The Carlsbad City Council heard presentations from city staff and community members Tuesday about opportunities and constraints related to the so called “Hub Park,” a 96 acre property on the south shore of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon owned by SDG&E. See maps of the property.
Assistant City Manager Gary Barberio provided an overview of a lease agreement between SDG&E and the city, which came about as mitigation for a power plant expansion and an oil refinery proposed by SDG&E in the 1970s. The controversial oil refinery project was never built, but the Hub Park lease was still executed in 1975.
Nearly all of the 96 acres were included in the proposed Agua Hedionda South Shore Specific Plan, which was defeated during the Measure A special election Feb. 23. That plan would have created a public trail system along the south shore of the lagoon, funded by the development of an open air shopping, dining and entertainment project on 27 acres adjacent to the freeway currently used for strawberry farming. The plan would have relocated the farming operation to another part of the property.
The initial lease term is 60 years. With four allowed extensions, the total term is 99 years, ending in 2074. Under the terms of the lease, the city does not pay SDG&E unless a park or trails plan is approved and all permits are granted. At that time, the city would pay only for the property taxes, which would not exceed $14,000 a year, said Barberio.
According to Barberio, the property was considered in the 1980s as a future park site as part of the city’s Growth Management Program. Planners ultimately recommended a city-owned property just to the southeast, called Veterans Park, instead of Hub Park, due to challenges associated with the lagoon property.
“There is no doubt that the south shore of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon would be a stunning location for trails, picnic areas and viewpoints,” said Barberio. “Right now the property we have access to through the lease is an island, surrounded by land the city doesn’t currently own or control, meaning there would be no way for people to get to the site.”
The Measure A plan included 203 acres total, including land along Cannon Road that would have been used for parking and trail entrances.
Trails along the south shore of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon are included in a number of city planning documents, including the draft trails master plan, which is currently undergoing environmental review. In addition to the views, trails in this area are appealing because they would serve as connectors to future trails to the west, south and east, according to Liz Ketabian, a park planner for the city who oversees the Citywide Trails Program.
According to Ketabian, the city typically requires the creation of trails as a condition of new development projects, meaning a private entity foots the bill, rather than the city. This is how the lagoon trails would eventually be built, unless the city decided to use taxpayer money.
Barberio’s presentation covered other challenges that contributed to the city’s original decision not to develop a park or trails on the Hub Park property. He said each could probably be overcome with enough time and money:
Steep Terrain: The topography of the area means that some grading would be required to make the trails safe and to comply with guidelines to accommodate people with disabilities.
Loss of Agriculture Uses: The Carlsbad Strawberry Company currently has a lease to use the land for agriculture. It has farmed there in the past, but not for several years. SDG&E would need to provide a year’s notice to the company before terminating its agreement.
Site Restrictions: The public is only allowed on 34 of the 96 acres due to habitat restrictions. Another 18 acres is heavily restricted due to the overhead power lines, although trails and picnic areas would be allowed as long as certain rules and restrictions were followed.
Regulatory Approvals: A plan for parks or trails would need approval by the California Coastal Commission and other government agencies. The Coastal Commission is in charge of implementing the California Coastal Act, which, among other things, puts a high priority on public access to the coast, retaining coastal agriculture and protecting coastal environmental resources.
Environmental Review and Mitigation: The area is known to have biological, archaeological and cultural resources, which would need to be accounted for in the planning. If soil testing shows an unhealthy amount of pesticides and other pollutants, the affected soil would need to be removed and replaced at the city’s expense.
Following Barberio’s presentation, community members presented a proposed plan to develop a 1 mile long, 8 foot wide natural surface trail on the property that could be used for hiking and biking. The plan also includes picnicking and viewpoint areas. Under the proposed plan, the trail would be accessed from a parking lot that would be built just off Cannon Road at Grand Pacific Drive, across from the entrance to the Sheraton.
The land for the proposed parking lot and trail entrance is owned by SDG&E. SDG&E would need to agree to the use of the land through an easement to the city or the sale of the property to the city. The area, which is currently a steep bluff, would also need to be graded, and traffic lanes on Cannon Road would need to be changed to preserve safety and traffic flow.
Community members proposing the plan estimate the cost to build the trail and parking lot at $424,800. This does not include the cost of required environmental analysis and mitigation, such as soil removal and preventing run off into the lagoon, or changes to Cannon Road to accommodate a parking lot. The estimate also does not include the cost of acquiring the land needed for the parking lot and trail entrance, if that is possible, or the ongoing maintenance of the new trails and public amenities.
The city earmarked $5 million in 2012 for new trails and open space and has about $3.7 million of that remaining that could be used for this project, said Chuck McBride, the city’s Administrative Services Department director.
City staff recommended considering the future of the Hub Park area at its next annual goal setting meeting in January 2017. At this annual planning session, the City Council sets priorities, which city staff then use as the basis for the year’s work plan and budget, which are approved in June, prior to the July 1 beginning of the fiscal year. The City Council is scheduled to approval the fiscal year 2016-17 spending plan June 28.
Community members urged the City Council to reprioritize its goals so that work on their proposed plan could begin immediately.
City Council members praised the community members’ presentation and agreed it deserved further consideration. The Council voted to wait until the draft Trails Master Plan was approved, likely by the end of the year, so the proposed Hub Park lease area plan could be considered in context with the future plans for the entire city trails system. The Council also agreed to consider the future use of the property, and potentially a public advisory committee to help evaluate the issue, at its January goal setting session.
For more information Gary Barberio, Assistant City Manager, 760-434-2820
Media contact Kristina Ray, 760-434-2957 or firstname.lastname@example.org