What is open space? The City of Carlsbad’s General Plan defines open space as “any area of land or water which, for whatever reason, is not developed for urbanized uses and which therefore enhances residents' quality of life.” The open space, conservation and recreation element of the General Plan lists four categories of open space: open space for preservation of natural resources, open space for managed production of resources, open space for outdoor recreation, and open space for aesthetic, cultural and educational purposes. Vacant lands designated for future growth are generally not considered open space.
Why are lagoons considered open space? Lagoons are considered open space because they provide critical habitat for marine species and waterfowl, and because of their scenic vistas
Are backyards considered open space? What about parking lots?
Backyards are not counted as open space. Parking lots are only included if they are part of a park, which is classified as recreational open space.
Doesn’t the voter-approved growth management program require 40 percent of the city to remain as open space?
The 40 percent estimate has been used as short hand over the years. When the Growth Management Plan was passed in 1986, about 25 percent of the city was already slated to remain as open space. This is space that could not be developed because of the topography (steep slopes, bodies of water, etc.) or due to environmental constraints. In addition to this 25 percent, the Growth Management Plan calls for 15 percent of otherwise developable land in certain areas of the city to also be designated as open space. The 40 percent estimate comes from adding the 25 percent of “unbuildable” land to the 15 percent of “buildable” land. If you look at the actual acres in the specific zones identified in the Growth Management Plan, the amount of open space will be between 38 and 39 percent, once all the major new development in Carlsbad is complete.
How does the updated General Plan affect the future of open space?
The new General Plan reflects the high priority our community places on open space. By identifying new areas for future open space, requiring continued implementation of the growth management standard and habitat management plan, and applying other open space protection and acquisition policies, the updated General Plan will reinforce the current direction of open space planning in the city.
What was Proposition C?
In Carlsbad, the City Council cannot authorize the spending of more than $1 million of general fund money for property acquisition or improvements without prior approval from voters. In 2002, voters passed Proposition C, which allowed the City Council to exceed the $1 million amount on four projects: the City of Carlsbad Safety Training Center, a new swimming pool complex (Alga Norte Community Park), an extension of Cannon Road, and acquisition of open space and trails. Proposition C did not direct the City Council to spend a specific amount of money on open space and trails by a certain time. Instead, it provided voter authorization to spend more than the $1 million limit if one or more properties became available and the city felt it was in the taxpayers’ best interest to purchase it for open space/trails purposes.
Has the city spent any of this money?
Since the passage of Prop. C, the city has acquired 1,400 acres of open space without spending taxpayer money and is on track to meet its open space goals. The city has a responsibility to provide the best possible quality of life for its residents, while being financially responsible with taxpayer money. Open space can be expensive, not only to acquire, but to maintain. If the city can find ways to provide open space for the public without committing taxpayer dollars, it’s a win-win situation. The city does review available land on a regular basis and is ready to purchase land as open space if the right opportunity comes up. In addition, in Feb. 2020, the city acquired real property commonly known as Aura Circle. The negotiated price for the property was $2,070,000 plus half the estimated total closing costs of $10,000. This money is coming from funds the city has set aside for trails and open space.
What is the city’s approach to identifying land that could be purchased by the city as open space?
One chief factor considered is whether a potential property for open space will add to our quality of life at a reasonable cost. In 2005, after passage of Proposition C, the City Council appointed the Open Space and Trails Ad Hoc Citizens Committee to establish and rank a list of potential acquisitions. Some of the property on that list has been acquired. The Ad Hoc Committee is no longer active, but the city regularly reviews available land – land identified by the committee and other land – to determine whether it’s in the taxpayers’ best interests to purchase as open space. When appropriate, the city approaches land owners to discuss interest in selling. The city also relies on partnerships to acquire open space. For example, developers in Carlsbad are required to set aside open space as part of their developments and to pay for the upkeep of that open space. In this way city residents get the benefit of the open space without the expense. Sometimes the city teams with a private foundation or other public agency to pool resources to preserve open space. And in some instances another public agency, such as the California Department of Fish & Game, owns and maintains the open space.
What challenges does the city face in trying to buy land for open space? The biggest challenge in acquiring open space is finding a willing seller. The city tries to use local funds to leverage grant money, and those grants stipulate that the purchase price cannot exceed fair-market value. But if an owner doesn’t want to sell, neither the city nor anyone else can buy the land. Another challenge involves how a potential property is zoned for land use. If it’s not already zoned as open space, it is more complicated. The city can change the zoning, but must find other suitable locations for the land use the open space would replace.
What is the Habitat Management Plan?
The City of Carlsbad is the only city in North County with an approved Habitat Management Plan, which is a comprehensive approach to preserving natural land for plant and animal species. It defines nature preserves that link with regional and statewide preserves to create a natural network where species can thrive. The habitat management plan was developed under the direction of a number of biologists and other environmental experts as a way to preserve and protect the wide variety of sensitive and endangered animals and plants found in the city. We have added nearly 1,000 acres of this habitat in the past 10 years. The habitat management plan also assures that money is set aside to maintain these natural networks.
Is Habitat Management Plan land part of the city’s open space?
Yes. Some open space is available for public use, like parks and trails. Open space that is home to sensitive plants and animals may not be open to the public. In some cases there are trails alongside these areas. In other cases, this open space can only be enjoyed as a scenic view, providing a respite from our built environment.