition? I am a Carlsbad resident.
Charline Grogan says
I am not sure what you want. The e-mail address can stay or go. Charline Grogan
Charline Grogan says
I think that the Strawberry Fields development operation should be put to a vote by the people.
Tom Applegate says
I won’t be signing the latest initiative regarding the Strawberry Fields partly because it is not about giving people a vote on the matter as the proponents claim but more about stopping all development regardless of community benefit. The original vote and the one that really matters was recorded in 2006 with the passage of Proposition D by the citizens of Carlsbad. And I will argue was confirmed in 2015 with the overwhelming support of signatures obtained on the initiative presented to Council. I urge others to follow my lead; don’t sign the initiative, your non-action is yet another vote to support this project which develops 15% of the property while preserving the balance as farm and ‘accessible’ open space to be enjoyed by all for generations to come . . .
Richard Riehl says
Why are you afraid of a vote by the people, Tom? I’m not opposed to all development, just developers who use deceptive marketing to sidestep the normal checks and balances to assure the project is in the best interests of the people who live here.
Patricia Amador says
Thank you. Freedom of Speech and the right to vote, especially for women, cannot to taken lightly. I think there are many of us who can read well enough to understand environmental documents not written by a developer’s proposal, but by the Coastal Commission and also the analysis by City staff (9212 Report). What is the fear of having an authentic vote by the people that actually live in Carlsbad?
Karen Brown says
Oh please! It is NOT about stopping ALL development! It is about NOT putting a large commercial development on the shores of the lagoon! Find another piece of land!!!!
Do this mall in our already planned mall location – at Westfield!
ray hughes says
YES!!! Get this Caruso guy and his ideas away from what we cherise, the open land by the lagoon.
Well, not everyone in Carlsbad today was a voter in 2006!! That was almost 10 years ago!
S. Wells says
It’s definitely about a vote. Yes the Carlsbad voters approved Prop D. There has yet to be a vote in 20015. The Caruso hired signature gathers that lied to people to obtain their signatures fraudulently is NOT a vote. How they cannot be criminally charged is beyond me.
Last I checked I live in a democracy. Apparently that’s not the case in Carlsbad. All you need is to lie and throw money around to get what you want. If we let this go without a vote who knows what’s next! The precedent will be set. Sign the referendum. Let your voice be heard. Demand democracy!
Brian McInerny says
Well Tom you are right it is not about giving people a vote. Prop D passed by the narrowest of margins in 2006. Prop E was the loser. Prop E would have preserved that 48 acre commercial space as well. Almost half the citizens voted for E. The city was afraid SDG&E would sue. Now the city council is willing to overturn prop D based on 15% of the voters signatures. Now when a true “citizens initiative” is paid for by actual citizens and signatures are collected by citizen volunteers Caruso points a finger at outside corporate interests. Caruso is an outside corporate interest who fraudulently collected signatures using paid non-citizens to collect signatures.He has TV ads saying don’t sign our citizens referendum. He used the pictures of the city council on his flier making false accusations. The council did not even know their faces were being used. A lot of people are suspicious of this kind of behavior. I am surprised that your suspicions are not aroused.Brian McInerny
Jeff R says
I support the petition for a vote however, I also think Caruso is a first-class developer and I may or may not vote for his project.
The crux of the matter is that a development like this has such an impact on the future of Carlsbad, that all the plans should be transparent and all Carlsbad residents should be allowed to decide. A part-time mayor and four part-time council members cannot make this decision for 65,000+ voters.
Thanks for reading.
Don Burton says
I just spoke with some people who attended the city council meeting. I missed it because of a wedding in Michigan. They said Caruso had thugs blocking the doors and the aisles so people couldn’t sit inside UNLESS they were supporters. So basically Jerry and all you other supporters of this POS, you can all drop dead. You think I’ve been vicious up to this point. You ain’t seen nothing yet. I’ve never encountered in all my 54 years such unabashed arrogance coupled with such complete ignorance. The arrogance is Caruso’s. The ignorance is on the part of his supporters. There is no arguing with you people because you do not have the capacity to think. Your brains do not function. You are mindless zombies enthralled by the Svengali-like powers of this huckster from LA who has no more morals than a streetwalker. He is now airing his lies again (good, let him waste his money) and you knuckleheads just eat it up with a spoon. No wonder we’re in such a sorry state. I used to be proud of Carlsbad and happy that I chose to live here after doing so much careful research. I’m still proud of some of Carlsbad. Proud of our excellent police, fire, public workers. Proud of our kids and our schools. Proud of the informed members of the citizenry. But I am absolutely ashamed of the sorry excuse for elected officials we have. They are the poorest bunch of self-serving liars I’ve ever seen (and I come from New Jersey, so that’s saying something). So Jerry, Arnie, etal if you guys enjoy bending over and getting reamed by Caruso while Hall holds his pants for him, go right ahead. Please don’t ask us to participate. We’re not into that kind of thing.
Andy Lee says
BRAVO! Standing ovation for telling it like it is!
