Carlsbad Measure A Referendum

In 2016, Los Angeles-based shopping center developer Rick Caruso qualified a citizens’ initiative permitting development of a mega-shopping mall on the banks of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon. The project was projected to generate more than 24,000 new vehicle trips daily on Interstate 5 and nearby roads.

The developer used the initiative to avoid compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act, and convinced the City Council to adopt the initiative directly, without submitting it to voters for approval.

A group of concerned citizens successfully qualified a referendum challenging the Council’s approval of the project and retained TS&A to assist in the subsequent 2017 campaign.

Preliminary polling on Measure A showed a plurality of voters favored the Caruso project, but objected to the City Council’s approval of it without a public vote. Based on this polling, our campaign focused on arguments related to abuse of the process, along with the likely negative impacts of the project on traffic and the adjacent lagoon.

Enjoying support from most of the political leadership in the city, the developer eventually spent over $11 million promoting the project using regional television advertising, direct mail and an aggressive field program.

Our client raised and spent only $125,000, but we took advantage of an enthusiastic volunteer base to contact voters and spread our message.  Combined with cost-effective mail and social media, we succeeded in narrowly defeating the Caruso development plan and preserving the shores of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon.

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