CARLSBAD, Calif. -- A Los Angeles developer who wants to develop a shopping center near the Agua Hedionda Lagoon is joining forces with a local farmer and open space advocates to push the project forward.
For the last three years, billionaire developer Rick Caruso, responsible for the Grove and the Americana shopping centers in Los Angeles, has had his sights set on 200 acres of land south of the lagoon near the strawberry fields in Carlsbad. The land is on the south shore of Agua Hedionda Lagoon, a 400-acre coastal wetland in Carlsbad. For years, residents have had limited access to it.
“If you drive up and down Cannon Road you’ll see nothing but no trespassing signs,” said Bryce Ross of Caruso Affiliated. “We’re excited for the first time to bring people out to the open spaces and experience this beautiful space."
Caruso Affiliated is a development group hoping to build a project named the Agua Hedionda 85/15 Plan. Ross claims the project would preserve 85 percent of the land — 176 acres — as open space while developing the remaining 15 percent.
“Our goal as a company is to deliver what the community has asked for. They've overwhelmingly told us they want to protect open space and want access to it," said Ross. “Carlsbad community loves its strawberry fields. They want to see that sustainable for generations to come. That’s why Jimmy Ukegawa with the Carlsbad Strawberry Company has endorsed the plan.”
“It would ensure we have customers coming by and that we’ll be able to supply the restaurants and our farm stand with freshest fruits and vegetables," said Ukegawa.
Ukegawa, who owns the strawberry fields, says the plan will make it easier to keep his business going since it includes significantacreage dedicated to strawberry farming and other agricultural uses.
“In the 80s, we were farming 1,800 acres of tomatoes and strawberries. Now we’re farming 30. High cost of labor, high cost of water, cheap imports have made it very difficult for local farmers to survive," said Ukegawa.
The plan will also ensure miles of new hiking trails and picnic areas. Revenue from the proposed shopping center would pay for maintenance of the open space. The company has been reaching out to residents in hopes the proposal will be approved by the Carlsbad City Council.
“They’ll make the decision they feel is best for the community,” said Ross. “That will probably be within the next 60 days or so."
The California Coastal Commission would also have to sign off before construction could begin.