I was first neutral on the plan until I was barraged with slick marketing, vague plans and dishonest paid signature gathers by the Caruso machine. Having grown up in Silicon Valley I saw what thoughtless over-development did and didn’t want to see that happen to Carlsbad, especially it’s beauty. Although it’s true “something” has to go on a small portion of the land it does not have to be a an unnecessary commercial mall. By the way Carlsbad already has 12 malls (two of which are within 3 miles of the proposed monster mall), and ONLY 3 lagoons. Regardless of the outcome, residents should be allowed to vote (and were told originally-written on Caruso mailers, as the author stated, it would be on the ballot). These new counter measures TO SILENCE grassroots Carlsbad residents is the ugliness of big money in the form of voter suppression. Again, regardless of outcome this project is too important and developer tactics too suspicious to just let it slide by unquestioned and unchallenged. This truly 100% volunteer citizen led referendum petition is the only way citizens can level the playing field when it comes to outside big money development. We see what big corporate money is doing nationally (Citizens United) and sadly, now locally. We are a democracy, not a oligarchy and thus I will use my civic right and make my way down and sign the petition…for my voice, my choice and my vote!
Rose Burley says
Thanks for this!
Let’s start calling this issue by its real name.
The Mall at the Lagoon next to Carlsbad Beach
Most of the news media are still reporting those deceptive messages that would lead people to believe they are actually saving the environment by building a mall on a lagoon next to the beach!
Liz Ferguson says
A month or so ago I was approached by a woman at my local grocery store asking that I sign a petition to get the Caruso plan placed on a ballot… Now I find that was not true…. Luckily I refused to sign up.
Brian McInerny says
I am not sure I can even believe that Caruso and the City Council would do such a thing… But they did. So an outside corporate interest lies about an initiative and hoodwinks innocent citizens into signing their document. Then accuses an actual citizens referendum of being supported by corporate interests from outside of California. Who does he think we are? A pack of greedy uneducated mall lovers. Come on people Ray Charles could see through that and he is blind and dead. Brian McInerny
William Pearse says
Today I carried the REAL citizens petition asking “let the people vote.” A relative newcomer, I love Batiquitos Lagoon, and am proud to want to preserve Hedionda and Buena Vista: how many towns have THREE lagoons?! I found some voters angry about being tricked into signing the Caruso(developer)petition; some alienated by conflicting messages; and some who signed after carefully reading the petition asking the Council to reconsider and allow a vote of the registered voters of the City of Carlsbad. It’s that important.
Kerrie OHare says
All the signatures on the petition were berified by independent oversight some were dis qualified but enough were valid to pass the petition
A ratio of15% development on the open space is the best deal for Carlsbad .
I am a 30+ year resident of Carlsbad and I voted for proposition D in 2006
Do not object with generalities read the documents in total and you will agree . The comments being made in this post are ridiculous they represent the 1 percent
Where are your objections and organization to resist the thousands of homes being built when we have a water shortage with no long term solution if mother nature does not cooperate you’re picking the wrong battle if you’re really concerned about traffic congestion and overpopulation and the cementing of Carlsbad land with homes and streets change your focus to a current valid one . If you’re from out of town in the past 10 years from New Jersey or wherever and you’re objecting to the will of the Carlsbad city Council and the majority of the population with comments such as big-money and liers etc. your off-base
Back your objections with facts do your home work and post valid objections otherwise you sound like typical sour grape reteric
Richard Clayton says
If you feel this is a good deal, why not let the people of Carlsbad vote. I think many people are concerned about the rapidly growing number of housing developments, despite the drought. How does the 85/15 plan not factor into these concerns?
The issue at hand here is not necessarily development, but rather the perversion of existing political and environmental process by large corporations. Of all existing developments in Carlsbad, this one is the most deserving of the CEQA process. More importantly, this initiative was sold to the people of North County as “the only way to save the strawberry fields”. The Hollywood-grade ad campaign and signature collectors failed to tell you that the fields and lagoon were under no threat of development (well, except the 85/15 plan!).
As a long time Carlsbad resident, why aren’t you upset at how your City Council is conducting itself?
S. Wells says
Sure all the signatures were verified that they were registered Carlsbad voters. The VALIDITY of the signatures was NOT verified. There are no generalities. The fact is Caruso specifically lied to voters to get them to sign his initiative so he could bypass the CEQA. Check out the UT article dated August 27, 2015 where Caruso is quoted saying, “the initiative process completely bypasses that (CEQA) state legislation.” Sounds like a lier and cheater to me. And by the way Caruso is a billionaire and is from out of town so I’m not sure how that’s off base.
I agree that there shouldn’t be more homes built. But if there’s not enough water for homes there certainly isn’t enough for a 585,000 square foot mall either. I also agree new homes bring more traffic just the same as a new mall will.
It sounds to me like you’re the sour one. We’re just asking for democracy. That the majority of Carlsbad residents make the decision not a small few. And definitely not a billionaire from Los Angeles who has no interest in the good of our community. Why would he? He won’t have to live here after he’s ruined Carlsbad.
Brian McInerny says
I read your comments.If you support this Caruso campaign you must be O K with the lies they used to acquire voters signatures. By paying non-citizens to collect signatures on a “citizens initiative” and then telling them they would get a chance to vote on the issue. Carusos campaign is based on his fraudulently acquired signatures. He tells people not to sign a referendum that would actually guarantee a vote. If you are so sure that this is what the citizens want then what is wrong with a vote on the matter? Caruso lied about Westfield paying for the citizens referendum. I myself a citizen donated $500 to the cause of real democracy. Let the people decide what is right not a slick ad campaign of a non-citizen. Thanks for reading
Chuck Kidd says
Thank you for this important article. I, too, will be signing the Voter’s referendum.
ray hughes says
how do I sign the referendum to put this ridiculous project up to vote? can I do it online?